Armenian journalist discusses current state of Armenia-Turkey relations

Dan Waldman, Reporter

Armenian author and journalist Meline Toumani spoke Monday about confronting residual issues between Armenia and Turkey a century after the Armenian genocide.

During a panel discussion held jointly by the Evanston Public Library and Northwestern, Toumani spoke about the current state of Armenian-Turkish relations and the steps both countries should take to absolve the remaining social tensions. Toumani’s recent book, “There Was and There Was Not,” discusses her personal experiences confronting the aftermath of the 1915 Armenian Genocide. Toumani’s book describes the evolution of her personal conflict between recognizing injustices against Armenian people and directing her grievances against an entire nation.

“I could no longer live with the idea that I was supposed to hate, fear and fight against an entire nation of people,” Toumani said. “It had started to feel embarrassing to refuse the innocent suggestions of American friends to try a Turkish restaurant in the Upper East Side. … I came because being Armenian had come to feel like a chokehold.”

The panel discussion following Toumani’s reading included professors from NU’s Middle East and North African Studies program. MENA co-founder and NU Prof. Elizabeth Shakman Hurd spoke about the political process of genocide recognition.

Hurd said stories similar to Toumani’s must be shared, and an open space must be created for Armenians to talk about the obstacles they have overcome.

“How might we create spaces as Meline does so brilliantly in her book to hear more stories like hers?” she said. “I see her book as opening up some of the spaces, and there is a lot of room for others to join her.”

NU history Prof. Ipek Yosmaoglu, who specializes in the history of the Ottoman Empire, said people should not blanketly avoid using the word genocide. She said as long as people are afraid to explicitly define the tragedy, social tensions between Armenians and Turks will continue to mount.

Yosmaoglu offered a solution to get rid of the stigma that surrounds the word genocide.

“Maybe the key here is to use the word but not force others to use it,” Yosmaoglu said. “If you want to move forward, we do have to overcome the psychological hurdle, and as more people use the term, I think it will be easier to overcome.”

After the discussion, Toumani answered audience members’ questions about the stereotypes she discusses in her book.

“I knew it was a risky decision to start the book with my experiences growing up and showing some of the less flattering sides (of Armenia),” she said. “I wanted to be as honest as I could possibly be … so that I could have the credibility later as the book goes on to be equally honest about what I found in Turkey.”

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