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On May 20th during the Barcelona Fira Litterary Book Fair, Pınar Selek will present online on radicalmay.com the Castillan version of her essay Because they are Armenian, Le mascara de la verdad, during the program on “Radical ideas and books to change the world”.
We are publishing here the preface to Pınar Selek’s book, signed by Alexis Papazian, historian and active member of the Argentinian Foundation Luisa Haraibedian as well as the postface by collectif CHARJOUM.
We thank the authors as well as La Libélula Verde publishing house for their authorization in sharing with you French and English translations of these two texts.
Truth beyond masks
Who are we really? This question could well summarize the lovely book you are now holding in your hands.
How many identities can there be in one body? How many real masks?
How do they affect us, our past stories, in the present and in the future?
What part of our family’s history belongs to us?
The Armenian diaspora asks itself these questions and many others… and Pınar Selek, with deep and simple writing, asks us again, who we are ? What became of Armenians? What masks did the Turkish State construct in order to deny us and deny itself by the same token?
Pınar Selek begins with an imaginary piece of homework. In this book, a Turkish boy or girl declares: “What happened to Armenians? Pushed off by the wind, drowned in the seas.” With these words a story begins, tense, sincere and beautiful in which the narrative thread finds cracks linking us to Turkey. I think I understand that these cracks act as bridges, communicating vessels linking us not only to the Armenian past, but also to the Armenian-Turkish-Greek-Kurdish one…
I write in the framework of this Armenian diaspora, pushed off by the wind, drowned in the seas… I write from Buenos Aires in Argentina, with no pretentions to being largely representative. I write in order to decipher the fine layers left in me by this writing.
Pınar’s work is a small masterpiece…It is reading which allows to think beyond masks and this is central in understanding the value of the text.
I would like to focus these few lines on a reflection concerning the forms of identity rendered visible or invisible, according to historical context and the experiences in the personal trajectories of each person.
Beginning with an identity in diaspora and, thus, multiple. An Armenian identity that faces itself and finds itself several times following a tragic event: the Armenian genocide (which is still denied and rendered invisible- but that also goes beyond the genocide in order to become a language, a writing, a religion, a dance, music, art, food and literature; an identity with points of origin far removed from our daily life. Origin myths, but all myths, mobilize us. Where Aremenianity is concerned we are like splinters from the same tree or better yet, from a same forest, to which were added new “splinters” of new identities: Argentinian, French, Canadian, Brazilian, Russian, North-American, Lebanese…and so on…
So, where are the Armenians? A quick answer allows us to “think ourselves” everywhere…connected by a network of diaspora, present, living, mobile. Linked also through a State (the Armenian Republic) which, like a broken mirror, reflects us in a fragmentary manner, deforming our identities and redefining them according to our proximity or our distance to an imperfect notion of “nationhood”… The Diaspora (my understanding of the diaspora) escapes from it… and where else can Armenians be? In a space so illuminated that it blinds us, for Armenians are there (also), in Turkey, from where they never left.
I allow myself here a brief account of my own experiences.
A few years ago, I visited Istanbul. In that frenetic and contradictory city, a series of childhood memories resurfaced. Smells brought me back to relatives and friends that are no longer there. Games carried me to the laughter and a subtle feeling of being at home. Coffee, tea, food, tobacco, faces… The Armenian faces in Istanbul. Memories that were activated thousands of kilometers away from Buenos Aires. Knowing Istanbul meant meeting Turkish historians investigating the Genocide, it was understanding something beyond the Armenian…it was a concrete, real connection in the Armenian-Turkish-Greek-Kurdish tie…
I believe in emotional memory as a factor in identity, because this memory evokes much more than a simple remembrance.
As Pınar Selek says in her lovely text, “it was hard for an Armenian to be happy in Turkey” and that misfortune is rooted in the fact of being something that cannot be…
Thus, they want to make us say this,
………….You cannot be an Armenian in Turkey.
You cannot be a Muslim in Israel.
………….You cannot be a Latino in the United-States.
You cannot be an African in Europe…
You cannot be a leftist in so many places…
You cannot be a woman, a feminist, trans, gay, lesbian, “odd”…
………….Yet, such is the case
………….………….Luckily, we are.
In Buenos Aires in Argentina, there are also things that cannot be…and Pinar Selek’s book has broken the chain of these prohibitions.
Buenos Aires, August 2019
On April 24 1915, the highest authorities in the Turkish State decided during the First World War to arrest, deport, then execute over 600 Armenian intellectuals, artists and activists in Constantinople. This date symbolized the launching of the genocide of which the Armenians were the victims. The attempt to exterminate this people had in fact begun several decades earlier.
If genocide is one of the worse atrocities humanity can inflict upon itself, it is above else a crime. A crime the aim of which is the destruction either of an entire population or of a part of it based on its characteristics. They were massacred because they were Armenian. Between 1915 and 1923, over one and a half million Armenians disappeared.
Although this crime takes on the appearance of a murderous madness, it is nonetheless thought out. A genocide takes place as part of a policy: it is thought out, rationalized, prepared. The State launches this criminal project with all its strength using all of its organs, agents, and judiciary system. The Genocide of Armenians is the outcome of a racist and discriminatory policy to which Armenians were subjected and to which were also subjected other minorities in Turkey. They were slowly excluded from society before being de-humanized, then exterminated.
The “Young Turks’s” party was building a modern State, one that was ethnically homogeneous, rid of populations that went against these nationalistic aims by the simple fact of their existence. This plan of extermination formed the basis of the current Turkey, fractured by the recollections from a criminal past and the current oppressions against those opposing the State through their dream of justice and freedom.
The Genocide is often thought of in terms of the physical disappearance of a people, but it is also the destruction of its culture, its language, its history and its beauty. Armenians provided the life in villages, plains, and mountains, on lands in Asia Minor they had occupied for millennia.
Today, even the slightest trace of their presence is willfully destroyed in Turkey, as if to say that here there is nothing and nothing ever was. The Turkish State, responsible for the crimes committed, has pursued its destruction of the Armenian people through a widespread negationist policy. The discriminations and racism that presided over the genocide live on under different forms. It is still because they are Armenians that the grand-children and great-grandchildren of the genocide currently living in Turkey are forced into silence.
In 2015, the centennial of the genocide was a particularly intense time of commemoration in Armenian communities around the world. But that year was also the occasion for the return of voices bearing demands for reparations to the Armenian people.
This struggle looking forward to the future, is necessarily a part of the solidarity for all the peoples and groups discriminated agains and resisting against all forms of domination. Be they cultural, social, political, military, religious, and many others still. Against systems of oppression built by autocratic, oligarchic entities of capitalist or imperialist exploitation.
The Armenian people are still shaping their own road. Between exile, despair, struggle and resistance, its tale is that of a people forged by those who refuse to submit and who fight on relentlessly for the right to exist and to obtain justice.
Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges
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