By Patrick Azadian
A taboo topic can be forbidden because of social or cultural reasons rather than legal prohibitions.
Every society has certain matters that it finds difficult to address. And if the subject continues to cause pain for that particular society, then the walls around the taboo are even more unassailable.
Ask a Cuban-American about the nature of Fidel Castro's revolution and you will understand what I mean. Bring up the topic of a united Ireland to an Irish-American and you may realize certain issues are not up for discussion. And try to have a dialogue with an Iranian-American about the roots of the Islamic Revolution and you may be surprised at the resistance in placing any responsibility for the events on the pre-revolution dictatorship.
As traumatic as political upheavals may be, they are not in the same league as the acts of genocide. Unlike wars and revolutions, there are no two versions to the stories of systematic ethnic cleansing.
In the late '90s, I took a class on the Jewish Diaspora with Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller at UCLA.
On one occasion, Seidler-Feller invited his mother to attend the lecture. She sat in the back of the classroom; the gesture was endearing.
Within a half-hour, the setting that had started as sweet, had become tense.
Seidler-Feller had chosen to tackle a sensitive topic on that particular day. The question he posed was roughly: “Has the Holocaust affected Jewish identity to the point where it has dominated the definition of Jewish identity?”
Before long, the much-respected lecturer was facing a friendly revolt on his own ground, and the leader of the mini uprising was no other than his own mother.
Being a survivor of the Holocaust, she asked her son: “How can we forget?”
Seidler-Feller's question had nothing to do with forgetting or forgiving. But it had broken ground in a taboo territory.
As a descendant of survivors of a genocide, I understood the reaction. At the same time, as an “outsider,” I was capable of digesting the question.
A similar question in the Armenian-American community would get an even harsher reaction. Understandably, this is due to a certain knot in the whole process: The Turkish state has not yet acknowledged its crime against humanity.
There are a few problems with this dependence on Turkish acknowledgement.
As long as healing is conditional on Turkey coming to terms with its history, an outside force is influential in the course chosen by the Armenian-American community.
Moreover, by committing the act of genocide, Turkey has also altered the evolution of the Armenian identity. In the post-genocide era, the crux of the Armenian identity has become the “seeker of recognition for the Armenian genocide.”
Hrant Dink, the murdered Turkish-Armenian journalist, addressed the issue of identity in his response to the charges brought against him in a Turkish court.
“There is a certain history. A trauma. The Turk has become such a source of pain that it poisons the Armenian blood.
“There are two ways of getting rid of this poison. One way is for the Turks to empathize with you, and take action to reduce your trauma. At the moment this seems unlikely. The second way is for you to rid yourself of it yourself. Turn your attention toward the state of Armenia and replace the poisoned blood associated with the Turk, with fresh blood associated with Armenia,” Dink said.
Without compromising the truth, Dink was clearly pointing to the future rather than the past.
To be able to look to the future, however, a community needs to possess a certain mind-set.
Is the Armenian-American community well equipped to tackle the issues of today? Are community organizations passionate about dealing with the issues of youth delinquency, drug addiction, domestic violence, poverty and other social ills that plague all modern societies?
In addition, as ambassadors of American values abroad, is the Armenian-American community the torchbearer of democracy for Armenia – a nation that has the potential of being a small but a stabilizing force in the Middle East and Eastern Europe? Is the community involved in addressing the problem of human trafficking in that part of the world?
It is time to heal?
Perhaps, it is time that healing is not dependent on the actions of the perpetrator.
Healing does not even require forgiving the unrepentant. What it does require, however, is caring about the present and the future generations, as much as we care for the past ones.
PATRICK AZADIAN works and lives in Glendale. He may be reached at
Source: “Glendale News Press”, CA
FROM THE MARGINS
April 28 2007
FROM THE MARGINS
April 28 2007