Orhan Kemal Cengiz
Heroes are totalitarian.” It has been a long time since I first read the book “Cehenneme Övgü, Gündelik Hayatta Totalitarizm” (Prisoners of Ourselves: Totalitarianism in Everyday Life) by Gündüz Vassaf, but I still remember this sentence from it. Whenever I hear the word “hero,” I cannot help but affix “totalitarian” to it.
Vassaf narrates how we escape from freedom via heroes and recreate the order again and again. Heroes are presented to us as men of sacrifice who show courage and no human weakness. They are leaders, military servicemen, religious clerics, revolutionaries, freedom fighters and others.
Every group of people has their own heroes. As we try to become like these heroes, we turn into men which the order we are in desires. I recently explored a hero who is not totalitarian. This hero does not look like the others. And we, the people of Turkey, do not know him because knowing him requires going through an unusual cognitive and spiritual process, remorse and a huge confrontation.
There is a huge paradox there. If we get to know him, we will become richer and our souls will become more at ease. However, to become familiar with him, we first have to go through a spiritual turbulence and a state of discomfort. We know that he exists thanks to foreign movies. Watching “Schindler’s List” by Steven Spielberg or “Hotel Rwanda” by Terry George, we actually witness his life. However, the culture we grew up in prevents us from getting to know him better. We do not know the meaning of rejecting to participate in a campaign of murder based on individual remorse and conscience while society and the state were committing a huge crime and that crime was becoming a part of daily life and the symbol of a new status quo.
We have Hollywood Schindlers, but movies have not been made for them in this country. Their names are not in history books. From the perspective of our formal history, they are traitors. I believe that one of the big losses associated with our failure to confront the 1915 tragedy is being deprived of not knowing them. In fact, we hold a sense of guilt in our subconscious. But we do not know the stories of those people who did not participate in heinous acts while the entire community was being involved, who refused to comply with orders and harbored their Armenian neighbors in their houses.
We do not know them. We are not aware of how Urfalı Hacı Halil, who hid his Armenian neighbors in his home for one year, bought bread for eight extra people, what he felt about the outer world when he closed the doors of his home, how his relations with the community changed or how he was afraid of the death decrees for those who harbored Armenians in their homes. For us to know and feel all these, we should first address the lies in our history and feel the atmosphere of massacre and tragedies in this country.
If we could pass these stages, we will know about not only Hacı Halil but also the Ottoman bureaucrats who did not obey orders to deport Armenians and were executed or exiled for non-compliance. Konya Governor Celal, Ankara Governor Hasan Mazhar, Kastamonu Governor Reşit Paşa, Basra Governor Ferit, Yozgat Governor Mehmet Cemal Bey, Kütahya Governor Faik Ali Ozansoy, Müntefek Governor Bedii Nuri, Lice District Governor Hüseyin Nesimi Bey and Batman District Governor Sabit Bey will all guide us on the path towards spiritual purification and serenity.
If we could bear the anguish and look at our history honestly, the religious people of this country will promote the honorable tradition of Muslims who strongly opposed the murder of Armenians in Boğazlayan, stressing that there is no killing of innocent people in the Quran. If we could look at 1915 honestly and talk openly about everything, we will start to meet the real heroes. Of course, this will come after huge pain and mourning. They will be our real heroes.
After so many years, we have made some progress towards confronting the past but there is still a long way to go. I think that these heroes will guide us on this journey. I bow to them with great respect.