Project: European artistic and civic cooperation between Germany, Armenia, France and Turkey on the theme of reconciliation
Transplanisphere (France, coordinator)
Hamazgayin Theater (Armenia)
Förderband Kultur initiative Berlin (Germany)
Deniz Tuney Ltd (Turkey)
European Commission – Eacea / Program Culture Component 1.3.5. : cooperation with third countries
Robert Bosch Stiftung – OFAJ DFJW – Institut Français Fond Elysée – Ambassade de France en Arménie – Ministère de la Culture, Drac Ile de France – Conseil Régional Ile de France – Mairie de Paris – Arcadi – DDCS 92
Rectorats de Versailles et Lyon – INJEP – Adami – Spedidam – Théâtre de l’Aquarium, Cartoucherie – TNP Villeurbanne – Ensatt – Jeune Théâtre National – Fineco – l’Étroit Unlimited – Mezzanine Spectacles
First cooperation project with the support of EU (Culture Program). Rec>ON is a cooperation between artists from Turkey, Armenia, Germany and France on the theme of Reconciliation.
This project runs from January 2011 to June 2012 in the 4 partner countries. He notably gives birth to the play Les Descendants (Aquarium, Cartoucherie) by Sedef Ecer, directed by Bruno Freyssinet. The European Commission uses this project as a reference in 2012 in its brochure Audience Development and Bruno Freyssinet is speaker in Brussels at the European conference on this theme.
The Descendants, Yerevan (Armenia), Oct. 2011
Selin Altiparmak, Tatevik Ghazaryan, Julia Penner, Serra Yilmaz,
Hadrian Bouvier, Vardan Mkrtchyan, Andreas Wrosch
It is not essential to always keep the same point of view; no one can stop us from becoming smarter. Konrad Adenauer
We play only the chords we know. Why can not we rebuild our common memory by turning the monologue into a dialogue? Hrant Dink
How to give an artistic and civic dimension to a very sensitive European debate, too often reserved for the political field?
How can we allow citizens of four different countries to take the issue of reconciliation together and transform it into an open and stimulating work of art?
The project involved artists, young people and representatives of civil society from Armenia, Germany, Turkey and France. The aim was to implement a joint reflection with the creation of a multidisciplinary show associated with actions with the public.
The project took place in each of the participating countries from January 2011 to June 2012. Actions are currently continuing in Paris and the Paris region, bringing together students and adults from the four countries in a monthly workshop.
Through this common experience, citizens of Europe and the limits of Europe are trying to overcome geographical, historical and psychological boundaries to question the idea of reconciliation together.
The project path
January / May 2011 • 4 week writing residencies in 4 participating countries: Turkey, Germany, Armenia and France.
January 2011. Meeting of Partners in Paris.
February> May 2011 Residences
Istanbul February 21-27
Berlin March 21-27
Yerevan April 18-24
Lyon-Villeurbanne May 7-10
July / September-October 2011
Sessions international workshop and creation in Yerevan.
3> 17 July 2011. International workshop + research session of the troupe of the show Les Descendants
September 26> October 30, 2011. Repetition and creation of the show Les Descendants.
April / June 2012
Representations in France, Germany and stay in Gumri
April May. Workshops, Paris. Representations of the Descendants.
May. Representation in Berlin.
June. Traveling to Gumri
Why initiate such a project?
Before discussing the extent to which this goal has been achieved, let us return for a moment to the context of relations between these four peoples.
Why did you choose these two tandems whose historical realities are so different?
No doubt because their Stories intertwine intensely on the political, social and artistic levels. Perhaps also because the dark pages that bind them have provoked in each society debates involving similar themes, and in particular the questions of recognition, demand for forgiveness, reparation and reconciliation.
Franco-German reconciliation, an “old story”
But the comparison of relations between the German people and the French people and relations between the Turkish people and the Armenian people remains very delicate from a historical point of view. As far as France and Germany are concerned, the need for reconciliation appeared in the years following the Second World War. In one century, both countries had experienced three wars and millions of deaths. It seemed necessary for the policies of these countries to create the conditions for a new relationship based on balance and recognition of the past. The official reconciliation between France and Germany took place in the 1960s, thanks to the will of Chancellor Adenauer and General De Gaulle. Today, it is considered accomplished for the youth of both countries. It is often even considered an “old story”. If there are still some animosities, they are essentially at the level of the generations who lived through the war. But these remnants of resentment are only transmitted in the collective memory anecdotally. Working today on Franco-German reconciliation is a simple exercise, made possible thanks to the work of previous generations.
As for the relationship between the Armenian people and the Turkish people, it remains extremely confusing. Recall that the antagonism between the two peoples comes mainly from the genocide of a part of the Armenian people who lived on the territory of the Ottoman Empire in 1915. The tragic events took place in the context of the First World War and under the the eyes of the German and French politicians of the time. At the end of this page of history, a trial took place in 1919, after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, in a context of political transition in Turkey under the domination of the French and English allies. This trial resulted in the recognition of the genocide and the condemnation of the young Turkish politicians of the time. But when Moustapha Kemal took over the country soon after and set up the Turkish Republic in 1925, the recognition of the crimes disappeared from the agreements. Since then, the official history defended by the Turkish government does not recognize the reality of the massacre of the Armenian people living on the Turkish territory of Anatolia in 1915.
Turkish Armenian reconciliation is a much more complex reality
Another important point to make clear, the genocide of 1915 provoked the forced departure or the flight of very many Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire. This diaspora has settled in several European countries, of which France is also Germany to a lesser extent. To speak today of Armenian people is to refer to people living in very different territories and contexts, not just the people of Armenia.
When we talk about Franco-German reconciliation, we refer to the reconciliation of two countries and their peoples. Talking about Turkish Armenian reconciliation covers much more complex realities. The political positioning of the government of Armenia is not the same as that of the Armenian diaspora, which itself has many facets. Similarly, when looking at the political position of the Turkish government, it must also be borne in mind that it does not necessarily reflect the position of the entire Turkish people. For example, the singular position of the Kurdish people, who represent 25% of the population of Turkey. Kurdish political representation in Turkey chose to recognize the Armenian Genocide of 1915 and the complicity of the Kurdish people in its implementation. More generally, to pose the question of the recognition of the Armenian genocide by the Turkish power amounts to questioning many pages of official history of the twentieth century Turkish that concerns both minorities and some dissident political groups.
The vocation of an artistic project such as Rec> ON Reconciliation is not necessarily to restore the whole of a historical context in order to be able to put on him the eyes of artists and citizens. But it also seems impossible to ignore, or else it will cut off completely from the reality of the public that the project wants to meet.
