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Armenia: My Illusion

By Meltem Naz Kaşo

A week after a three-month stay in Armenia, I am once again at home in my green room in Istanbul, Turkey.

“Men must live and create. Live to the point of tears,” a quote from Albert Camus, is written on my wall. To me, Armenia seems like an illusion now. An illusion I lived and created to the point of tears.

For a Turk, going to Armenia seems a crazy idea. It’s not like going anywhere else with a Turkish passport.

I was selected by the Hrant Dink Foundation to be a research fellow in a Yerevan-based NGO, to contribute to cross-border understanding. Just as Turkey has racists, Armenia has its own.

“Somebody can intentionally hurt you, or even kill you, just to make a point,” a friend of mine said. My cousin who works for the UN claimed that Yerevan was a safe city. “But not for a Turk,” he added. I recalled the Armenian terrorist organization ASALA’s killing of Turkish diplomats around the world in the seventies. They did it to force discussion of the Armenian Genocide. Hurting a young Turkish woman in Yerevan during the centennial anniversary of the Genocide, I imagined, could be equally useful. “Make sure they don’t cut you,” a Turkish friend said ominously when he wished me farewell.

Immediately after arriving in Armenia, I met a local surgeon who expressed interest in me. Smelling the white roses he brought me, I consoled myself in the knowledge that, were my fears realized, I had a surgeon on my side. He wasn’t a bad guy. Not once did he come after me with a gun or a knife, or a cross word. But there was a gulf between us. To him, we were two attractive bodies. To me, we were souls being pulled towards each other by unknown forces. He saw magnetism, I wanted magic.

Armenia offered less consuming, and more substantial, delights. Public Information and Need of Knowledge (PINK), the LGBT rights advocate NGO for which I worked, was a temple of joy. I still hear, in my world of illusion, Nvard’s screams of “Meltushiiii” as she hugs me to welcome me to the office. “Hi darling,” Kolya used to say nonchalantly. His openness encouraged me to be at ease with myself. Soon, Kolya became my alter ego. When faced with challenging circumstances, I developed the habit of asking myself: “What would Kolya do in this situation?”

Never will I forget my host Nouneh either. She opened her house to me, giving me her daughter’s old room. Now, only after a week, the names of the streets of Yerevan are disappearing from my mind. Facts are becoming illusionary. But what stays with me is the proportion of Nouneh’s eyes, nose, and lips. Her familiar face made me feel at home when we cooked recipes she had learned from her deceased mother. Out of generosity and love she shared her legacy with a stranger.

I was lucky enough to know the Seferian brothers as well. One evening, I invited Nar over for dinner. I provided the food while he brought memories to laugh about and information on history and politics. With his inquisitive eyes, he looked around and found something wise to say about the architecture of the house and the future of Armenia and Turkey. His older brother, Naz, frequently read my written work before I dared share it with the rest of the world. To him, I exposed my most vulnerable self: my stories.

During my last week in Armenia, the Seferian brothers, Naz’s wife Mariam, his little son Mikael, and I went to a restaurant. It was called Aintab, a city in today’s southeast Turkey, and branded itself as a provider of “Western Armenian Food.”

It was right then and there, sharing appetizers and kebab with them, that I realized the price of the Genocide and the forced departure of Armenians. What it must have been then and what it is today. A price in more than land and money. It was the price of home, of proximity and trust, of exchange and empathy. I understood and wished that, somehow, the Seferians had stayed in Western Armenia, their home, so that we could be neighbors. 

Figments of my imagination produced almost-fictional women whom I registered as my “mother Armenias.”Ani, Anna, and Anush – the three of them guided me in fashioning armor to protect me from people or place that sought to do me harm.  The armor was in the form of a feminine, home-made apron shield. Ani, two years older than me, accepted my naivety wholeheartedly and guided me to listen to the strong voice inside me and not to give in to anxiety. Anna and Anush, the organizers of my fellowship program had planned my visit with logic and forethought.

During our farewell lunch at the Central Cafe, Anna gave me a book of poetry that she had published. She wrote about what it meant to be a woman. That same night, I read her book under candle light, repeating over and over again two of her poems. She taught me how rationality and intuition can go hand in hand.

