I talk about Kemal Ataturk, about history and politics, about security, about genocide recognition, about history, about the ability of a government to reject one’s own alphabet but not a crime of indescribable scale, about neighbors living with open borders regardless of how open borders affect economics and other realities. I talk about all these major, universal, overarching, historic and political issues. What do they ask? They ask about my grandmother.
Each time I’m amazed and each time I forget. It’s not because I have a lousy memory. I do, more and more…. But that’s not the problem. The reason I forget is that I try very hard, very very hard, to de-personalize the discussion. I try very hard not to focus on lost childhoods, lost parents, not normal (not abnormal, just plain NOT normal) childhoods and adolescences, about indescribably cruel and tortuous parent-child relationships and their affect on succeeding generations. I try to talk only about the inescapable complexities of unresolved political and historical events. I try to describe the inescapable siege mentality that is the outcome of closed borders in the 21st century. I try to explain that we – the rational, caring, thoughtful, honest, pragmatic, humanist, philosophical, just-minded – are ready to move forward believing that time will bring justice, but will not be coerced by someone in Ankara imposing a politically-expedient acknowledgement of so-called objective history, as if what international scholars have studied these decades is not objective or scholarly.
They listen. But they want to know about orphanages, about deserts, about children being left behind, about fourteen year olds being sold by Turks and bought by Armenians. Sometimes I get emotional. Other times, they get emotional even before I do. They apologize for asking and continue to ask the questions that transform this incomprehensible political crime and continuing consequences into a human story deserving of compassion. More is not in their power. People to people is all they can do. Absent governments relations, that’s all anyone can do.
Finally, they always want to know if I’ve been to Turkey. No, I tell them, I’ve been to Istanbul, but not to Turkey. They are from Istanbul. And they, too, know that Turkey is not Istanbul. And that is a problem for them, too, not just for us.