BOOK REVIEW; 'MY GRANDMOTHER: A MEMOIR' BY FETHIYE CETIN

Today's Zaman
http://www.todayszaman.com/tz-web/detaylar.d o?load=detay&link=143587&bolum=111
June 2 2008
Turkey

As a girl, Turkish lawyer Fethiye Cetin knew her grandmother as an
adored Muslim matriarch by the name of Seher. Then she learned that
Seher had been born an Armenian Christian, HaranuÅ~_, who, several
decades before, had been seized from the clasp of her mother by a
World War I Turkish gendarmerie corporal officiating over a column
of Armenians being marched out of Anatolia.

"My Grandmother," now out in a translation by novelist Maureen
Freely, is Cetin's compelling account of her gradual discovery of
the deep contradiction between her proud nationalist education and
the realities buried deep in Turkish society. The bare narrative
offers few moral and historical judgments, few dates, no maps, no
politics. There is also no discussion of whether the disappearance of
the Armenians of Anatolia was the result of a genocide or massacres
or civil war. Surprises abound: for instance, Seher came to feel great
affection for the corporal as a new father. Asked why it all happened
by Cetin, all the grandmother can ask back is, "What should I know?"

The fast-selling original of the book is part of a genre in modern
Turkish literature that tries to make amends for the gaping hole
left by the Armenians in the country's public history. The theme is
dominant in both Orhan Pamuk's recent "Snow" and Elif Å~^afak's "The
Bastard of Istanbul." Cetin's book is already required reading for
students in progressive Turkish institutions like Sabancı University
in Ä°stanbul. Along with occasional recent exhibitions and conferences
about the lost Armenians, these are part of a trend in Turkey that
is grappling with a history of denial, nationalism and fears of
political consequences.

Altogether eight Armenian girls ended up as new-minted Muslims in
the small Turkish town where Cetin's grandmother found herself. Even
her brother Horen survived to become known as a shepherd called
Ahmet. Initially working as domestic servants, then as free wives
and mothers, they kept alive customs like colored candy-bread, which
they would share at Easter without letting the children know why;
they labored under discrimination enough already. Everyone in town
knew they were of Armenian origin. Their official papers registered
them as "converts," but they were mocked in the streets as "converts'
sperm" or the "leftovers of the sword." The family is convinced this
was why one talented relative was unable to take up a place in a good
military school.

Translator Freely, in a valuable introduction, reckons there could
today be 2 million such descendants of Armenians among Turkey's
population of 75 million. More than 30 other ethnicities still
survive, and this new proof of the impossibility of repressing its
inherent multi-ethnicity helps explain the shrillness and sometimes
schizophrenia of Turkey's one-nation ideologues. Cetin argues that
all in Anatolia are of "impure blood."

The pain of the Turkish Armenians is not yet over. As a lawyer, Cetin
represents the family of murdered Turkish-Armenian newspaper editor
Hrant Dink, cut down in January 2007 by a young man inspired by this
same deep-rooted nationalism, and hailing from Trabzon, an eastern
Turkish city with a history of ethnic trauma. As Cetin's grandmother
warns her children, telling them not to be afraid as they pass by a
cemetery, "Evil comes from the living, not the dead."

"My Grandmother: A Memoir" by Fethiye Cetin , With an introduction
by Maureen Freely, Published by Verso, ISBN: 978-1844671694, $14.71
in hardcover.

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