An Armenian and a Turk in Paris

By Arevik Taymizyan

Last May–I was flying from the south of France–where I was studying–to see Charles Aznavour in concert in Paris. Getting from the airport to the city center by metro was easy–but finding my way from the metro station to my hotel proved to be more difficult.

As I stood reading Paris’ confounding metro map–a stranger approached me and offered to help–probably having noticed the bewildered look on my face. He accompanied me towards the right train–and as we waited for it to arrive–we engaged in a little small talk. I told him this was my first time in Paris–and that I was about to realize my dream of seeing Aznavour in concert. He told me he worked in music and politics–without going into further detail.

Then came the question I was frequently asked in France: "Et vous tes de quelle origine?"Armenian," I replied–and posed the same question to him. His answer was a lot less clear. He muttered something about being a mix and of his family being from Cyprus. "So–Turkish or Greek?" I asked–trying to clarify. He was still hesitant–and insisted that he was a mix of some sort. As my train was arriving–I pressed no further.

The kind stranger–who had introduced himself as David–gave me his email address and offered to show me the real Paris–though I had only a couple of days to see it. I took his address and left.

The next time I saw David was two months after that first encounter. I was heading up to Paris for one week before coming back home to Los Angeles–and David insisted that I stay in his house. I should mention–though–that by this time we had shared many emails and phone conversations–so that the kind stranger was no longer a stranger–but a friend that I deemed amiable and intelligent. Being a student (that is–having limited funds)–I took him up on his offer.

I was warmly greeted as I arrived in Paris by train–but on the way to his house–David almost regretfully confessed that he had been hiding a secret from me. A million and one ideas ran through my mind as I tried to imagine what his secret might be.

"You’re a Turk–aren’t you?" I asked. He nodded his head in assent. And so it was–as I had been suspecting. His apartment was filled with articles that proved it: Turkish encyclopedia–books–CDs and little paintings with Turkish writing on them. In the corridor was a poster of a famous Turkish singer and–on his bookcase–the Koran.

I didn’t know what to think. On one hand–I felt as though I had betrayed all my people–our history–and our homeland by having befriended this Turk. I also felt deceived for not having been told the truth earlier.

On the other hand–I thought this could be the perfect chance to get to know one of them. I had never known a Turk before in my life–yet the feeling of mistrust and resentment towards them was firmly rooted in me–as it is in the hearts and minds of many Armenia’s young and old. But I tried to cast off these thoughts–and reassured myself that this could be an interesting opportunity.

The Turk–whose real name by the way was not David but Suleyman–proved to be quite the entertainer. He made me breakfast and dinner every day–and did his best to show me Paris. I should also mention that I had not arrived in Paris alone–but with my cat. Though the Turk was allergic to cats–he nevertheless compassionately accepted my feline companion into his home–and even went the extra mile by buying him litter and a box. And when asked why he was so kind tome–he simply replied that he wanted to prove to at least one Armenian–"Turks aren’t so bad after all."

But despite the amity between us and the evenings spent drinking wine on the Champ de Mars and gazing at the sparkling Eiffel Tower–there nevertheless rested between us a silent bitterness that I could not shake off. Yes–those unspeakable atrocities of so many years ago were still breathing in my mind. And we could not avoid discussing it–as I don’t believe any Armenian could come face to face with a Turk and avoid the word genocide.

And so we talked about it. Knowing Suleyman to be bright and knowledgeable–I found it astonishing that he repeated to me the same illogical rebuttals that every Turk who denies the genocide reiterates. Though I found it insulting that the calculated murder of 1.5 million Armenia’s decades ago was still left unsettled and had now been reduced to a mere argument between two insignificant people–I nevertheless recounted to him our history and told him everything I ever knew–heard or read about the genocide.

And not only to Suleyman–but to his family–as well. He had invited me to his family’s house in his ongoing effort to prove the hospitality of Turks–yet the topic of conversation once again landed on that embittered link that connected our peoples.

No–we never did agree on anything–nor reach a conclusion in our argumen’s. We only concurred on the idea that the past has to be put aside in order for our two nations to be able to forge a future together.

Of course–that’s easy for them to say. But what about us? It seems the only way to reconcile distance between us is for Turkey and its people to come clean about their past.

As for Suleyman–we still write letters every now and then. There’s still a little inch of me that feels like a traitor–but how can I forget the utmost benevolence with which my Turkish friend treated me during my stay? Yes–he eventually succeeded in proving to me that "Turks aren’t so bad after all," but his nation still has a long way to go before it can prove to all Armenia’s that they are worthy of being forgiven–that they are worthy of being not just a neighbor–but a friend.

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