The New York Times publishes article about Fethiye Cetin
January 7, 2010 - 17:59 AMTPanARMENIAN.Net - The New York Times published an article about Fethiye Cetin, Turkish layer of Armenian heritage, who was a young law student when her grandmother Seher took her aside and told her a secret she had hidden for 60 years.
She, the grandmother, was born a Christian Armenian and had been saved from a death march by a Turkish officer, who snatched her from her mother's arms in 1915 and raised her as Turkish and Muslim.
Her grandmother revealed to her that her real name was Heranus and that her biological parents had escaped to New York. Heranus, Ms. Cetin learned, was just one of thousands of Armenian children who were kidnapped and adopted by Turkish families during the genocide of up to 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks between 1915 and 1918. These survivors were sometimes called "the leftovers of the sword."
"I was in a state of shock for a long time I suddenly saw the world through different eyes," said Ms. Cetin, now 60. "I had grown up thinking of myself as a Turkish Muslim, not an Armenian. There had been nothing in the history books about the massacre of a people which had been erased from Turkey's collective memory. Like my grandmother, many had buried their identity and the horrors they had seen deep inside of them."
Now, however, Ms. Cetin, a prominent member of the estimated 50,000-strong Armenian-Turkish community here and one of the country's leading human rights lawyers, believes a seminal moment has arrived in which Turkey and Armenia can finally confront the ghosts of history and possibly even overcome one of the world's most enduring and bitter rivalries.
"Most people in Turkish society have no idea what happened in 1915 and the Armenians they meet are introduced as monsters or villains or enemies in their history books," she said. "Turkey has to confront the past but before this confrontation can happen, people must know who they are confronting. So we need the borders to come down in order to have dialogue."
Ms. Cetin, who was raised by her maternal grandmother, said the borders in her own Muslim Turkish heart came down irrevocably when that grandmother revealed her Armenian past.
"My grandmother was trembling as she told me her story," Ms. Cetin said. "She would always say, 'May those days vanish never to return."'
Ms. Cetin, a rebellious left-wing student activist at the time of her grandmother's revelation, recalled how confronting Armenian identity, then as now, had been taboo. "The same people who spoke the loudest about injustices and screamed that the world could be a better place would only whisper when it came to the Armenian issue," she said. "It really hurt me."
Ms. Cetin, who was imprisoned for three years in the 1980s for opposing the military regime in Turkey at the time, said her newfound Armenian identity inspired her to become a human rights lawyer. When Hrant Dink, editor of the Turkish-Armenian newspaper Agos, was prosecuted in 2006 for insulting Turkishness by referring to the genocide, she became his lawyer. On January 19, 2007, Mr. Dink was assassinated outside his office by a young ultranationalist.
Ms. Cetin published a memoir about her grandmother in 2004. She says she purposely omitted the word "genocide" from her book because using the word erected a roadblock to reconciliation. "I wanted to concentrate on the human dimension. I wanted to question the silence of people like my grandmother who kept their stories hidden for years, while going through the pain."
When Heranus died in 2000 at age 95, Ms. Cetin honored her last wish, publishing a death notice in Agos, in the hope of tracking down her long-lost Armenian family, including her grandmother's sister Margaret, whom she had never seen.
At her emotional reunion with her Armenian family in New York, several months later, "Auntie Marge" told Ms. Cetin that when her father had died in 1965, she had found a piece of paper carefully folded in his wallet that he had been keeping for years. It was a letter Heranus had written to him shortly after he had left for America.
"We all keep hoping and praying that you are well," it said.
The Armenian Genocide
The Armenian Genocide (1915-23) was the deliberate and systematic destruction of the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire during and just after World War I. It was characterized by massacres and deportations, involving forced marches under conditions designed to lead to the death of the deportees, with the total number of deaths reaching 1.5 million.
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