April 24th was the commemoration of the Armenian genocide on the hands of the Ottoman empire. April 24th also marked 94 years of denial by the Turkish government that such a thing ever happened… and they called them casualties of war…
I go to work like any regular Tuesday. I log on Gmail and my friend, Lynn, gives me the link to an article in the press praising the Turkish cultural week. I do not understand, because two days ago was one of the harshest days in the year for me; two days ago, I was wallowing in transgenerational trauma and reading William Saroyan. I got angry and confused and after talking it over with my friends, I realized that Martyr’s day is in a week and it all made sense… How perfect to put a cultural event in the between these two events and diverge the minds and thoughts of everybody from Turkey’s past and its ongoing denials.
So Lynn tells me, let’s do something, let’s hold up a banner, peacefully. I agree with the idea; we tell our friend to create a page on facebook and we start calling up our friends and acquaintances.
At 7.30, we are around 17 people, we go to UNESCO , we walk in under the banner that says something along the way of Turkey, nation of peace. I laugh. Lynn had brought a camera, I take it. We start dispersing. Our friends, Ali and Sara, take the stairs and the rest follow and they drop the banner and my friends start going : “Hey up here!” So everyone looks up and I start taking photos, hysterically, because we know that the photos will mean the most, along with the banner.
A T.V. cameraman turned his lens upwards, I hear the security guy say : "check which T.V. that is and stop them.” A moukhabarat guy goes up and rips the banner, he starts yelling at Ali and Sara, tries to calm things down; they take us outside. In the meantime, we manage to give the camera to our friend and tell her to just leave with the photos, just in case they take it from us inside, she does.
We stick together and are eventually led to the Makhfar ( police station ). All 15 of us.
The faces of the officers were priceless, I guess seeing 14 girls and a guy in their twenties walking into the makhfar was not so regular, or was it?
Inside the Makhfar, they asked us for our IDs and some had left them in the car and had to call our friends to get them for us. To be very honest, what they ended up charging us with was walking around without identification which is quite hilarious and very George Orwell fiction-like.
Anyhow, they took those without IDs to another room, a room with a small television hanging in the corner. The officers were watching football. We sat there and a bit later, the channel was switched and names in Turkish alphabet started popping on the screen, we just looked at each other and smiled.
They thought we were all Armenian. We were, in some metaphorical way. I should have reminded them of the day Hrant Dink was murdered in Istanbul and the Turkish crowd gathered in the streets shouting : "We are all Armenians”. However, on paper, of the 15 people arrested, only 4 were Armenians. The officers didn’t like this much, they didn’t really understand why a bunch of our friends were with the cause. They kept asking us : "enno, you hate the turks, is that it?” We do not hate the turks, I do not hate turks, I hate any government or the power that denies others the right to live and oppresses them; I hate any government or power that chokes ideas and freedom ( Orhan Pamuk and Hrant Dink anyone? ), I hate any government of power whose basic value is denial of the pain and anguish it inflicted, I hate any government or power whose morals are to spread their culture by erasing other’s ( no need to let you know what is happening to the historical Armenian landmarks in eastern Anatolia ). I have nothing against the brainwashed masses, they are brainwashed, lobotomized and ashamed, one can only try to speak out and break the silence and the walls.
The head of UNESCO came to tell us how hurt he was, I snickered and Sarag, my friend told him, well my people have been hurting for 94 years and this is what you care about? A diplomatic affair? Before your fellow citizens?. We shamed them, they said. I wonder if he realized how much he shamed me as a citizen when he disrespected my culture, our dead, our memory.
We sat there waiting for the event to end so they’d release us. A phone call told us that people outside had gathered, around 200 of them, from parties and universities. They were not related to us, but knowing they were outside made us all the more proud and we felt strong. We called our friends to let them know we are inside, we changed facebook statuses. Nadine managed to update hers from within the police office. There was just something so powerful to be inside a room, with friends and colleagues and people who were there to support a cause you always deemed yours and that had suddenly become theirs as well.
They released us at around 11.40 p.m. we walked out from the same place we had walked in, in front of all the officers and the UNESCO main entrance. Some diplomats were still leaving. I was smiling.
We gathered at a friend’s house, got some beer, it was very emotional to say the least. My friend, Sarag , came up to me before leaving, she automatically realized what I was thinking about. We had discussed our identity so many times before. At the risk of sounding sappy, we hugged, we couldn't help but cry. It all made sense, made real sense. The banner, the arrest, our friends supporting our cause, the feminists supporting a human issue, it all made perfect sense.
The next morning my mom called to ask me if I heard about the protest, I said yeah, she told me : " your dad wished he was there." I replied, "mom I was there, it was our idea." She was shocked. She finally asked: "were you arrested? " I said yes. She laughed and told me she was proud. I thought of the police officer that kept nagging and wanting to be right about all of us being Armenian and IANs and I felt like saying, my mom isn't and what makes her special is that she gets it. She gets the cause, our cause, and like my friends, she views it as something beyond a specific race and ethnicity, as something fundamentally righteous, fundamentally human.
This article also appears in Menassat: http://community-en.menassat.com/profiles/blogs/personal-account-protesting