ISTANBUL: Owen, Cemal And 1915


Today’s Zaman
Sept 11 2012


Last week I read two pieces one after another. The first was published
in the British newspaper The Independent. Owen Jones’s article bore
the headline “William Hague is wrong … we must own up to our brutal
colonial past.”

The article was quite interesting for a number of reasons. The first
was obvious: A country known as a bastion of democracy is being
invited to face its past. And from this article we understood that
“facing history is still a hot debate,” even in a place like the UK.

Owen started his article with a few quotes from British Foreign
Secretary William Hague: “We have to get out of this post-colonial
guilt. … Be confident in ourselves.”

Jones’s article is a challenge to the “lets forget everything and
reach eternal peace” mentality. Hague’s way of relating to the past
is quite popular in Turkey, as you probably know. Interestingly, Owen
was criticizing Hague’s approach to history by making a comparison
with British expectations of Turkey. Owen said, “A foreign country
such as Turkey can rightly be berated for failing to come to terms
with an atrocity like the Armenian Genocide, but the darkest moments
of our own history are intentionally forgotten.”

After reading Owen’s piece in The Independent, I came across a few
interviews with Hasan Cemal in different newspapers, all of which were
about his new book titled “1915: Armenian Genocide.” The book has not
yet been published, but it is already quite famous in Turkey. Some
criticize Cemal while some praise him for his soon-to-be-published

Cemal is quite a well-known figure in Turkey. He is a journalist
and writer, writing a regular column for the Milliyet daily. He is
the grandson of Cemal PaÅ~_a, one of the three leaders of Ä°ttihat
ve Terakki Cemiyeti (Committee of Union and Progress [CUP]), which
organized the massacres of the Armenians in 1915.

I think his book is quite timely and meaningful. So far I have only
seen the cover of the book and read a few sentences from its preface.

On the cover, Cemal’s photo appears; in it, he lays flowers at the
site of the Armenian Genocide Memorial in Yerevan. Obviously, the
book will spark quite an intense debate in the coming days, and the
discussion has already begun.

Like Owen, Cemal emphasized the importance of facing the past in
the interviews he gave. He said: “We cannot move forward without
confronting and taking into consideration the events of the past. We
cannot keep an eye on the anguish of the past. Moreover, the pain of
1915 is not a story, it is a current day issue.”

I want to conclude this piece with some words I underlined in the
preface to Cemal’s new book:

“I cannot forget that Yerevan morning in September 2008. In the
first sunlight of the morning, the peak of Mount Agrı [Ararat]
would emerge and then vanish in the fog. ‘The hand of history,’ I
had written that morning, ‘will show the way for those who wish to
see.’ In 1919, the colonial army of England had opened fire on people
in India, committing a crime against humanity by bloodying its hands
with the Amritsar Massacre. In 1997, Queen of England Elizabeth II,
while apologizing to the people of India, had said that what happened
in Amritsar was a tragedy, but ‘history cannot be rewritten, however
much we might sometimes wish otherwise.’ Surely we cannot change
history; however, facing history is in our hands. Without facing the
grim realities of the past, how can we ever move forward? We cannot
remain silent in the face of pain! We cannot allow yesterday to take
today hostage. … Real peace and democracy can unfortunately only
be arrived at by passing through intolerable pain, as in the case
of Hrant Dink, through paying a big price. It is evident that some
stones in the lives of certain societies don’t happen without the
paying of a price, or they don’t sit where they are supposed to.”

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