“Why do we miss our own countries? Is it so wearying to be a stranger in a strange land? Or is there something binding us to our homeland? What is this anguished, compulsive love of country? What is it, and why?
Our homeland is like a lover demanding our return each time we part, but never pledging to return our love. Why do our hearts always return to Anatolia, only to be ground to dust and burnt to ashes? Why do we love the people of this land just as you’d love a systematically and brutally beaten child?
And how is our love different from the love of those who say they’ll die for their country and will kill anyone who won’t?
What distinguishes love of country from nationalism? How should we love our country? If it’s true that some people are willing to die for their country, what makes us different from them? The difference is that they know one story, and we know another. Their story tells them that love of country involves killing and death.
When people’s stories diverge from each other, their flesh too is severed. Our stories are sharper than the sharpest cleaver. And when we kill each other it’s usually over our stories.”
In 1915 Ottoman Turkey systematically killed or deported Armenians; an act of genocide in which up to a million and a half people died. But why does 1915 matter in 2010? It was the question that Temelkuran’s murdered friend, the Armenian editor, Hrant Dink, asked, and the question Temelkuran set out to answer. To those who live just over the ludicrously sealed border from Turkey, it matters because that was when the killing began and Armenians became another giant diaspora, scattered from Los Angeles to Paris. It matters because Turkey’s still unacknowledged responsibility for those mass murders binds the new, utterly impoverished Armenian state together. It matters because the French part of the diaspora has built an entire emotional theory of nationhood on Ankara’s refusal to confront its past and just say “sorry”. It matters in LA because genocide means reparations and lawyers and zillions of dollars.
And it matters to us because understanding this distant but strangely potent fury helps us understand something far beyond Ararat, the Deep Mountain of Temelkuran’s recently published analysis. She’s explaining something that the English in particular can barely comprehend. History for us is a moribund, inert business. It doesn’t bring out boiling passions. We’ve “moved on” so comprehensively that we don’t quite recall where we came from.
The world in the shadow of Armenia’s deep mountain is different. Sometimes it feels as though the slaughter was yesterday, not sealed in the tales of grandmothers. Why are the stories that survive always filled with pain, Temelkuran asks. Because pain and suffering endures while happiness fades. Misery is halfway to myth. It unites; and, alas, it deludes.
“Remembering takes two,” Temelkuran writes. “If there’s no one to remember with you, the things you remember never existed, never happened, vanish. A nation can opt to forget en masse.” But equally a land can have a memory, “made up not of the recollections of individuals, but of the concerted efforts of a people who have decided to remember”.
Peter Preston, The Guardian
Ece Temelkuran dissects the process by which false and true national memories are created and why they are sustained. This is a book that transforms this ancient Armenian-Turkish dispute into a human drama.
“It’s a quietly powerful book, modest but courageous.”