To provoke a debate between these four countries placed under the sign of artistic creation, was to try an unprecedented experiment of moving a dialogue usually supported by the policies to take it on the ground of the creation. It was trying to get out of a posture dialogue and move towards a form of sharing and empathy through a common creative process. And in leaving the usual pairs of Franco-German and Turkish Armenian, it was also an opportunity to broaden the debate and find angles of reflection and renewed creation.
put in “play” their collective memories
The project therefore aimed to make a common future possible. For the participants – artists, students, personalities from civil society, but also the general public – the project succeeded in demonstrating that citizens willing to dialogue could contribute together to a seemingly stalled debate. Many students participated in the project through the workshops that took place in each country: Istanbul, Berlin, Yerevan, Lyon, Paris. Everyone, they showed their desire to put “play” their collective memories and imagine utopias for the future. When representatives of each group participated in the international workshop organized by the project in Yerevan (Armenia), they also demonstrated their willingness to exchange and create in a secure political context.
In the same way, the personalities of the civil society interviewed during the shooting of the documentary, showed by their freedom of speech their desire to participate in the construction of this common future. The artists created together a theatrical form that put side by side representatives of different camps usually antagonistic. The general public, for its part, was able to observe and participate in the results of this experience through public meetings, website publications and the show.
The project also aimed at developing Europe’s cohesion: peace.
He wanted to develop the cohesion of Europe through creation and dialogue. It proposed an approach questioning one of the founding values of the Union: Reconciliation between peoples, which allowed the advent of a sustainable space for dialogue, exchange, acceptance of otherness and peace.
Has the Rec> ON project contributed to developing European cohesion? Of the four countries participating in the project, only Germany and France are considered as part of the Union. Turkey has been in the position of pretender for so long that it seems bound to never change its status. Armenia is part of the Council of Europe, but its entry into the Union still seems rather distant.
We believe that the project has contributed to European cohesion on different levels. He showed that the European Union can support a debate recognized by all as very delicate when it comes to Turkey’s relationship with its neighbors. Rec> ON was able to show that the European Union and various organizations such as the Robert Bosch Foundation in Germany or Anadolu Kultur in Turkey knew how to take the risk of supporting this type of initiative allowing dialogue: a cohesive approach in action! For many project participants, this role of the European Union was not well known. Because of the involvement of the Union in the project and its visibility, the participants therefore changed their perception of European action and understood their willingness to participate in a greater cohesion, a greater sense of belonging to the European Union. ‘Europe.
Do not be heir to an unresolved conflict
When people live in times of peace and peaceful relations with their neighbors, they end up forgetting how much this situation allows a project freedom and initiatives on all fronts. For young French and German people, discovering that people like the Armenian people and the Turkish people live a relationship so complex inherited from the past allows them to become aware of the chance they have of not being the heirs of a unresolved conflict. For civil society in general who might sometimes feel that the question of peace and Franco-German reconciliation is a little outdated, this kind of project acts as a booster. Peace not only a comfortable legacy, it’s a real guarantee of freedom over the future.
In a certain way, working on the difficulty of Armenian-Turkish reconciliation makes it possible to become aware of the chance of reconciliation accomplished on a European scale. One must see the difficulty for an Armenian from Armenia to project himself into his relationship with the world in a context where the main neighbor country with which it would be so natural to exchange is closed by barbed wire and mirador. The 50-year-old Berlin actor involved in the project understood this very well, being born soon after the construction of the wall. Closed borders create a material but also psychological obstacle. The situation is no easier for a Turk whose country is largely open to the world. The presence at its borders of a country while waiting for the recognition of a secular crime creates a gray zone in the perception of the History of its own country and is added to a knowledge of History newer still confused.
For a country like France, the Turkish situation is akin to its relationship with Algeria. This year, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the independence of Algeria, the numerous debates that took place on the French territory reminded us of those who had enamelled Rec> ON: recognition, apology, compensation. Another parallel came to our minds, the situation of the relationship between Germany and Greece against a backdrop of financial crisis. We have seen how dark areas still existed in the common history of these countries during the Second World War.
To work on European cohesion today is to encourage dialogue even if work has already been done, because it is through apparently the most consensual examples that we can open the debate on those who seem the most complex.
Escape from the posture debate
Another objective of the project was to give an artistic and civic dimension to an essential debate.
As we have already said, political debate is all too often about debate and rhetorical debate. To propose the dialogue from the point of view of the artistic creation allows to move in the field of the imaginary, the emotional, the common practice also. Rather than confront each other on a subject, we take it together and try to propose its transposition on the artistic field.
As part of a theater workshop, participants were invited to imagine the dialogue they dreamed of having rather than reproducing postures they had known for years. They were able to use fiction to change their role, to put themselves in the place of the other, to move in time and space and rediscover their questioning from another perspective. By going through the game, they have reached the part of childhood that is in each of them and for whom everything is still possible.
Another favorable point of theatrical practice is its temporality. The course of preparation, exercises, meeting by a playful practice allows to discover the Other and to know it better. It creates conditions of trust which then allow one to express oneself more freely, and to take into account the expression of the Other in a more personal way, enabled by the familiarity of the common experience in progress. The Other is no longer an object of mystery on which we project many prejudices, but it becomes a being very similar to oneself, often as curious, fragile and eager to dialogue as oneself.
A possible common working space
For the public who come to attend the youth workshop presentations, or to the professional performances of the show Les Descendants, the artistic dimension also allows to find a new freshness in the perception of a rebelled subject. After experimenting with different tracks, amateur or professional artists have always chosen to represent the themes of reconciliation (recognition, forgiveness, reparation …) in a metaphorical and not realistic or documentary way. The complexity of the subject and the different origins of the performers encouraged an approach by the simplest common denominator, the tale. The performers told stories, and offered the public to discover and share these stories. Through artistic expression, they created emotion, beauty and reached the audience not with arguments but on shared feelings.
For each performance involving artists of Armenian, Turkish, German and French origin, the team showed the public, for example, how much artistic cooperation represents a possible area of common work.
What results for the project? Overview.
The project has fulfilled its objective of setting up an unprecedented platform of four partners from participating countries. Above all, it broadened the initial partnerships by associating complementary organizations on the Turkish side (Anadolu Kultur) and on the Armenian side (Hamazgayin Theater). Recall that the partnership was set up specifically for the Rec> ON project. Two years of joint work laid the foundation for future projects. This has resulted in the joint conception of a new project called Another Dialog, which is currently being examined by the Commission as part of the EuropeAid call.
On the issue of networking universities and high schools, the partnership was generally satisfactory, especially in Yerevan. Lycée 119, partner of the Armenian capital, took advantage of the project (and especially its director came to the kick-off meeting of Paris) to establish relations with institutions in the Paris region. The National Academy of Theater and Cinema of Yerevan has also mandated the director of the Hamazgayin Theater to set up a partnership with the National Conservatory of Dramatic Art in Paris and student exchanges are planned in the coming months. At the individual level, students and academics set up exchanges or cross-placements at the end of the project.