On my last day in Armenia, Anush, a green stone I held in my hands for those three months, brought me to the Parisian Cafe on Abovyan Street. We were there the morning after my arrival in Armenia too. We had some coffee. The same waitress served us. Anush gifted me mint tea in a green box. Each time I drink it I return to Armenia, to her arms and her loving kindness.

I wasn’t all that close to the three Turkish fellows that participated in the same program. We had no fights or unpleasantness, but I never felt from them the openness and generosity that I received from my hosts. What did it mean that I was emotionally closer to my Armenian friends than the Turks who came with me?

I offer no overarching conclusion about Armenians and Turks. No two people are the same even if they hold the same national identity. But I accept that, sometimes, friendships can pass closed borders when they cannot walk across a room. In illusory worlds, lived and created to the point of tears, they do.

Meltem Naz Kaşo is a short story writer, freelance journalist, and a social science researcher. As part of the Hrant Dink Foundation's fellowship program to facilitate cross cultural affiliations between Armenia and Turkey, she conducted comparative research for Public Information and Need of Knowledge (Pink Armenia). Meltem received a Comparative Human Development degree and graduated with honors from the University of Chicago.


Comments (22)

First off, who told you I have identity crisis?!! You like jumping to stupid conclusions or what? Secondly, who told you Armenians will not go back to those lands, it took Turkey several decades to repopulate all the Armenian villages, so if we get our lands back, don't worry about the rest. Thirdly, if you read my previous comments, you will see that my second comment was in response to some Turkish guy who is asking for Artsakh a land populated by Armenians to be given as a gift to some racist tyrant named Aliyev as a precondition for peace. If you are Armenian which I kind of doubt, you would probably realize that these people only understand the language of sword! If they want Artsakh then I want Van, Ani and even more! That is how things work with these people. No matter how much they change their alphabet or language, get naked in front of cameras to show they are civilized or European, they are still the same old nomads from central Asia. If you think I am so stupid to think that Turkey is going to give me Ani or Van peacefully or Armenia will be strong enough in the near future to retrieve those lands by force then you better see a doctor.
էշացած թուրք, those Armenians were from Armenia and they had corrupted USSR mentality you are so stupid, that you have mixed up everything like your brain. Every Hayastansi Armenian knows about this incident ....Armenians are learning and improving on daily bases we are only 25 years old after the collapse of USSR .. Armenians unlike Turks are wanted people, wherever they go in this world because of our smartness, genes and innovative, productive spirit, just oppose of turkic herds who are the dirt and shane of Europeans , especially in Germany.and France Beside Armenia I have been Turkish vilayets and I have seen how primitive Turkic herds lives in their farm houses,where cattle and human have same common destiny....may be you should go there and visit your disastrous villages of course if you are lucky enough to bribe a local gendarme and obtain a fake permit for your illegal visit! I am so proud that you have noticed that my Armenian countrymen are more patriotic. That will give me inner satisfaction that a turk oghloo like Murat can not change the true spirit of our nation toward Genocidal Turkey, where our sacred land still under occupation by Central Asians herds, where our holy Mt. Ararat is out of reach of Noah's holy children!
There are Nationalists in Armenia just like anywhere else in the world, but I highly doubt that they are capable of attacking a Turkish citizen for the mere fact that he or she is from Turkey. It is a different story, however, if you are in a public space in Yerevan and deny the Armenian Genocide for instance! In any case, it was an interesting reading. I had a very similar experience with a Turkish guy in my workplace here in Chicago, we used to work in the same office and we were supposed to hate each other but we could see the proximity of our cultures!
Elvio, When you return Mush, Kars, Van, Ani,... We might consider returning some of the buffer zone lands around Artsakh, then sure life will be a Turkish delight!!
Armen. I'm not comparing tatar nomads i.e ''turks'' and ''azeris'' to nazis. I'm comparing their actions toward a ethnic group as they both tried to execute a minority in their country and how relations would have been if Israel coexisted with Nazi Germany today. I could have just as easily compared them to Tutu and Hutsi relations.
