This pain is not ours

by Azad Alik

What we need is justice, not compassion

Serhat Uyurkulak

I’m thankful that I haven’t witnessed as many deaths close by. But in most visits of condolence, I came across a similar scene. As the suffering had soared up to an almost tangible degree, someone would suddenly burst into tears and moan that they so wanted to bring the deceased back from the tomb to the extent of declaring a willingness to go into the grave instead. Under the gaze of the surprised family members, people would secretly ask each other who that person might be. And, often, it would turn out that the ‘grief-thief’ was someone who had pangs of conscience for they would feel indebted to the deceased in one way or the other. The strangest thing would be the family’s almost forgetting their own grief to make grief-thief feel better. The real torment would begin when it befell on them to console that person with ill conscience. 

I do wish to be a person without a blemish on my conscience and life, and I try to do my best to live like one. Being persons with ‘clear consciences’ was an expression in the declaration of the ‘This Pain is Ours’ initiative that more frequently appeared on social and other media as April 24th drew near. The declaration claimed that what had been done to the Armenians who were Ottoman subjects in 1915 must be called a crime against humanity. Moreover, the authors called all of us who were ‘united on the basis of the fundamental values of humanity’ to declare that 1915 was the ‘common pain’ of each and every person living inTurkey.  

One wonders whether the road to hell really is paved with stones of good will. For instance, I’m not exactly sure what kind of a response I’d get from Armenians had I told them with the intention to be a person with a clear conscience that I take what they lived in 1915 as my own pain too. I’m not sure because I know that I belong in a ‘constitutive element’ that has been privileged by a republic which has chosen to espouse the polity that carried out the genocide (call it the forced exile or the Great Catastrophe if you like) rather than severing its ties with it. Even though I don’t see myself as such, this is who I am historically and structurally.   

Doubtless, it’s very hard to accept the situation as is, but sometimes facts override intentions. No matter how keenly do we think that we are radically different from the ruling elites and even the ordinary people of the 1915 period, this doesn’t change much in the picture. Besides, regardless of how peaceful and sharing, individual good-will and conscience cannot solve the main problem where peace and collaboration can be achieved only through justice. Beyond intentions, it’s necessary to recognize what happened and justice served. Unfortunately, the compassion of good-willed people that means little more than petting the back of the ‘other’ cannot replace real justice.

In this country resembling a gigantic wake-house, the victims are expected to console and comfort everyone else, especially those with ill conscience. That’s precisely the reason why I cannot help but say that this pain doesn’t belong to all of us but the Armenians. I don’t think that saying so would make a person heartless or inhuman. On the contrary, I believe that it’s more humane not to appropriate even the suffering of those who have been wiped off the face of the country I’m a citizen of and whose properties I’ve been using, whose houses I’ve been living in, and whose wealth I’ve been taking advantage of even if structurally speaking. What is needed is not that fashionable sentiment called empathy but to assume the responsibility of what happened and to work for justice despite this may be hard or even unbearable to admit. Finally, if 1915 has been our common suffering all along, why did we wait to feel and declare it so until Hrant Dink was assassinated? I really wonder why.

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