Regarding the meeting of a quartet of artists from the four participating countries, the result of the project is more mixed. Recall that the project coordinator chose to bring together these four artists based on their experiences related to the subject and their shared desire to work on this issue of reconciliation in an innovative way. The contract has been completed to the extent that the expected results have been achieved. But as the project progressed, some artistic disagreements took place on how to carry it out. The ambition of the project and the involvement of the co-organizing partners made it possible to overcome these different people and allow all the participants to benefit from all the project results.
What difficulties have been encountered?
What evolutions in the nature of the project?
The project has encountered different problems when it comes to it and the associated debates. He also encountered difficulties in implementing it. Rather than trying to list all the difficulties encountered over almost two years of the project, we will discuss the most revealing.
The very title of the project – Reconciliation – proved to be rather problematic throughout the project. The word evoked very different definitions depending on whether it was translated into German, Armenian, Turkish or French. Much of the energy of dialogue could be lost in the very sense that everyone wanted to give to the word. But our purpose was more to imagine, to dream together, to find different spaces of expression rather than stumbling on semantic questions. We therefore opted to highlight a slightly different project title: Rec> ON, and to keep reconciliation in subtitle in the 4 languages. Rec> ON had the advantage of being more neutral, to evoke the notion of recording that referred to the documentary in progress, and to be also an English word that did not belong to any of the 4 languages of the partners, but that was understandable by everyone.
This point of detail was rather symptomatic of the difficulties encountered on this kind of cooperation experience. From a group of partners who all have in common to want to lead such a project, we discover however that the meanings of many words posed during the preparation correspond to different realities in different countries. In addition, the mixing of working languages between English and French over the course of the project has also sometimes led to confusion.
The solutions that we implemented to deal with these problems were to favor consultation and regular exchanges, as well as the use as much as possible of writing (and especially email correspondence). But again, the practices of the different partners in this area were different and everyone had to adapt as much as possible.
Another key issue in the implementation of the project was related to the political context of the diplomatic relations between the 4 countries. The project was conceived at a time when many approaches were being taken between the governments of the different countries to promote dialogue, particularly between the Armenian and Turkish governments. The implementation of an action proposed by the civil society was thus rather appreciated by the governments and the tutels related to the powers of the various countries. During the project, Turkish Armenian relations deteriorated and an ongoing standardization process was interrupted. The Armenian authorities have therefore stopped formally supporting the project.
Then, the political agenda of the French government entered the debate with the proposal to vote a law for the criminalization of the denial of genocide. This process and the debate that took place in the National Assembly in France has been largely resumed in Turkey. While the first phase (residence) of the Turkish activities took place in a calm context, the second (representation) was to take place in a context of great tension. Our Turkish partners and project stakeholders have warned us to want to organize a new action of the Rec> ON project in this context. The promotion of the project would be considered provocative by some extremists and the risks were not absolutely manageable.
To compensate for this situation, we organized the action initially planned in Turkey in a city of Armenia – Gumri – located on the border between the two countries. We had been informed by some of our partners (Osman Kavala in Istanbul and Manoug Pamokdjian in Lyon) that a meeting was being organized between Turkish and Armenian civil society personalities. So we changed our plans to allow us to participate in this meeting with our artistic team, to testify of the project’s journey to the Turkish delegation as to that of Armenia. We have also been able to lead a new artistic workshop in Gumri with young Armenians living a very different reality from Yerevan youth, especially in their great hope of seeing the border re-open.
Visibility of Descendants
Another important change for the project is to have had the opportunity to represent the play The Descendants in France more than the duration originally planned, four weeks instead of one. This change has had multiple beneficial effects for the project. He had a much higher visibility in a city that also hosts many artistic productions. This has allowed a better press review considering that journalists rarely travel for proposals that are played less than 3 weeks. This has also allowed to imply guardianships such as the Ministry of Culture, the City of Paris or the Adami who impose more than 25 representations to support projects. Another advantage is that the workshops associated with the project were able to develop over a longer period and benefit from greater availability of artists to participate.
The Wuppertal Theater in Germany invited us to play Les Descendants on May 2 and 3, 2013. In addition, a Turkish theater company is working on a possible production of the play, which would finally give it an Anatolian visibility.
For the French part, the regional council of Ile de France wished to support a continuity of the action of the project on the territory which takes the form of a theatrical meeting one weekend per month, associating students, personalities of the civil society and amateurs from Turkish, Armenian and German communities living in the Paris region. The symbol of the political conviction in a theatrical act for the dialogue is very representative for us of which it has been able to reach like objective the project.
Each partner country wanted to maintain the life of the project and the dialogue in its own way in his country and especially through new projects and other collaborations that we will describe below.
One of the main dimensions of the project was the organization of workshops throughout the activities, with an international meeting in Yerevan halfway through the course.
Istanbul. The question of setting up local youth groups has been very different in different countries. In the case of Turkey, our associate partner Anadolu Kultur had to choose to recruit young people by word of mouth. Indeed, the initial choice to disseminate information in writing in the form of classifieds and calls for applications in universities and schools was problematic. Writing in black and white that a theater workshop invites young people to reflect on the question of reconciliation remains a delicate issue in Turkey in 2011. The bias was thus to pass the information through a network of animators and teachers teaching theater in universities and schools.
Istanbul, February 2011
To answer, the young people had to write by email to the local coordinator and specify their motivation to participate. Our Turkish partner was surprised by the number of applications (120) received from young people aged 16 to 28 with very different social and cultural backgrounds. He selected 60 candidates and finally 53 young people who actually came during a weekend to participate together in the project. The entire artistic team was enthusiastic about the level of involvement of young people. The subjects initially considered as taboo proved to be very simple to approach and in particular the question of the Armenian genocide. Improvisations that dealt with secrets between generations were very successful. Especially the one that confronted three generations in the same family and where the child was trying to make his grandfather talk about what he had done or seen in his youth. The choreographic work was also particularly interesting, especially when it proposed to the young people to reconstitute in movement the “long walk” in the desert. Small flat, however, in our enthusiasm for working with this group. During the final presentation that took place at the Bilgi University Theater, we found that the young people had very little invited around them, family or friends side. The spectators came mainly from invitations launched by our partner. The young people were willing to take the risk of participating in such a meeting, but when it came to sharing this experience around them, they were much more reserved.
In Berlin, our partner chose to separate the workshop days in two sessions. We were able to work first with young students, to which were added 3 Japanese artists in residence at Theater Haus Mitte at the same time, and then in a second time with a group high school student.
Lyon, Istanbul, Berlin, 2011
The participants had extremely varied origins. We have worked with young people from Turkey (Turkish and Kurdish), Armenia, Palestine, Russia, France and sub-Saharan Africa (Congo and Rwanda) in particular, in addition to young people of German origin. . This mix of origins has resulted in an extremely open, cosmopolitan dialogue, with issues often exceeding the four partner countries of the project. During a working session, young people had to express in one sentence their feeling about reconciliation after several hours of work. An Armenian girl was sitting next to a Turkish girl, both 16 years old. The first declared “acknowledge your guilt”, the second said just after “help me because I am not guilty”. This sentence was a long reason in our memory and the expression of the face of the Turkish girl who had pronounced it.
