ARMENIANS AND A TURK IN A LEBANESE RESTAURANT

Today's Zaman
Oct 18 2012
Turkey

Sometimes, an image, a sentence, a phrase or a day full of interesting
developments may offer you new perspectives, outlooks or profound
insights that you could not have obtained from many volumes of books.

During such times you say "Aha!" Thanks to many "aha" moments that
I've experienced in the past, I believe I have managed to make sense
of the Armenian issue to a certain extent. My first "aha" moment came
in London in 1998, when I met the Armenian diaspora for the first
time in my life.

My friend Onnik had invited me to an Armenian genocide conference. As
we were waiting for Onnik's girlfriend in front of the Holborn station,
an old man approached us, whispering, "They say the bloody Turks have
placed a bomb in the conference hall," and went away. Onnik felt the
need to explain: "Don't take him seriously, Orhan. He is a freak and
of unsound mind." There and then, I realized that 1915 was an idée
fixe even in the minds of insane Armenians in the diaspora.

"What would he do if he knew I was a Turk?" I thought to myself. Soon
I received the answer to this question. When Onnik introduced me
to his friends as "my Turkish friend," they involuntarily gave out
cries which I will never forget. "I have met a Turk once," said one
of the women in a desperate effort to relieve me, unaware that she
was referring to "Turks" as though we were aliens from outer space.

Later at the conference, when a British academic said, "Turks are
actually good people, but they have somehow erased 1915 from their
minds," a spectator jumped to his feet yelling: "What are you talking
about? Turks are not even human beings!" The ensuing developments were
very interesting. The older members of the community raised strong
objections to the young man. "Our only concern is the recognition of
the genocide. However, your words, which dehumanize Turks, will only
provide an invitation for another genocide," said one of them. I took
a huge sigh of relief and said a silent "bravo" to the old man.

The rest of the day was like a film. After the conference, we went to
a pub together with a group of Onnik's friends. Among the crowd were
two young people talking to each other in perfect Turkish. When I
introduced myself to them, they seemed to grow pale and attempted to
offer me an explanation. They were Armenians from İstanbul who were
studying in London. They had "accidentally" attended this conference.

It took quite a long time to relieve their fears and make them believe
that I was not a Turkish state official, but a lawyer and a human
rights advocate.

As I was chatting with them, an elderly Armenian who also spoke perfect
Turkish approached us. This man had left Turkey at an early age but
would read a few Turkish newspapers every day. He would translate
from Ottoman, Turkish and Armenian into English. His last wish was to
find the Ottoman originals of the memoirs of Talat Pasha and render
them into English. We were in the heart of Europe and I was among
those who were clinging on to their childhood memories and to the
pale images that they had of Turkey. It was a very weird feeling.

We in Turkey were not aware of their presence, but they were talking
about us every day with a strong obsession with the past.

Then, I went to a Lebanese restaurant with Onnik, who is an American
Armenian, a Turkish Armenian young man and a Greek Cypriot Armenian.

As a group with common roots in Turkey, we had a very warm chat.

Memories and jokes came one after another. We sat at the table as
four foreigners but left with the feeling that we knew each other
from childhood. It was as if our parents had divorced years ago and
had told us that our brothers were our enemies. But now for the first
time we were getting to know each other directly and as normal human
beings. We were so alike. On our way out our Greek Armenian friend
lost his footing as he was walking down the narrow stairs of the
restaurant and he inadvertently slipped out a Turkish swear word. "We
say exactly the same in Turkey when we stumble on something," I said.

Our laughter melted away in the misty weather of London. This was
my experience of meeting the Armenian diaspora for the first time in
my life.