"We should overcome this 100-year-old feeling of being downtrodden. Our past and our names should not be associated with death anymore. A black hole deep down in history should not exhaust all our strength. We have other values. We have so many things to maintain and revive, so it is not for these revived people to shed tears on the past things we can never change, to arouse pity for ourselves, or to narrate the incidents to the entire world as if they happened just yesterday. We will not forget it and make it forgotten, but we will also set sail to new beginnings and new friendships. Turkey is our home and our state. Here we live with our Turkish, Muslim, Kurdish, Circassian and Bosnian neighbors. The burden of the incidents that took place 100 years ago should not overwhelm us. On the contrary, we should not repeat the mistakes that were committed a century ago. The compensation for the bloodshed and lost lives should be a more beautiful Turkey today. It should be a Turkey where people live happily and peacefully. I am sure that none of the deceased, including both Christians and Muslims, prays to God for revenge. I am sure they cry to God in this way, 'May you gift more reason and wisdom to the living ones, so that they can share this great world. This world is more than enough for everyone. May you give understanding to these people. They will not be able to carry anything with them; they will not end up bringing even a handful of soil with them, they should learn to love.'"
These words are from a sermon of a religious functionary. The crowded audience that listened to the sermon at the church during the Dzununt (Easter) ceremony, including me, were both moved and found solace. They were moved because it is the 100th anniversary of the great torment the Armenian people suffered. They found solace because these words acted like an antidote to the burden we have been shouldering for 100 years.
Last year on April 23, the democratic masses, particularly the Armenians living in Turkey, were pleasantly surprised. It was one of the most exciting and uplifting days of my life. Everyone was rushing around with a text in their hands; TV channels, newspapers and news agencies were constantly calling my phone. Then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan issued an official statement of condolence for the great tragedy that Armenians experienced in 1915. Some lines of this historic statement were as follows:
"April 24 carries a particular significance for our Armenian citizens and for all Armenians around the world, and provides a valuable opportunity to share opinions freely on a historical matter."
"Any conscientious, fair and humanistic approach to these issues requires an understanding of all the suffering endured in this period, without discriminating as to religion or ethnicity."
"Certainly, neither constructing hierarchies of pain nor comparing and contrasting suffering carries any meaning for those who experienced this pain themselves."
"As a Turkish proverb goes, 'fire burns in the place where it falls."
"It is a duty of humanity to acknowledge that Armenians remember the suffering experienced in that period, just like every other citizen of the Ottoman Empire."
"The incidents of the First World War are our shared pain. To evaluate this painful period of history through a perspective of a just memory is a humane and scholarly responsibility."
"Millions of people of all religions and ethnicities lost their lives in the First World War. Having experienced events which had inhumane consequences - such as relocation - during the First World War, should not prevent Turks and Armenians from establishing compassion and mutually humane attitudes towards one another."
"In today's world, deriving enmity from history and creating new antagonisms are neither acceptable nor useful for building a common future."
"It is our hope and belief that the peoples of an ancient and unique region, who share similar customs and manners will be able to talk to each other about the past with maturity and to remember together their losses in a decent manner. And it is with this hope and belief that we wish that the Armenians who lost their lives in the context of the early 20th century to rest in peace, and we convey our condolences to their grandchildren."
This message is a milestone that officially ended the denial policies of the unionist and Kemalist mindset. If we really attach importance to a genuine resolution, it should be admitted that this statement has created a paradigm shift in Turkey with regard to the Armenian issue.
Lately, an editorial published in the New York Times partially and unfairly alleged that those pronouncing the word "genocide" are assaulted in Turkey. They probably do not know how difficult it was to live in Turkey as recently as 12 years ago. Back then, Armenians had to hide their names and identities, let alone discuss the 1915 incidents. And this was imposed by the unionist state apparatuses mostly controlled by the Republican People's Party (CHP), which regarded itself as secular and modern.
The living conditions of Armenians have radically changed during the period of Erdoğan and the Justice and Development Party (AK Party). However, this positive transformation has been underestimated due to the cut-throat fight for sovereignty ongoing in the country. The alliance of old Turkey, which endeavors to overthrow the AK Party and Erdoğan at any cost, approaches the problems of Kurds, Alevis and Armenians from a pragmatist and manipulative point of view. The elite media outlets, which used to write captions such as "the best Kurd is a dead Kurd" and "Armenian dogs," now seem to be supporting Kurds and Armenians. They even use the wounds and nerves of those communities by provoking maximalist demands. Since these circles interact with the foreign media much more, the West interprets - or wants to interpret - Turkey by means of their propaganda.
Formerly, even driving a nail into our own church walls was forbidden, but now our churches, such as Ahtamar, were reclaimed by the state budget, our cemeteries are being restored by the AK Party municipalities and the properties of our foundations that were seized by the state during the CHP period are now being returned to us with the new Foundations Law thanks to the AK Party. While this law was being democratized, the CHP Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu argued against this regulation and filed an appeal for the repeal of the legislation.
Thanks to the new paradigm that has been introduced by the AK Party, even the CHP had to nominate an Armenian woman deputy candidate for the upcoming elections. And the person penning this very article has also been nominated as a deputy candidate for Istanbul from the AK Party.
Our goal is to found a strong and democratic country and to lead an honorable life in this country. There has been great progress within the last 13 years. Turkey is getting rid of the unionist mindset thanks to the AK Party. Kurds and Armenians are being liberated. The opposition, on the other hand, tries to hamper the New Turkey by allying with the Gülen Movement, while their media outlets try to represent this reactionary attitude as a democratic opposition by distorting the facts. But the public interprets all the incidents correctly. If only the diaspora could also form a close relation with this political movement, with which it could speak and negotiate on every subject. Because I find it dishonorable to focus on how the U.S. president, the pope or the European Parliament would define the 1915 incidents. For the memories of our ancestors that suffered a great torment and lost their lives in 1915, we must keep our distance from approaches that manipulate our pain.