In Yerevan, our first workshop took place in the context of the commemorations of April 24, anniversary of the genocide. At this moment, the whole country communicates on the memory of the events notably by a continuous circulation between the town center and the remote site of the memorial. We offered a first workshop at Lycée 119, which has the distinction of being a partner of the embassies of France and Germany for the teaching of these two languages in a privileged way.
For the young people of this establishment, the presence of a Turkish personality, the author Sedef Ecer associated with the project, triggered a great curiosity. For example, the debate following the theater improvisation exercises showed that the perception of the Turkish neighbor was extremely contrasting with young people in Yerevan. The debate included the issue of opening borders between the two countries. Some were convinced of this need to free the country from its landlocked situation, while others feared a Turkish invasion provoking a new genocide. The presence of a Turkish woman in the establishment speaking with them, recognizing the genocide and answering their questions, helped to sweep away certain fantasies and to make the possibility of a debate very concrete.
In Lyon, the work brought together a high school theater class and students from preparatory classes. The workshop was conducted in the media context of the debates on the anniversary of the independence of Algeria. In the mouths of young people, the parallel is often between the difficulty for the Turkish people to recognize the reality of the Armenian genocide and the difficulty for the French to recognize the reality of the war in Algeria. High school students have evoked and “put into play” family secrets and the fact that they had never dared to challenge a parent about his role during the “events” of North Africa. Other young people, from Algerian immigration, also evoked the family secret that modestly covers this recent page of their history.
When young people gather in Yerevan for an international workshop, they represent the four countries participating in the project and have in common to have participated in Istanbul, Berlin, Yerevan and Lyons in early workshops led by the project’s associated artists. . They were chosen among the young volunteers for the experiment.
For two weeks, they experimented together with the participation of German, French, Turkish and Armenian artists and pedagogues. They were welcomed by the Hamazgayn Theater in Yerevan.
After a day of installation of young people, the second day begins with an open debate between all participants to try as quickly as possible to allow everyone to express his expectation vis-à-vis the meeting. The dialogue between young Turks and young Armenians is the most lively. The young Armenians thank the Turks for making the trip and thus come to discover the Armenian culture. They express a great expectation on the question of the positioning of these young Turks when the recognition of the Armenian genocide and the Turkish responsibility. In response, the young Turks express that they perceive the problem well but underline how far they feel from their origin: their parents were not born at the time. How to express regrets, excuses, or a form of recognition on such ancient facts that nobody speaks clearly in their country? Everyone agrees that the two weeks of the workshop will allow precisely to put words and imagine elements of creation so that the group can together answer these questions. After a few days of exercises combining theater and dance, the young people will divide into several groups and work on scenic sequences. Each sequence will address a theme they feel close to, including conflict, knowledge, mediation and liberation.
Yerevan, July 2012
The last day will be particularly extraordinary for young people. After a dress rehearsal in the afternoon that had settled the various technical issues. A big storm breaks out on Yerevan. The waterspouts will cause major damage in the streets of the city but will also cause a general power cut. The group is subjected to a test: can one play in these conditions, and the public will it come only in view of the bad weather? The group finally chosen to play the candle and will have the pleasant surprise that despite the weather, the public is well to go. Much emotion at the end of the performance, with spectators of all ages surprised to see on stage together young people from Turkey, France, Germany with young Armenians, together evoking their desire for dialogue, questioning of history, and dreams of a common future.
Workshops with the public organized around the representations of the Descendants
at the Aquarium, Cartoucherie – Paris, May 2012
Model Research Residence and Model Workshop
During each one-week residency:
– 1 workshop of artistic practice for a group of high school students (2x5h). Theatrical improvisation work on the theme “What meaning, what stakes, what future for Reconciliation?” from the point of view of high school students. Exchange of practices between artistic stakeholders, transmission to young people.
– 1 workshop of artistic practice for a group of students (2x5h). Improvisation work based on the individual memory of each participant on the notion of reconciliation: “What transmission by the family? What transmission through education? What transmission through the collective memory?”. Exchange of practices between artistic stakeholders, transmission to young people.
– 5 major interviews with local personalities involved in the theme: historians, researchers, great witnesses, politicians … The themes will include the memory, the news and the future of reconciliation. Transcription of this corpus for quotations in the show. Publication on the project website (texts and video clips).
– 1 public debate open to project participants and the general public, with the general theme of Reconciliation and as a secondary theme the process of the ongoing artistic and citizen project. Discussion moderated by the artists and the associated academics, with the participation of personalities interviewed.
– 1 writing workshop bringing together the artists associated with the project (5x4h). Exchange sessions on the conception of the future show, its writing, its form, its representation. Constitution of a common base of artistic and citizen reflection on the subject of Reconciliation. Reassembly of experiences made in practice workshops with high school students and students. Debate on interviews of personalities made during the week. Selection of improvisation situations imagined by young people, quotations from interviews, reflections from the public debate and inspirations from the dialogue to serve as a basis for writing the show.
International meeting model
The work of the Associate Documentaryist has provided a wide range of perspectives but has a progressive approach to the issue of reconciliation in Germany, Turkey, Armenia and France. The responsibility of civil society was mentioned as a key to opening and developing the dialogue, as everyone agreed that the role of politics has not been beneficial in recent years.
Istanbul, February 2011
Thanks to our partners in each country, we were able to meet key personalities of the debate. We particularly favored those who had a vision in motion of the situation of the relations between the different countries, and who took advantage of the meeting with the project to make an inventory of their own steps. Through the different meetings, we have become aware of how the issue of reconciliation is a trans-generational theme. It is up to one generation to lay the groundwork for dialogue but to have the humility to accept that it will no doubt bear fruit until the next generation. This impression has greatly influenced the artistic work of the project and in particular the writing of the piece that dealt with this issue of transmission.
When we published the documentary web, we grouped the topics covered in the interviews under the following themes: memory, awareness, recognition, forgiveness reconciliation, future.
Marita Hebisch-Niemsch, President Franco-German Society, All.
I have been working for a long time and with all my heart for Franco-German reconciliation, but we must not forget to prepare the next generation to pursue this reconciliation. We are convinced that it is our path and our goal to have positive results for those who come after us: we must prepare them, give them a chance to show this feeling of reconciliation. That’s why I always say that reconciliation is not done, that we have to continue without stopping.