How instructive that our armchair patriots jump to the gun and identify me as a Turk. Sorry to burst your bubble. Again, go build that Armenia you rant and rave about. Go return to that portion of the Armenian Highlands that remains under Armenian jurisdiction. Instead of making ridiculous demands go DO SOMETHING PRACTICAL!!! But you knuckleheads can't step up to the plate. Make your lives a true testament to the will of the Armenian people to live...But you cannot! You and your children are being assimilated thousands of kilometers from your cherished homeland. That is nothing more than declaring we accept that the perpetrators of 1915 have won. Get real people and take a good look in the mirror. Thousands are leaving Armenia yearly. Believe me, I see the buses leave Yerevan, stopping on the road to Gyumri, Vanadzor and the border with Georgia. I have grown tired of your tirades cloaked in nationalism when all you represent are throats full of hot air and little else.
Murat, You think you Turks are super genius for building an average economy while your country which has been built on the blood and ash of the indigenous people of that land is in an extremely important strategic location!! Then lets change our positions and see what are you going to do under almost 20 years of blockade! Or maybe you think your brothers in Azerbaijan are super smart for allowing BP to extract their oil and sell it for them and they spend the money on stupid projects like Eurovision! After 20 years of blockade, Armenia has managed to build a stable economy, it undoubtedly has its problems but the overall trend has almost always been positive. If you don't see it then let me remind you that Armenia is not Switzerland or Ireland. It is a landlocked country with zero natural resources which has survived a genocide only a century ago and is currently under all kinds of pressure by its two bigger neighbors. Armenia is the only functional state in that region. In spite of all the problems in Armenia, it is more democratic than both Turkey and Azerbaijan. And if you are concerned about immigration then why don't you ask your own people who have turned Berlin and Vienna into Istanbul to go back to their dreamland! Who told you the garbage about diaspora Armenians being discriminated in Armenia, Trend? Or maybe Azernews?!!Our house is in order, you better think about your own.
KEEPING IT REAL - You don't know anything about me and still presume I'm from Glendale which I'm not, just because I can speak English doesn't mean I'm from the U.S, but maybe you're so narrow minded and rotten from the American school system that you think everyone who speaks or writes in English is automatically from the U.S. I think it's every Armenians goal to repatriate and I am well aware of how those Armenians who don't repatriate and who raise their kids outside of Armenia won't remain Armenian and will assimilate , I will one day repatriate but first I would like to graduate from University in order to find a job in Armenia that pays decently, I also have a house there and I'm active in Armenian political organizations so sorry ''dude'' you chose the wrong one to question.
Lands??? What lands??? Wilsonian Armenia??? Or private property once held by Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. Please be specific!! The problem with Armenians like you is that you talk in generalities - justice, lands, compensation. If you are talking about Wilsonian Armenia, what will happen to the millions of non-Armenians now living on those lands? As you state, you will not go there and neither will 99.999% of the diaspora...so why lands? What is the SIGNIFICANCE of those lands if Armenians evidently no longer want to live there. Will you be a better, more fulfilled Armenian if those lands are returned - an obvious pipe dream nevertheless. How will a piece of land comfort the internal identity crisis you experience resulting from the Genocide? I really do not see the connection.
Bedros I think I made it clear in my last comment that I don't feel obliged to explain anything to you or any one else on this public forum about my life or my future plans. If I am advocating the return of lands which were once owned by Armenians and are now part of Turkey as a result of a brutal genocide that does not necessarily mean I am planning to move there! At the same time, I wouldn't say that I will never move to my ancestral homeland in the future, it is and it has always been on my mind. Instead of sticking your nose in my private life, why don't you come up with some logical arguments about the main subject!
I don't care whether you are Turk or Indian. The notion that an Armenian living in diaspora has no positive impact on Armenia is utter nonsense. I can only imagine what would happen if we didn't have an active Armenian community in US, with all the money that Azerbaijan is spending on lobbing firms we would have at least a few dozen anti-Armenian resolutions passing in congress every year. I know Armenians in US who are more Armenian than those who live in Armenia but prefer to speak Russian just to show how cool they are. In any case, you are not in the position to tell me what to do or where to live and just for your info I am born and raised in diaspora which means I have never left my country.
