A poet replies to criticism of his latest book
Re: “A Question of Interpretation?”, Issue #4 –2010, pp.5-6
Ilkim Hincer and Ilke Hincer accuse Jane Switzer of making “an unfortunate error in judgment” in her article on me and my new poetry collection, Children of Ararat, which is about my Armenian father and the genocide he and his people suffered at the hands of the Ottoman Turks during WWI.
Despite the civil tone of their letter, the writers repeat the usual talking points and clichés of the official, rank Turkish denial of one of the worst atrocities ever committed against a people. They would have us believe that almost 1.5 million Armenians perished because of starvation and disease during the “forced mass relocation.” The irony in this claim should be obvious: who starved them and how did they suffer disease? Moreover, where were they being relocated? Canyons, caves, and the impossible desert—the Turks’ version of Auschwitz?
There is simply nothing new or valid in the joint Hincer claims. The Western world (that has overwhelmingly agreed with Raphael Lemkin (a Jew) who coined the word “genocide” to cover this atrocity and subsequent ones like it) has heard the same outrageous distortions and lies for over 95 years: the Armenians (almost all of whom were disarmed by the Turks in the years preceding the genocide) would foment rebellion (what, even the babies, young boys and girls, and old men and women?); that many Turks also died during the war (so did the Nazis, but that doesn’t absolve them of genocide); that Armenians were helping the Russians behind Turkish lines (what, even the small villages and communities far removed from those very lines and who didn’t know what was happening there?); and that Armenian propaganda is responsible for promoting the view of Turkish denial (what, are Taner Akcam, Orhan Pamuk, Elif Shafak, and all the Turkish intellectuals and scholars who recently signed a declaration recognizing Turkey’s “shameful act”–a euphemism, if there ever was one—suddenly non-Turks?).
Do the letter writers not know of the headlines in international papers and magazines of the day regarding the mass killings of 1915? Have they not heard of American ambassador Morgenthau’s reports of the atrocities at the time they were being committed? Have they been blissfully unaware that some of the leading perpetrators of the genocide were condemned to death in absentia by world tribunals?
If there is anything unfortunate about the Hincers’ letter it is their refusal to engage with facts. Is it not a crime in modern Turkey to “insult Turkishness” by recognizing the genocide? Is it not a fact that Turks have desecrated scores of Armenian monuments and cemeteries and have attempted to remove any trace of Armenians from their guidebooks?
I do share the Hincers’ hope that “one day Armenians and Turks will reconcile,” but that day will not dawn until modern Turkey indulges in the three R’s (Recognition, Repentance, and Reparation) for their crime against humanity.