Cengiz Aktar, Researcher in Political Science, Turkey
About the request for Forgiveness of the Turks to the Armenians. It needed a short text, the big developments were going to be useless. Two points were problematic: the use of the word genocide and the request for forgiveness. For “genocide”, there was a silent consensus around that. We were not going to use it. […] “The great catastrophe – Aget” that we use, is a much more evocative term, which does not detract from the ferocity, the indescribable genocide but encompassing the whole of Anatolia. I remain of the opinion that the Armenian genocide was an Anatolian, regional disaster. The second point was forgiveness: the demand? We had a lot of agreement on that. Afterwards, many people told us that they would have signed if there had not been the word “pardon at the end”, we must believe that the word forgiveness is still pain. […]
Armenia, much like the diaspora, does not have much on its agenda except the recognition of the genocide. When I was invited [to a conference] in Yerevan, I read “Inventory of Genocide Recognition”. I told them: it’s going to last 30 seconds, you have to change the subject. I offered them the work of memory, the awareness of the genocide in Turkish society, it was much more tangible and sustainable. Because a state that recognizes its wrongs is cold. A state recognizes because it is obliged, like the post-Nazi German state, in Cambodia, in Rwanda, where the genocidal states have lost the battle. It was not the case in Turkey, so it can not happen like that, so we have to look elsewhere.
Silvina Der-Meguerditchian, Armenian artist living in Germany
My strategy, as an artist, is a process of redoing individual relationships with [Turkish] people. The government, you can forget it. With them, we can not talk at all. The only way is Turkish civil society and intellectuals. With the rigidity of politics in Turkey, we can not make big gestures, any great gesture will recall a great rejection. Change is small things, that’s where I have hope.
People are fighting for rights, the multiplicity of identities … they have to fight on many fronts. They have a heavy load. There are 200,000 – 300,000 people fighting for the remaining 70 million.
Art is the language that can open different paths. You have to be concerned as an artist.
Sevak Artsruni, President of Yerkir Union (Ngo), Armenia
I am the 3rd generation, the most politicized, the 4th will be less than us, the 2nd was not very much, the 1st was not at all. We are the representatives of the refusal of dialogue, the most indoctrinated among all the generations that followed the 1915 genocide.
It is up to us to open the way, if our generation comes, I speak only Armenians for the moment, to find answers to our questions, in ourselves first, it will be beautiful, it will be necessary first to decontrix, then go to the dialogue without complex. […]
So, after, the hardest thing begins, that is to say, to learn to live together, […] for us the important thing is Armenia, the Armenians, it is the wound, exorcise the memory; on the other hand, it is democracy, it is getting rid of this guilt recognized or not, admitted or not, felt or not. It is very difficult, in front we do not have an interlocutor who represents a significant percentage of the Turkish population, we have the elite, some, quite marginalized in their countries who are fighting with much more vehemence than us. In this story, the Turks are building their democracy, we can be delighted, but we are struggling to build a country that is just a shred of the Soviet system and genocide. […]
With the Turkish intellectuals, for example, we are not on the same level, we have no choice, we are born in there, grow up in it, we are educated in it, learned to live with, to win with or to lose with. On the Turkish side it is a choice, it is an intellectual freedom, to face this problem or not, each of the people who has one day wanted, agreed to speak about it or to hear has made the choice to speak of this taboo, to confront him. […]
The problem we have with the Armenian genocide is the international politicization of the genocide against Turkey. […] Today, we are told that Europe wants to help us to reconcile, very well, if it is not instrumentalized against our societies, our States, it is an aid, I would say gratuitous, given for we can live better, I agree, but I have doubts. […] The last time, I told the Turks something that surprised them a lot: “It’s not only you who are responsible for the Armenian genocide, Germany, Great Britain, then Silicie, France have openly collaborated. Today there is a discussion to be made on this, if we want to talk about the genocide of the Armenians, let’s talk about it, without using it. If you have to talk about the Armenian problem on both sides, you do not need anyone. We can live it between intellectuals, we are doing it, I do not know what it can give, but it is part of the Armenians anyway, a compulsory therapy. You can not live with so much hatred, the one they took to commit this and the one we wear for doing this to us. After four generations, it’s still ridiculous. […] This macabre way of remembering the genocide, not to stop talking about the dead, how they beheaded us, raped our girls, you know it’s a daily auto poisoning, continuous, we’re fed up, in any case, whether we like it or not, it will stop.
Ahmet Insel, economist, Turkey
In the strictest sense, for the majority of today’s Turks, we can evacuate the responsibility by saying, “I am from the 3rd generation, what responsibility for me? We can evacuate the question of reconciliation by saying, “with whom? Armenians from Turkey? Armenians in the diaspora? Those from Armenia? “. The theme of reconciliation is not enough to create an internal dynamic. Internal dynamics is above all a dynamic of consciousness. When people were asked to sign the request for pardon to the Armenians, it was not only for 1915, but for scorn, forgetfulness, for this erasure of the Armenian cultural presence. When we asked for forgiveness, we called not for reasons of state, so that Turkey and Armenia reconciled. All this is possible but it was above all an act that should be free in the political sense of the term. In return, we expected nothing.
We can distinguish two reconciliations. There is reconciliation between the peoples, Armenians and Turks, and there is the will on both sides. The second, of which the Armenian question is a vector, is that of the Turks with their own history. There, we do not need particularly Armenian volunteers or not, it is a reconciliation with our own history. This requires that Armenianity, the Armenian presence, be recognized as an important element of our own history. This reconciliation with our own history is the main bearer, this confrontation with all that has been forgotten, left out, erased, scorned. It will enable the Turks of today to finally feel at home. Because without it, this society also works a deep fear, that of being driven from its lands. It is found more explicitly in other countries, such as Israel. But in Turkey this fear is very strong, why be chased? For historical reasons, but when you dig a little deeper, because there is guilt somewhere. This buried guilt means that people think that this tragedy, this great misfortune can not remain forever without punishment. It is also the Kurdish problem, but more than that, it is this disappearance of the Turkish society of the constituent populations of Anatolia: the Armenians, the Greeks. It is very hard to dig any Anatolian land and to meet a church, a Byzantine trace, an Armenian trace, a Greek trace, and systematically think and argue that it is a turkish-Muslim land since eternity. This schizophrenia is not sustainable in the long term. So the reconciliation with its own history seems to me to be the main vector, the utopia of a Turkey finally reconciled with itself, its roots, its past and consequently able to make a projection on the future in a serene way. This could finally solve the problem of reconciliation with the Armenians once we reconcile ourselves to our own history. The natural awareness of this reconciliation is the second reconciliation. […]
Turks are not physically victims of this story. It is necessary to distinguish the moral and physical victims, the Turks did not undergo the same history as the Armenians, nor that of the Kurds. But they are prisoners of this story and can not get out of it. When one looks at the past, when one begins to evoke the greatness of the Ottoman Empire, behind this greatness there is the Turkish-Muslim element, but also Armenian, Greek, converted, and therefore an enormous cultural multiplicity. So I do not think the Turks have to say, “We are the first victims of our history,” but I think they are somehow the victims. Today, in Turkey, we dig to the east and we leave bones permanently. These bones are not those of the Armenians of the time but those of the people who were killed in the 90s, then 80, then in the 30s (Kurds). If we dig deeper, we will find Armenians. […]
Those who agree to look at their past are the losers, Turkey has not been defeated so it’s a bit difficult from the outside to look at the past. We know how France has had a hard time looking at its past vis-à-vis Germany since it had not been defeated. […]
There remains a possibility, a recognition of the responsibility by the conviction, by the reception, to be part of the concert of the human countries, respected, respectable. There, one can think that Turkey could be brought to ask the question. The Turks today consider that they will become a world power. Member of the G20, NATO, OECD, European Council, Security Council at the UN: we can not be present in these institutions at the same time and be in the position of negationist on its past. I think it’s not by force May
Betul Tanbay, matematician, Turkey
Today, I am very interested in history books in high school. In a 3rd history book in France, about the first world war, the word Ottoman does not exist. I say that from our point of view, the first world war was to be used to make disappear the Ottoman Empire. In France, one reads pages and pages on the first world war without speaking once of the Ottoman Empire and suddenly, one has an addition because Armenians said “you do not talk enough about the genocide”, so we added a box with “the civilian deaths: the Turks killed 1 million Armenians during the First World War”. I look at it with the eye of a Chinese, there is an explanation of the war, nothing about the Ottoman Empire, then we go to the second war: the Nazis killed the Jews, the Germans never kill the Jews, but the Nazis yes. And I’m talking about books in France where we did a lot of work. In Turkey, we have not done anything yet. So I’m talking about a job that I find already evolved but that remains very primitive.
