FRESNO (Fresno Bee) — Turkish historian Ümit Kurt recalls how he first heard in his early 20s of the Armenian historical presence in Turkey – a presence the Turkish government has spent decades trying to erase.
After entering an old house that had been turned into a cafe in the Turkish city of Aintab, Kurt said, “I saw some weird letters, and I thought they were Arabic or Persian letters because my historic consciousness went back that far – as if there was no Greeks, there was no Armenians, there was no Jews, who had lived in this land.”
After questioning the owner of the cafe about the history of the building, Kurt was told that it once belonged to Armenians. Since that experience, Kurt has often written about the appropriation of Armenian land and property by Turks.
Some societies are capable of openly discussing their history, Kurt said. Others, “because their past and present is intertwined, in a way that causes them to lose their sense of reality,” Kurt said. “In Turkish society, this (lost) sense of reality is most obvious in the case of denying, or not acknowledging, the Armenian genocide.
“Confronting the past is a societal problem, rather than an individual one,” Kurt said.
This erasure of Armenian history in Turkey occurs from an early age, with textbooks and school curriculum teaching that the genocide – referred to as the “Armenian matter” – is a lie, Kurt said.
“Because Turkey founded its existence on the absence of ‘the other,’ every conversation on its existence inspires fear and anxiety,” Kurt said. “The chief difficulty in speaking on the Armenian issue in Turkey lies in this existence-absence dilemma.”