Today's Zaman
Dec 29 2011

Turkey's Armenians speak out in 'Sounds of Silence'


Armenians who live in Turkey have related their personal stories in a
book as part of an oral history project by the Hrant Dink Foundation:
"Sounds of Silence, Armenians of Turkey Speak" (Sessizliğin Sesi,
Türkiyeli Ermeniler Konuşuyor).
Introducing the book on Thursday, writer Ali Bayramoğlu said it is
about the people who were killed and who live in this land.

"This is the story of a group who have been silent, who will not tell
us about themselves, who consider remembering and passing on their
stories to be dangerous. ... Even though they knew, they did not
remember; even though they remembered, they did not want to tell. They
tried to protect future generations by hiding," he said, pointing out
that the Armenians of Turkey were not even able to talk about what it
is like being an Armenian.

"They are few in numbers. Most of them who had first-hand information
about 1915 from their mothers and fathers, from their uncles and aunts
left this world," he added, saying that their memories are going to
disappear as they also leave this world soon.

"This work is a result of a desire to capture what is becoming a
void," he said. What he referred to by saying "1915" was the killing
of Armenians in 1915 in Ottoman lands.

Ferda Balancar, who directed the group that conducted interviews with
40 people in İstanbul and other provinces in Anatolia, said that this
is a first of a kind study because it concentrated solely on the
Armenians of Turkey.

He added that the Armenians of Turkey are not a homogenous group of
people as believed by a majority of people in Turkish society, and
Turkey's Armenians include those who are born and raised as Armenians,
who are either Muslims or have had to be Muslims or who live secretly
as Armenians as reflected in the identities of the interviewees.

The book included stories of eight females and seven males aged 19-70.

Balancar also pointed out that Jan. 19, 2007, the date that Armenian
journalist Hrant Dink was assassinated by an ultranationalist teenager
in front of the office of his weekly Agos in İstanbul, seems to have
been the breaking point for Turkey's Armenians.

"After that, there were some who said they had a desire to leave
Turkey, and there were some others who said they had a desire to stay
and resist all odds," he said.

When it comes to their feelings about Armenia, most of them said that
their language and culture have a chance to live there, but they don't
feel like they belong there.

Sociologist Arus Yumul, who evaluated the interviews and wrote
concluding remarks for the book, said that the Armenians of Turkey
preferred to either stay silent or use the language of the "sovereign"
because of their fears of being stigmatized and targeted in society
for being "the other."

"They had fears, and being silent was their survival strategy," she
said. "The reason for not talking about 1915 with younger generations
is to protect them. But even if nothing is being talked about it in
the family, an Armenian identity is produced."

BOX: People share their most personal recollections

"When talking about Tehcir [forced emigration], [my grandmother]
always would say 'Leave; never stay here. ... She would always tell us
'Be careful, do not obtain much property, do not attract attention'."

"When I heard that Hrant Dink was killed, I started to cry. ... At
first, I was shocked; I was very afraid. I thought 'They can kill us,
too'. But then the opposite happened. My courage increased; 'I started
thinking 'I am an Armenian, too. If somebody has a problem with that,
s/he should behave accordingly."

"Hrant would talk about what was covered up. Nobody would say anything
from our community; they were intimidated. Hrant tore apart that

"I don't care who did what in 1915. We know who did what because there
is a result out in the open: One-third of a population vanished. I am
interested in who did not do what was necessary to do. Why didn't you
do something when your neighbors were killed? How did you allow it? I
always think about this."