​“In my books I reveal the Armenian identity”

Interview to the writer Dogan Akhanli

Dogan Akhanli

Dogan Akhanli

Gariwo interviewed Dogan Akhanli, writer and activist symbol of the fight for Turkish and Armenian reconciliation. A message of hope comes from this figure of civil courage, who fought for the memory of the Armenian genocide and the truth about Hrant Dink’s murder. Akhanli wrote, between the others, the book Die Richter des jüngsten Gerichts (“The judges of the most recent court”), in which, by telling the story of a judiciary persecution in Turkey after the 1981 coup, gradually reveals the Armenian identity of its main characters. The forthcoming 6th of March, European Day of the Righteous, Dogan Akhanli will be honoured in Düsseldorf during an official ceremony in the presence of the President of the North-Rhine Westfalia Land Parliament, Carina Gödecke, and of the Armin T. Wegner Foundation Director, Ulrich Klan. Akhanli told us about the Turkish citizens movements apologizing to Armenians, the obstacles to reconciliation, the steps forward made in the dialogue, the protests of Turkish civil society after Hrant Dink murder, Armin T. Wegner’s testimony, the current role of Pegida, the xenophobic movement of recent formation in Dresda and Lipsia. In the end, he expressed the wish that such personalities as Wegner and Lemkin could represent a trait d’union between the German tragedy of Holocaust and the genocidary catastrophes happened in the immigrants’ lands of origin.

With the signing of Turkish-Armenian protocols and the petition by some Turkish citiziens to apologize for Armenian genocide, something seemed to change in Turkey. Could you tell us what did it change for you, jailed in a military prison between 1985 and 1987 but still receiving literary prices from Turkey as well?

A lot has changed in Turkey since Hrant Dink’s murder. Since then, civil society has risen up. After 2007, it came to light in the public debate that there were lots of journalists and scholars who investigated on Armenian genocide and wrote books on the matter. Up to that moment, Turkish government propaganda has been extremely strong - there were lots of lies about Hrant Dink and 1915 genocide; there was a pro-government storiography that denied truth, but after that moment it estinguished. Anything the government made in order to lie and repress din’t work anymore. Commemorations were held in many cities and I believe that today the Armenian genocide awareness is even more scattered. A lot has begun with Hrant Dink’s homicide and I believe that people who took to the streets to honour this reporter wanted to excuse too. A part of the Turkish society was bent to lies, but another part cannot be silent.

You fought for truth about Hrant Dink’s murder and about Armenian genocide. What message do you want to pass down in the centenary of this tragedy? How can Turskish and Armenian reconcile, starting from 2015?

“Reconciliation” is a huge word. In this moment, I don’t know if the two populations are in the condition of reconciling, but dialogue has already been resumed. After the victims generation, the current one is looking for the dialogue between Armenians, Turkish and Kurds. Armenians and Turkish people are slowly reconstructing a relationship, for example in Cologne. For 15 years we have been holding an inizative, called Genocide and memory; in this process we worked with the Armenian community, my Association Recherche International, and the Wegner Society of Wuppertal, with which we organize intitives every year, with Turkish human rights activists; this year we will organize the ceremony for the European Day of the Righteous. There are many initiatives and associations on the German, Kurd, Turkish and Armenian side, that work together. Every year, for example, we organize a trip dedicated to the rediscovery of our story with the Armenians. Turkish people, Kurds and Germans and we hold some series of seminaries as well. There are different ways for this dialogue. I talked about Wegner Society by building a character of my book upon it.

We will talk about it later. What do you think about the great writer Armin T. Wegner, who denounced both the Armenian persecution and the Nazi anti-Semite ones?

Armin T. Wegner, together with Franz Werfel, is one of the first German authours I’ve read. Without his brave behaviour - he provided evidences of the Armenian genocide with photographes and conferences - we wouldn’t have the pictures that prove Armenian genocide. When he was officer in the army, thanks to his commitment, Wegner sensitised the world about this tragedy. In addition, he opposed to the Jewish genocide committed by the Nazis and he wrote a letter to Hitler about that: something quite extraordinary. And, naturally, Armin T. Wegner is an example, a model for me and for everyone else - there is a monument where he lived in Berlin, dedicated to him. He is honoured in Israel, in Armenia... Everywhere in the world.

Even in Milan. The first person narrator of your book “Die Richter desjüngsten Gerichts” reveals, little by little, your Armenian identity. How can you describe this rediscovery?

I believe that this rediscovery or revelation comes from my origins. I was born in a place in the Georgia borders, where many thing were told about Armenian massacre. Before, this zone was Russian territory, it became Armenian and, in the end, there were massacres - and now it is Turkish. Massacres were carried out duringAtatürk government, who killed 60 thousands of Armenians in this place. I’ve heard many stories about it, never told with hostility, ma but empathy towards the Armenians. I worked for long to write my book, trying to make the stories of many Armenians and Kurds in some way connected to the Armenian culture and identity come to light. This is what revelation consists of. It is a very long process.

What do you think about the Pegida and Legida anti-immigrants movements born in the last months in Germany? Are they against Islamic people? Are ther against fundamentalism? How were they born and what do you think about it?

I think this movements are dangerous. I do not believe they are against fundamentalism, but they use the theme of fanaticism in order to create a racist movement. There are so many extremists of the Right and neo-Nazis in these movements. I think we need to distinguish strongly between violent fanaticism and Islam. The reasoning of this movement is nothing but the well-known anti-Semitism.

How can the relations between Muslim immigrants and German people be solved?

It is a duty of the German society in its entirety. I’ve been living here for 15 years and I think that Germans need to stop discriminations against Islamic people. But Islamic people as well need to stop carrying out fanaticism, something which has nothing to do with Islam, even if lots of young members of the Islamic community are apparently fascinated by it. Sometimes they are the victims of racism, but some other times they become also responsible of negative behaviours.

On the 6th of March we will celebrate the European Day of the Righteous. Are you going to participate to any iniziative? Can you tell us about any moral-model figure today?

Wegner Foundation organizes a ceremony in the Land Nord Rhine-Westfalia. On the 6th of March the figure of mine and of Wegner will be honoured; Wegner’s old editor Hermann Schultz is going to talk in his name. As a current example against racism and fundamentalism, I could suggest Günter Wallraff, here in Cologne where I live, a journalist who never came to compromises when injustices happened. He also hosted Salman Rushdie in town, when a reward was put upon him.

In Cologne, you curate the Raphael Lemkin Library. Why is the figure of this jurist, who fought in order to gain the approval for the definition of the Armenian genocide in the United Nations

General Assembly, so current?

Lemkin coined the term “genocide”. As I illustrated in my inaugural lecture in Paulskirche the 24th of April 2011 for the Armenian genocide anniversary, I think that this Library, dedicated to the one who developed the concept of “genocide” itself, can be an international place of the Memory, for other XX century genocidary tragedies as well. Today in Germany there are few possibilities to talk about other tragedies, like the ones that occurrred in the immigrants’s lands of origin, except for the Holocaust. I express the wish that the Raphael Lemkin Library could be useful as a trait d’union between the different realities.

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