GB...get a grip on reality. All those Armenians leaving Armenia wind up cheating the U.S. government out of welfare and Medicare. Why??? Might it be because they are low-life bums like those Turks in Germany you seem to know so much about? Don't throw stones if you live in glass houses. I've talked to those Armenians leaving in droves because they can't make a living in your cherished Armenia. But they are still more patriotic than you and your ilk who just talk big but haven't even been to Armenia. You're a self-delusional hypocrite.
Azerbaijan is a fake land...Turkey isn't a real nation.....All these Armenians living in dream worlds of their own making. Land warriors on the pages of the social media. Truly pathetic...Leo, GB Raf,,,and the rest of you blabbing hypocrites who proclaim themselves to be the real patriots. Your only escape from reality is to lash out left and right calling people names. It's a poor substitute for real patriotism but is much easier. Go build your Armenia into a functional nation-state that attracts people instead of forcing them to leave by the thousands. Go transform that tiny bit of the homeland into a country that can serve as a building block for the future. Do you know how ridiculous you look demanding lands in Turkey when you can't even live in the Armenia you have today? Talk about dysfunctional illusions. How sad that Armenians from the diaspora are oftentimes discriminated in Armenia proper and that, on the flip side, local Armenians are belittles by outsiders. Get your own house in order!
Raf, the problem is that all of Artsakh isn't even liberated yet, the northern parts and Nakhijevan has to be liberated together with Western Armenia. I could even be ready to establish diplomatic relations with Turkey if they give back our lands.
GB. One word Armenia should return kharabakh and sourranding lands back to their belongings to Azerbaijan, stop instructing kids hatreness towards Turks. Believe me life will be much better then in the Region.
Meltem, in one word, Turkey must recognize Christian Genocide, especially Armenian Genocide. The rest are sweet words like Turkish delights!
Leo, there's a big difference between a Nazi and a Turk. Nazism is an ideology whereas Turkish is a nationality. Nazis decide to identify as fascists but nobody really gets to choose where they are born. There's no comparison. Hating Turks for being Turkish is racist.
How do you think Jews feel against Nazis nowadays?, do you think that if Israel and Nazi Germany co existed there wouldn't be bad blood between them?, it's natural when they're denying it on top of that. Yes there are tatar nomads i.e ''turks'' who recognizes the Genocide but I can't see a majority of them wanting to give back occupied land.
Dear Leo.... Have you been to Armenia when you categorically state that Armenia doesn't have racists? Probably not....Believe me when I say that Armenia has its share just like Turkey. These are individuals who have never met a Turk, let alone one who recognizes the Genocide...But for these people all Turks are killers and murderers. How sick is that? Unfortunately, there are racists on both sides of the border. Until they are brushed aside and delegitimized no progress will be made towards peace with justice.
Dear Craig, thank you for your compliment! And Leo, it must be very hard to carry so much anger and hatred towards any group of people. I hope it does not hurt your health. Take a good care of yourself because we Armenians and Turks will need to work together, hand in hand if necessary, to bring a better future for our children from both sides of the border. Maybe every single goal of each party may not be realized. But I'm still optimistic that we can find a common ground. Until then, not engaging in hate speech, but offering empathy could help.
Armenia doesn't have racists Maybe we Armenians can change the approach and say - My lovely turks who wiped out 1.5 million Armenians including my grandparents brothers, parents and sister and forced my people to an exodus out of their 6000 year old homeland and occupying our land on top of that. Why did you do that to us lovely turks? Lovely turks why are you denying it lovely turks? lovely turks lovely turks.... Turkey is built on raping women and slaughtering children, you enjoy life in your pseudo nation Turkey and speak your pseudo language because your grandparents built their nation on that, it's the foundation of your country. No borders last forever and I hope that more turks push for admitting the genocide and giving back our occupied lands. That's a turk that I would respect , someone who knows history and is ready to face it realistically. And what do you mean ''Western Armenian'' like it's some kind of foolish word. It's called Armenia and you're currently occupying it.
beautiful story!

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