What are Turkish people called?
BOSTON — Another April 24 has come and gone. It is the day Armenians around the world remember as beginning of the Armenian Genocide of 1915, when thousands of their ancestors perished.
I am a 52-year-old Turkish-American woman and I must admit that it wasn’t until I was in my late forties that I ever had a conversation with an Armenian person about the Armenian Genocide. Why? The answer lies in why I am compelled to write now about my own personal journey and two murders a quarter of a century apart.
On May 4, 1982, I learned that a man I knew had been shot to death on his way home from work. That kind and gentle man was Orhan Gündüz, who at the time was Turkey’s honorary consul to Boston. I had stopped by his little souvenir shop in Cambridge for a quick hello. As it happened, this was just a few hours before he died. What I remember most vividly is how his murder (a group named Justice Commandos against Armenian Genocide claimed responsibility) confused me so much that I spent the next 25 years avoiding the subject.
Like most other Turkish people of my generation, my knowledge of Armenians was limited to what I had studied in history classes: that the Armenians had sided with the Western allies during the waning days of the Ottoman Empire, and for that they were forever marked as traitors by Turkey and the Turks. Over the two decades following Gündüz’s assassination, I simply shunned the subject of the Armenian Genocide because it was too uncomfortable, too painful, and too difficult for me to deal with.
Then came the summer of 2006, when I received an invitation to work on an Armenian-Turkish dialogue project in greater Boston. I immersed myself in the subject. I learned the history of the Ottoman Armenians, which had been missing from the school textbooks I read as a child. I made new friends, including Armenian-Americans with whom I’d been living parallel lives, while never exchanging a word.
During this time I heard the news of an assassination. Hrant Dink, a Turkish-Armenian newspaper editor, was gunned down in Istanbul by a 16-year-old Turkish nationalist. I did not know much about Dink at the time. I knew only that he was the founder of Agos, the first community newspaper in Turkey printed in both Armenian and Turkish, that he had opened the eyes of his traditionally quiet and passive Armenian community, encouraging both Armenians and Turks to speak openly about their ethnic identities and their family histories, and that countless people in Turkey had discovered their lost Armenian ancestry through his help and support. The date was January 19, 2007, 25 years after I had buried the subject of the Armenian Genocide.