This idea of the Turk of the Armenian, that limits our possibilities of discussions. Even the “on”, “we”, “you”, I do not like. […] I think we must try to go back to the past with a global look. […] We are in front of something that is suffering today, we have to look back together, to understand better.
Creation of the show
The project allowed the writing and creation of the show Les Descendants. The author has imagined a story involving the themes addressed through workshops and interviews. She has transposed them into a narrative retracing the fate of 3 generations of women confronted with the tragic history of their country. The text of the piece was then adapted for the stage by the artistic team during the creation in Yerevan. Remember that this team was composed of artists from the 4 participating countries. Important work was done to share the play between the different project languages: Armenian, Turkish, German and French, accompanied by a surtitling device in each language of the project. The play was shown at the end of the rehearsals in Yerevan, at the Hamazgayin Theater, then at the Aquarium-Cartoucherie Theater in Paris and at the Theater Haufbau Kreuzberg in Berlin.
The Descendants, Théâtre de l’Aquarium-Cartoucherie, May 2012
Selin Altiparmak, Tatevik Ghazaryan, Julia Penner, Serra Yilmaz,
Hadrian Bouvier, Vardan Mkrtchyan, Andreas Wrosch
Selin Altiparmak et Hadrien Bouvier
Serra Yilmaz / Andreas Wrosch
Presentation of the piece by François Rancillac
director of the Aquarium-Cartoucherie Theater, Paris.
In a strange astronomical observatory, war orphans, raised far from home, wonder about their past: are they children of victims or executioners? How to move forward if they do not know the story that founded them? But is it really necessary to dig up the secrets of the past? And what if his best friend turned out to be a descendant of the enemies of old? And why build one’s identity on the struggles of previous generations?
A thousand and one questions cross the stage that Sedef Ecer, a Turkish and French-speaking author, is imagining for Bruno Freyssinet, feeding on the many debates and workshops that they have been conducting for months here and there, with young actors and Armenian and Turkish, German and French students, as well as meetings with intellectuals and political figures from those countries who, at one time in history, have been in conflict with their neighbor.
A cross-border project, transdisciplinary show: beyond the four languages that will mingle in the room, will meet on stage theater, music and video images. The opposite of a documentary or historical show, and detached from any real conflict, this fiction will dialogue inheritance and reconciliation, intimate memory and collective mythologies. Like a hand obstinately straining towards the Other, despite walls and watchtowers, despite war and pain, despite anger and misunderstanding. A bet on life, in a way.
The Descendants, Press review
Here are some articles about the process as a whole during the creation of the play in May 2012
Transfrontier scenes, fates of history, cries and sufferings of an ethnic conflict, The Descendants resuscitate the collective memory at the Theater of the Aquarium.
The Descendants, one hand writing, that of Sedef Ecer. A story, stories about hands extended to Germany, Armenia, Turkey and France. The fate of war victims. An adult, adults today. An orphan, orphans yesterday. Sedef Ecer is a Franco-Turkish dramatic author. A stylized pen for the Turkish press, novels, scenarii feature films and documentaries. Forms of writing as varied as they are expressive, Sedef puts them at disposal in its guard-words. This play, a library of images extracted from the archives of History by Serge Avedikian and restored to life by the interpretation of actors, according to a contemporary modus operandi.
Bruno Freyssinet is of this generation of director who lays the foundations of a theater of renewal. Actuality and the present compose the existential structures of an artistic geometry, which are articulated on a polygon with variable inclination. Neo-surrealist trends conceived on multi-visual and sound technologies, the staging of this show by Bruno Freyssinet draws two parallels on the field of creativity, innovation and openness.
The story, in situ, takes place under the dome of an astronomical observatory. Once in a country like in so many other countries, love has brought a girl closer to a boy. The passion declined in separation, their community was massacred. Orphans without family and without origins, what remains of their true identity? Against the current, the paths of destiny brought them together again.
Unanswered questions follow the mysteries of the past. Words follow each other in short sentences; instead of commas, question marks impose doubt and suffering. The truth is written in red ink as the blood of the victims who has long sunk and at this time, continues to leave a bitter taste in the collective consciousness. Trial of genocide without a court, lovers-orphans virtually endorse the dress of lawyers. Hate, they feel it against the executioners. No condemnation, there is prescription. From reconciliation, they relive their past loves. But tomorrow, what will become of them? Will they find the soul of their decimated people or will they live blindly without being able to push the heavy doors of history?
Theater of Time written with a capital T, The Descendants throw disorder on a misunderstanding and treachery. East and West, geographically distanced and culturally different, blend into an imaginary territory. Thanks to the intensity of Sedef Ecer’s text, France, Germany, Armenia and Turkey are vicinal. Words speak freely. From translation, it is necessary to understand the cries of the heart and to define the expression of the glances. The dialogues are tied and unravel according to, because this piece is a documentary fresco that emits emotions in color and prints the contradictions in black and white. Linguistic exchanges between comedians from the four states listed below give birth to a new language. Grammar is the conjunction of perception and feeling, touch and listening.
Julia Penner and Andreas Worsch (Germany), Tatevik Ghazarian and Vardan Mkrtchian (Armenia), Hadrien Bouvier and Gérard Torikian (France), Selin Altiparmak and Serra Yilmaz (Turkey) immortalize a dramatic story. It is important to listen to them and to see them evolve on a trans-European and intergenerational scene. It’s shaky and moving. Serra Yilmaz, a presence marked by a hard and sincere personality, a magnificent interpretation for this Turkish actress.
