Glendale News Press
April 23, 2005
Only the truth can set us free
Years ago, one of my dear friends, Valerie, called me up and asked me to
write down a number. As she is also my client, I did not question her and
obliged. After giving me the number, she said: “Her name is Afsan, she is
beautiful, she’s got two PhDs, and she is very, very nice. Call her!”
I could not help but wonder what type of a name Afsan was. I asked Valerie
where she was from.
She had not anticipated any further questions after giving me such a
glorious description of Afsan. But she responded that Afsan was from the
same place both our grandparents were from. Valerie is of Greek ancestry,
and like my paternal grandparents, they were forced to flee their homes in
Asia Minor during World War I.
My suspicions were true. Afsan was Turkish. A few days later, Valerie called
me up again and insisted I contact the girl. Afsan was at Valerie’s studio
in Beverly Hills, getting a makeover.
I was hesitant. After all, dating a Turkish girl would not be too different
from Margaret Thatcher meeting Che Guevara at the local Irish pub, or
Chairman Mao taking Mother Teresa out to a romantic, candlelight dinner. I
could not visualize a common ground, and if she had been brought up with the
Turkish government’s policy of denial, then there was probably a basic
difference in our core values.
Somehow, I was persuaded to call Afsan. I figured, if two human beings
cannot meet and have a civilized conversation in good faith, then we live in
a nasty world. I decided, for one day, I could be a world citizen, or better
yet, a person with no roots whatsoever.
I picked up Afsan at Valerie’s studio. Before any part of her anatomy had
actually touched the passenger seat, she said: “You look Turkish.”
I was tongue-tied for more reasons than one. Valerie had not been
It was now official: I was going to be a world citizen for the next few
hours. Turkish-Armenian dialogue had been on ice for more than eight
decades; it could wait one more day.
As we sat on the rooftop of the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills, sipping
afternoon tea and munching on biscuits, we covered all the basics in the
first 10 minutes. My membership to the world citizenship did not last long.
Afsan asked me what I had tried to avoid as we first met: “What happened to
I had taken a bite off the biscuit, and it had reached the halfway point in
my throat. Her question caught me off guard, and I started coughing and
choking on the biscuit. Tears started flowing down my cheeks. Afsan was
concerned, she put her hand on my back, leaned forward and said: “You are
crying. I am so sorry if I asked the wrong question.”
“No, no,” I answered. “I have biscuit stuck in my throat.”
“Oh!” she said and handed me the teacup; I was back to normal after a few
Afsan insisted: “We don’t learn about this part of ‘our’ history in Turkey.
I want to know.”
I looked at her deep blue eyes and responded defensively: “If you want me to
say my great-grandmother and grandparents were not forced to flee their
homes in Van (southeast Asia Minor), and in the process lost at least eight
members of their family, I cannot.”
I was going to get this off my chest now and see if our friendship could
I encouraged Afsan to do her own research if she really was interested in
the truth. With her academic background, it should not have been very
difficult for her to decipher between historical revisionism and reliable
I left her with a few thoughts, before we went back to lighter topics.
“Ask yourself, as you already have, what happened to those people? How could
over 2,000 years of presence on those lands be terminated in a few years
without a systematic plan of action?
“But most importantly, ask yourself, what kind of a world would we have if
parents could abuse their children without any consequences and later blame
it on unruliness? What type of society would we nourish if every time when a
woman is raped, we claim there are two sides to a story? What sort of family
structures would we build if husbands could murder their wives and then
blame it on the fact that she was chatting with the grocer? And what are the
consequences of rewarding state genocidal policies by blaming the victims
and revising the past?”
To her credit, Afsan listened carefully. Last I heard, she had gone back to
help her homeland recover from a disastrous earthquake. I hope we were able
to agree on some core values as human beings. As cliché as it may sound,
truth can set us free, and that applies to all of us.
* PATRICK AZADIAN works and lives in Glendale. He may be reached at