“Facing the dark times of history with empathy”

interview with Ulrich Klan

The European Day of the Righteous will take place for the first time in Germany, this year, under the aegis of the Parliament of the “Land” of North Rhine – Westphalia, the region of Düsseldorf. Gariwo asked Ulrich Klan, President of the Armin T. Wegner Society and promoter of this important success, on the situation in Germany and the importance of honoring the Muslim Righteous.

What is the importance of celebrating the European Day of the Righteous in Germany and in the world today?

First of all, it is very, very important that today we can celebrate “positive” Memorial Days like the European Day of the Righteous, which are focused not only on the victims, but also on the rescuers, the exemplary figures, those who “positively” acted to help the persecuted. There are celebrations in many towns and this year the Day received also the support of a high political institution, the Parliament of the Land Nord Rhine – Westphalia in Düsseldorf. It is the first time we hold a similar celebration in Germany, while other countries already have.

It is a great success. Were there any obstacles on the way?

I would not call them obstacles. We need time to connect enduring networks for the Day of the Righteous. It will not work over years if it depends on few singular people and organisations. It is necessary to come together with similar networks, for example the people who work for the Holocaust Memorial Day on 27 January. That is all.

Armin T. Wegner was considered as troublesome in Germany and there was no publisher of his works for quite a long time. How did the interest in his figure resurface?

It is an interesting story. First of all, Wegner became important outside Germany, especially after becoming a Righteous among the nations in Yad Vashem, in 1968 in Israel. Then, in the Seventies, there was a brave publisher in Germany and Wegner's books started being republished gradually. Since 12 years we have built the Armin T. Wegner Society, that is international. Now there are even prominent personalities who promote Armin T. Wegner`s name, work and and message not only in Germany but also in USA, Italy, Palestine and elsewhere. Year by year more of the the books by Wegners are available in German. In this February 2015 Wegner's letters to Hitler and the US President Woodrow Wilson, to demand the end of the persecutions against the Jews and the Armenians, appeared republished by the Armin T. Wegner Society.

The other Righteous figure you are going toh onor on 6 March is the Turkish-German writer Dogan Akhanli. Would you like to tell us something about this figure?

Dogan Akhanli is a living writer. Besides a Righteous who is not living anymore, like Armin T. Wegner, we chose to honor a living Righteous, as well. Akhanli is now 58 years old. As the first turkish writer he published a novel about the genocide against the Armenians: His Die Richter des jüngsten Gerichts appeared in turkish and in german language – and in that book also Wegner makes an appearance as “Righteous” character, who had also the experience of the extermination of the Jews. Akhanli published on Antisemitism too – and he didn`t forget the Antisemitism in Turkey. Akhanli was jailed in Turkey in 2010. The great international campaign for his liberation was successful - and the Armin T. Wegner Society gave strong support for that campaign.

The writer lives in Köln (Germany). His novel has become very popular both in Germany and in Turkey and Dogan Akhanli became an important figure in the field of memory and culture. Not only on the Armenian genocide, but also the Shoah and other genocides

Akhanli`s drama Anna`s silence (2012) gives „a strong impression in the connex of suffering violence and practicing violence“, as the famous filmartist Fatih Akin remarked.

Akhanli reported the murder of Hrant Dink, too. Would you tell us this story, too?

Hrant Dink was an armenian Journalist and a citizen of Turkey. He founded the armenian-turkish journal Agos in Istanbul. Dink has taught us that when we get closer to history we first need to face our own attitude towards it. Studying documents, researching into the archives, analysing photographs of those times is worth nothing without a definite ethical stance, which we may call “the ethics of empathy”. We cannot analyse what happened to the Armenians without this empathy.

Talking about Turkey also means talking about migrations. What do you think of the jihadist danger within the Moslem communities in Germany?

I teach in a great multicultural school with pupils from at least 50 different cultures, including Turks whose parents share all possible political and religious views existing in Turkey. We even know people who are at risk of enlisting for the jihad. But our job is talking to each student and his family, getting to know him and them, and doing a very consistent job with the students, for mutual understanding and democracy.

And what do you think of the jihadist risk at the global level, with big organizations like Boko Haram or IS?

If we consider the migrants from Iran, african countries, Afghanistan and so on, the key factor is always going beyond what the governments do and asking them directly and personally: “What do you think?” and „What do you do?“. People who commit violence are usually people no one has ever talked to.

What can be done, in the centenary of the Armenian genocide, to reconcile the Turks and the Armenians?

“Reconciliation” is the wrong word for me because it can be used only by victims. Only the Armenians may offer reconciliation. We in Germany – I am a German – can propose understanding, dialogue, we can work to prepare all this, but we cannot put ourselves in the place of the victims and offer reconciliation. In heritage of the humanist Armin T. Wegner the Wegner Society has to refuse any form of hate and to confirm the memory and the dignity of the victims. But it is not on us to talk about reconciliation.

Your message for European Day of the Righteous?

Remembering love, civil courage and respect will promote love, civil courage and respect today and in the future. My message is: nurture love instead of hatred. And telling the truth instead of blaming the others.

Ulrich Klan is writer, composer and teacher, He belongs to the founders of Armin T. Wegner Society, is its president and the editor of Armin T. Wegner`s books. Further on he realizes dialogue-projects and concerts, books and CD`s. He composed songs of poets in exile or the german-turkish-armenian Requiem „wie eine taube / bir güvercin gibi ..“ for Hrant Dink.

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