The staging turns like the circular dial designed to reconcile the past to the present, hatred to acceptance. Each passage is measured as a parenthesis that opens and closes almost immediately on this tragedy never translated this way.
The text of Sedef is ancient in a sense because it is reminiscent of Antigone threatened to be buried alive and, in situ, mothers crying their children sacrificed. The beauty of this text lies in the pain of the evocations heard and in the innocence and purity of the emotions expressed. The staging is contemporary and factual because it is Tower of Babel and Arc de Triomphe of a bloody episode of the History of Men. A realization imbued with reflection and understanding.
The Monde.fr / Evelyne Trân
The memory must be painful to those who, by turning to their past, to that of their parents discover that they were born on the edge of precipices, these enormous craters dug by human madness.
The descendants in question, the war orphans, are like survivors. The key idea of Sedef ECER is to bring together the children of the executioners and the victims on their common place, that of the disaffection. If the memory is painful, it does not circulate by hatred. The Descendants go through a forest of signs in an installation, interstellar scenography, where the observatory, symbolic meeting place has a look of screen, kind of antenna that continues to emit the voices of ancestors.
Because it is also a dialogue between the living and the dead as in a Shakespearian tragedy. Online discontinuous plan to register the descendants in the wake of those who have committed the inexorable. This is expressed as confusedly as in a nightmare where the units of place, of space time dissolve to reach the ultimate glimmer of hope. The investigation of orphans becomes a conquest, that of a youth who intends to learn from a convulsive past.
This dreamlike perspective is buried in the idea of dwelling. What can remain in the minds of those who are only descendants of their parents’ crimes? My mother was an executioner, my father was a victim, so what? The feeling of desolation is common, so that it is the refrain of life that must mark the pace even if it tramples around conglomerations of frozen pains, unspeakable secrets, and impregnable deaths who acted without really believing that the spirit of a human being belongs only to him alone, even if he is the son or daughter of. Independence, it exists and it begins with the being, it is the primacy of the birth in spite of all the inheritances.
The play that gives voice to people from various backgrounds, who speak German, Armenian, English and French, could also be called “We are not strangers”. Because they share the same quest, the same desire to rebel against fate. They refuse the isolation of pain, hatred and indifference. Their quest for human identity may seem incredible at a time when the specter of communitarianism is being brandished. That they can speak with one voice, in the footsteps of a soil that has been soiled, brings us another vision of history that comes in dates, in apologies for victories. History with a large H is a surface memory, that of individuals is the one that activates their reason for being.
The piece as it is presented has an experimental aspect. The result of a commission to the Turkish and French author Sedef ECER who met many witnesses, historians, sociologists, it is a piece always in the making since she says herself
“I do not know if the actors will take liberties on the dialogues or on the structure, as it is the rule of the game in any collective creation”.
The director Bruno Freyssinet sums up the project as follows: “Our dialogues start from Franco-German reconciliation and the impossible Armenian-Turkish reconciliation. As a convocation of our personal stories to the history of our countries of origin. “
In the staging of Bruno Freyssinet, it is the climate of night light that prevails. The protagonists move a little like in a dream. Where do they come from, where do they go from? In the same way, the characters of the past are expressed following the contemporaries or conversely. This makes our banal landmarks of unity of place, time, and space waver. Finally the actors do not speak the same language. The emotion is tangible. It seems that it is the actors themselves who must explore the field of their bruised memory.
It is a very sensitive collective experience that only needs to externalize itself more and more to dig and trace a possible and not only indefinable path to intertwined pains converted into a glimmer of hope. The public of teenagers who attended the representation of the general, did not flinch. Should it be felt “downhill” itself and concerned by this extraordinary and promising show …
Toute la Culture
The Descendants and a dialogue always possible with the Other.
In the middle of the courtyard still soaked with rain from La Cartoucherie, the Theater of the Aquarium presents its new show: The descendants. A theatrical project that presents the question of dialogue between cultures of different generations. A work based on a principle of dialogic confrontation that makes it a work in progress.
Two orphans and questions about their origins open the room: does one have to know one’s past in order to project oneself into the future? Three generations confront each other and scenarios from three different eras overlap on stage. A dictator, in a past time that comes to life, plans a genocide to cleanse the dynasty she is at the head. Later, in an astronomical observatory out of any geographical reference, the orphans do not know which party they are the descendants, if they are the children of the victims or executioners. Then again, their daughter wants to know where she comes from: she understands that to build her own path, she must assume her origins.
The characters on stage speak four different languages and move from one to the other as if they were interchangeable, as if each of them could express themselves in the same way in French, Turkish, German and Armenian. This gives the sensation of the creation of a fifth language which does not correspond to any of the spoken languages, but rather to a pre-babelic idiom, existing before all differentiations. This choral effect was especially sought after by the director Bruno Freyssinet who, at the end of the show, explained to the audience the genesis of the piece and the inspiration that it came to him during the meeting with the writer. Turkish origin Seder Ecer. An intellectual with multiple facets, she grew up as an artist in an international environment and she thrives on the difficult dialogue between East and West. With Bruno Freyssinet, she immediately shared the interest of crossing the big questions about the geopolitical balances of contemporary history and drama.
Without referring to it directly, Les Descendants puts on the set the greatest human dramas of the last century: from the Shoah to the Armenian Genocide, world wars to moments of reconciliation. The questions that these events have raised and still raise are purged of all historical contingencies and political goals and challenge the world population heir to the weight of responsibilities of the history of the twentieth and early twenty-first century.
The text, constructed in a very intelligent way, touches extremely spiritual summits during which the words merge with the melodies of the languages in which they are uttered. The result is a deep reflection on the encounter with the Other and the dialogue that too often, throughout history, has become a source of fear rather than wealth.
Marianne2 / Jack Dion
The executioner’s son and the victim’s daughter
It’s a great adventure that is continuing at the Aquarium Theater. It is about the ambiguous and complex relations between young people whose parents were executioners and children of victims. Its title “The Descendants”, after a work by the French-Turkish author Sedef Ecer, directed by Bruno Freyssinet.
They are eight on stage, two German, two Armenian, two Turkish and two French under the dome of an astronomical observatory worked by the wear of the years. A simple enumeration of their origins, we guess that we will evoke the vagaries of the history of this “long twentieth century”, as said the British historian Eric Hobsbawm, who has marked the peoples of these countries in their flesh.
Through these different characters, three generations will cross their routes. Some were executioners. They defended the theses of these “higher” beings, feeling entitled to put the “inferiors” to reason, or even to strike them off the map. The latter were victims. They survive (so to speak) only through the tortured memory of their descendants. Others, moreover, were only mere witnesses more or less consenting to the dramas that mourned history.
