Turkish Activist Discusses Genocide Centennial and Changes in Turkey

Prominent Turkish human rights activist and publisher Ragip Zarakolu

YEREVAN (Armenpress)—The “wall” of Turkish denial that surrounds the Armenian Genocide has started showing cracks in the course of recent years. The process of breaking the taboo on issues concerning Turkey’s past with Armenia has been led by Turkish intellectuals who have a commitment to democracy and are not afraid to talk about their country’s past. Among these intellectuals is Turkish human rights advocate Ragip Zarakolu, who paid a visit to Yerevan in recent days to participate in the official release of the Turkish-language edition of a book he helped publish, which details eye-witness accounts from the Armenian Genocide.

Armenpress news agency had a conversation with the prominent Turkish publisher and activist about possible changes that may take place in Turkey before the 2015 centennial of the Armenian Genocide.

Ragip Zarakolu says that despite positive changes regarding Armenian issues in Turkish society, the Turkish state is still very much committed to denial, and uses its power to enforce that policy. Even universities and academies, Zarakolu says, are used towards that goal.

Zarakolu explained that it is Turkish denial that persistently keeps the Armenian issue on the country’s agenda. “It’s difficult to fight on all fronts, but the state’s policy of denial is so active that the people start to doubt whether everything really happened the way it is presented.”

The book that Ragip Zarakolu helped publish, The Armenian Genocide: Eye-Witness Testimonies of Survivors, by Vergine Svazlian, has now been released for the public in the Turkish language. The book, which was previously published in Armenian and English contains 700 eye-witness accounts from genocide survivors.

Speaking about his experience in Yerevan, Zarakolu said, “I feel as if I am surrounded by family here. My gratitude to Vergine Svazlian for the work she has conducted.”

Verjine Svazlian, Lead Researcher at the Institute of Archeology and Ethnography at the Academy of Sciences in Armenia, presented her research on the oral tradition of Armenian Genocide survivors, through their eye-witness testimonies and songs revealing their experience.

Svazlian’s presentation was based on the many oral histories of Armenian Genocide survivors, which she personally collected beginning in 1955 from 100 localities in Western Armenia. She undertook these efforts often at great personal risk from authorities in the former Soviet Union and Turkey.

Svazlian began collecting Genocide testimonies as a student at Yerevan’s Khachatour Abovian Pedagogical University, walking door-to-door and village-to-village, searching for Armenian Genocide survivors who had been rescued. Her work is particularly valuable not only because of its volume, but because of the short amount of time that had passed since the Genocide.

Through her interviews, which Svazlian recorded in written, audio, and videotaped form and in different dialects and languages, she also captured testimonies about the self-defense actions that took place in several Armenian towns attacked by the Turkish military, as in Van, Shatakh, Shabin-Karahisar, Sassoun, Musa Ler, Urfa, and others.

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2 Comments

  1. Sylva-MD-Poetry said:

    Dear Prof. Vergine Svazlian…please add another genocide versified story to your 700 stories to be 701
    From my poetry collection “A Poetic Soul Shined of Genocide” August 2008, p.22

    Born from Mother, Escaped Genocide

    I was born from Mother
    Escaping known genocide.
    Astonishingly by great luck,
    That was miraculous crack.

    My mother always prayed and said,
    “Some are born to live
    No one can take souls to sharks,
    Even to a devilish devil flying in the dark.”

    Grandfather Mehran,
    The director of customs department in town,
    In a government job—Empire of Ottoman,
    A graduate of college and a respectful man,

    Walked to work at dawn
    Never came back to mourn,
    Has been taken from there,
    Slaughtered unsown.

    When my grandma Zaruhi,
    Twenty-four spring years, then
    Heard that her husband vanished,
    With most of relatives, kin keen,

    Started thinking how to protect her four kids
    Within her heartbroken domain.
    Grandmother—innocent, simpleminded,
    Confused, how to secure an elder daughter’s life.

    She took my mother, Victoria, to her great uncle’s hive
    (Garabed Dabbaghian*, famous lawyer in town),
    In high-ranked area, thinking the child will survive.
    My mother started crying, obsessed to return home—dive.

    As she was only four years,
    Attached to Mother’s park,
    Tiny blond girl had fear
    Of nightmares and the dark.

    She said I had real luck.
    My obsession kept me alive to lark.
    [My grandfather named her Victoria
    As she was born in the Victorian era.]

    After she returned home
    From her uncle’s family dome*,
    Old women, brides, children, toddlers
    Vanished the next day at the “earliest crack at dawn.”

    Gendarme came at night and stood on the door
    After counting all households, one by one in core.
    More than thirty humans living in a large house.
    So no one can leave, no one can escape roar, rouse.

    They took them in carts, nobody knows where,
    Disappearing from Diyarbakir’s century-home mare.
    Who were the gendarmes? Not government men?
    Was he not Turkish? Probably a spaceman!

    He was a police officer sent from police headquarters
    To the influential families to kill and confiscate
    As much as their hands can reach, catch,
    Hence, from small pin to a largest ranch.

    Written to be halal* in their fatwa** known the Hamidian***.
    Killing, raping, searing, even hanging, torturing,
    Using belongings of massacred Armenians,
    Adding literary books, burning treasure words down.

    Grandma was terrified and started escaping,
    From hand to hand, from roof to roof,
    Bribing endlessly the Turks aloof,
    To keep their lives hidden even in a groove.

    Prayers were not to reach “genocidal carts”—
    Deported, to be thrown in Der Zor desert to starve, die!
    They constantly suffered, till arriving Aleppo, a safe Arab land.
    All her jewels were gone, with Ottoman liras in gold,

    Started working in a factory weaving clothes
    To look after four kids—diseased, hungry, shocked
    With her, old Mother Manoosh, lamenting
    Sons, daughters, relatives, and neighbors she lost.

    My uncle Haig was only a few months old;
    Grandma used to cover his mouth with a cloth
    To stop the baby’s crying sound, loud and odd,
    So the gendarme cannot hear, find and slay his throat;

    As he was hungry, breast milk dried alone;
    He remained small, short with starved bones.
    Another child, Eugene, she was two years old;
    She vomited continuously until dehydrated to rot!
    Perished on reaching Syria, may be from cholera!

    This is my childhood stories, hearing them every night;
    We never heard stories of a happy fairy-tale land.
    But was replaced by murderers, the way that they killed,
    The ways they raped innocent girls, angels, sweet,

    Incised the throats of young lads’: clever, angel, dear.
    For sure every gendarme was one by one paid,
    Bribed by well-known Ottoman government,
    Killing every Christian, swiftly head after head.

    How we can forget the dishearten childhood stories!*
    Our brains impregnated with endless fears, stays since!
    Dreaming, the devils like in excess greed
    After hearing tales that impedes the heart beats—

    From Granny, Zarouhi, so kind and cherished,
    More accurate yet horrible than recent movies.
    At that era, there was no TV to watch, near to cheer,
    Other than a large radio on a high table to hear.

*

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