Ece Temelkuran’s latest book Deep Mountain: Across the Turkish-Armenian Divide explores the history and continuing discussion surrounding the Armenian Genocide in Armenia, Turkey, France and the United States. The project — which was borne from conversations the author had with Hrant Dink, the late editor of Agos newspaper — probes deeper into this situation by interviewing a wide-range of Armenian writers, thinkers and activists including Armenian poet Silva Gaboudikian, musician Arto Tuncboyajian, and filmmaker Serge Avedikian.
A well-known journalist and political commentator in Turkey, Temelkuran writes regularly for the Turkish newspaper Haberturk and has won numerous awards for her work, including the Pen for Peace Award and Turkish Journalist of the Year.
Temelkuran sat down with Taleen Babayan for an interview about Deep Mountain which was recently translated into English by Verso Books.
Taleen Babayan: You interview so many amazing and influential people in this book, politicians, musicians, students, lawyers and businessmen including Arto Tuncboyajian, Silva Gaboudikian, Patrick Devejian, Vartkes Yeghiayan, and they each have their own way of looking at not only the Turks but at themselves as Armenians. Was there a common thread among your subjects and the people you spoke with?
Ece Temelkuran: Although they expressed it in completely different ways, the main question that was eating them was this: Why don’t Turks feel anything? Even Ara Toranian. (Editor of Nouvelles d’Arménie Magazine and alleged former ASALA member) He wants to tell his story to the Turks, not to the French or Americans. But the one who he wants to tell the story to doesn’t want to listen. I think, although the Armenian community is extremely mature, they have this wounded child in them, whatever their ages are. That is the common thread I guess.
TB: You interviewed French politician Patrick Devedjian, who was the architect of the genocide bill in France, which had an amendment that would criminalize the denial of the Armenian Genocide in France. He felt Turkey would change under heavy pressure, and you felt the opposite; that this kind of legislation would cause Turkey to retreat and make it more difficult for open dialogue to ensue. Do you still hold this viewpoint? Don’t you think the recognition of the genocide by the world will cause Turkey to finally face its past since the rest of the world is doing so?
ET: There are two levels of this issue. One of them is the diplomatic side. Of course Turkey will change under diplomatic pressure, and it started changing as we all witnessed recently. We have seen the Turkish Prime Minister and the Armenian Prime Minister shaking hands and two foreign affairs ministers signing protocols. Behind them were the world leaders as if these politicians were the children and the leaders of the world were the parents who are guarding them. But this is not real. It’s something artificial. When people don’t feel it within them, it doesn’t matter if diplomatic progress has been made. If the peoples on both sides aren’t genuinely integrated to the process the diplomatic progress can be easily sabotaged. After Hrant died, Armenians became an easier topic to talk about. His death became a human shield on the issue. People even created the slogan ‘We are all Armenians’ in his funeral. I always feel as if Hrant was sacrificed. After his death, it became relatively easier for people to talk about Armenian issues and openly say they have Armenian friends. It’s tragically ironic. Even the diplomatic progress would be completely impossible without what people felt after Hrant’s death. Bottom line is, Hrant has done more then any world leader or any legislation could do.
TB: How has the reception been for Deep Mountain amongst both Armenians and Turks? Was it written for an Armenian audience?
ET: It was received very well in Turkey, to my surprise. The book sold over 60,000 copies and [that is a high number] for a country like Turkey, which clings to amnesia. I think it was because of the attitude of the book. In most cases, intellectuals are trying to push and slap this issue into people’s faces. They expect people to feel guilty rather than remember. I tried to make them remember first and then leave it to them to figure out what they feel about it. Most of the people felt, not necessarily guilty, but touched for the first time, and without even questioning whet really happened in 1915 they were eager to understand the humane side of the history. They admitted that they have feelings about Armenians which Turks are taught not to have. I guess, for the first time, Turkish people were trying to put themselves in the place of Armenians.
I wanted the audience, especially the Turkish audience to put themselves in this character, who in the beginning doesn’t feel a thing about Armenians, who rejects to feel anything and who by time understand the reason of her numbness. I suppose that numbness is what intimidates Armenians most, and they have a point. They say, “We feel so much about this ancient conflict and you feel nothing. How come you feel nothing?” That’s the biggest question of the Armenians. That is why I wrote the book for both audiences, Armenians and Turks, just to create a new path of communication. Because there are Turkish people who feel for Armenians and there are Armenians who are not just furious.
To read the rest of the interview, click here: http://wp.me/PMtLq-5o