Their destinies will be reconstituted over the scenes to lead to questions that haunt the survivors – until this nagging question illustrated by two of the actors: what happens when a son of executioner is in love with a girl whose the mother herself killed the executioner – who by the way was a woman? Is the mark of shame genetically identifiable until the dawn of time?
Sedef Ecer, of Franco-Turkish origin, and the director Bruno Freyssinet are at the origin of this bet on reconciliation which is the result of a long-term joint work. From their meeting, in 2009, was born this project of a work based on the work of memory and the necessary overcoming of the traumas, as anchored they are in the hearts and the souls.
In collaboration with documentary filmmaker Serge Avedikian, they met young and old, witnesses and artists, historians and sociologists in Yerevan, Istanbul, Berlin and Paris. Then Sedef Ecer wrote this piece, a pure fiction, mounted with actors from the four countries concerned. It was first erected in Yerevan in October 2011.
She then embarked on a long journey, one of which is the Aquarium Theater. She will continue her merry way, to convince of the need for mutual respect, notwithstanding the wrath of history, dramas, deaths, wounds that will never close, because it is the only choice that has face human.
We will never say the relevance of an initiative imbued with a humanism that commands respect. “Descendants” are works that can not leave anyone indifferent.
Visibility of the project
The visibility of the project was ensured differently according to the actions and countries where these actions took place. Given the duration of the actions in Armenia, which accounted for 50% of the total activity, we relied on our local partner for the implementation of this visibility, as well as on the local delegation of the European Union. .
In this sense, the delegation of the European Union organized a press conference at the time of the creation of the show Les Descendants in Yerevan in October 2011 and allowed many journalists to take note of the project and the support of the European Commission .
As mentioned above, our Armenian partner has also provided a great promotional work in the media with great visibility of the project on the national television channels. For this project, the director of the theater who welcomed us to mobilize his personal network within the various television channels.
In France, the visibility of the project was often linked to the visibility of the show. The public relations agency working with the aquarium theater was mobilized for six weeks to promote the project in the media.
In Germany, the project benefited from the visibility of the Anniversary of Paris-Berlin relations and the performances as well as the announcement of the debate were relayed by the various communication media related to the event.
First meeting of partners, Paris, January 2011
Bruno Freyssinet – Juliette Bompoint – Serge Avedikian – Sedef Ecer – Marylen Iglesias Breuker – Vardan Mkrtchyan – Hovhannes Karapetyan – Christoff Bleidt – Hella Mewis – Sinan Ecer – Burcin – Elise Gonin – Forbon
Bruno: I would like us to take a moment for each of you to tell us the report he has intimately with the idea of reconciliation. I will try to extract the keywords. These words can bounce each one off on things that he would not have thought of at the beginning but that will appear simply by crossed evocations. This work has already been done with Serge, Sedef and Marylen. I suggest you do it today, who wants to start?
Sedef: For me there are two very important things; firstly, in relation to this past lie in which we grew up, of official lies in Turkey, because of dictatorship and other reasons. A project is always personal and the second thing is for me a reconciliation with myself, with my person, inside the writing. Each writing is very intimate. I think there is a personal reconciliation to be found, as an artist, as French, as Turkish, as woman, as mother …
Forbon: For me reconciliation is a quest, a search, something to pursue. We must ask ourselves questions, question ourselves. Vis-à-vis my country, the Congo, I am really at the heart of this process hence the importance of questioning among victims and executioners.
Sinan: I’m going to add something to what Sedef just said. We Turks, I think we were very hurt by everything we were hidden. Reconciliation, in the dictionary sense, must bring us to a very beautiful end. I would have preferred not to do this project because I would have liked that this story does not exist. There will always be fights, arguments and we will always need this reconciliation. It brings us immediately in the sense of the word of the project and it is very annoying for us.
Bruno: Do you think it is related to the meaning of the word reconciliation in its translation into Turkish?
Sinan: I do not think, do not stop on the words but get involved in the bottom of the problem.
Serge: What made debate? What other word could be used?
Sedef: We used “Uzlasma”
Bruno: What was blamed on “Uzlasma”, as Osman Kavala said, is that it felt like it was a kind of compromise, it was a word about the arrangement , more than something that was positive. This is not a word that is personal but rather a little technical. There is a notion of making room clear without solving the problem.
Marylen: Anyway for me reconciliation, the question is that it necessarily implies the question of forgiveness, so on the one hand forgetting, and therefore the passage of time. Time, forgetfulness and forgiveness are complex and they are confused in this question. I was in Buenos Aires in the Armenian community, I wanted to see Armenian dances. I spoke with a woman who must have been 75 years old. When I explained the project she began to stiffen. In the end I told him we were working with young people. And there, she said that for young people it’s a good thing. She meant that for her it was too late. And I understood then the question of time. I, as Argentina, have left the country during a dictatorship, I do not want to be reconciled with these people. But maybe the younger generation will go into this process. There is also the duty to remember that there are things you do not want to forgive. It also raises the question of forgiveness; until where? Why ? Who ? And when? The question of timing is very important.
Sedef: Yes, and forgetting too. Until it has to go? What is the share of amnesia that we must have? But it is also necessary that the pain remains strong.
Christoff: For me reconciliation is in the foreground a very beautiful word. I am very happy about the France / Germany reconciliation because of what it has done a lot in my life. I am the post war generation, I was born in 1956. I was born in this process of reconciliation. At school there were many activities that supported my interest in France. It was also happening in my life. I went to France when I was 15, in Alsace, and we slept next to a road. The next Sunday nothing was going, no one wanted us. In the bakery people did not speak to us. Today I know it was July 14 … In Alsace … It’s a moment in my life where I felt the story close to me, it was a trial. I was very happy when Bruno came to us to offer us the cooperation. For me reconciliation was happening in my life, concrete and positive. We discussed in Berlin. In Germany there are two words for the word reconciliation. “Aussöhnung” means something very complete. A voltage has the ability to calm down with the time factor that is needed. “Versöhnung” is a more definitive aspect. It is the dialogue that goes with several generations. Everything is not harmonious right now. The dialogue must become normal.
Bruno: This idea of dialogue is a word that seems simpler than the word reconciliation. I mentioned it with a Turkish intellectual. For him reconciliation was too strong. If the word dialogue could already exist it would be beautiful.
Sedef: Yes, because there would be the beginning of a path. “Uzlasma” is the same level as reconciliation, and reconciliation is already too ambitiou
Bruno: We will now hear a little bit of everyone, especially this row on the issue of the intimate relationship.
Vardan: The Armenian word “achtetsoum” corresponds to reconciliation in French. I think that in Armenia this word has a rather weak meaning. Because, for example, we use this word when there is a small conflict. For the word to be a more specific sense one must refer to where it comes from. The victimization capacity of the one who positions himself. I give meaning to the word by accepting victimization as an heir. When you agree to consider yourself a victim, it is a step you take to make reconciliation happen. I’m talking about where I am. I must accept being a victim to access reconciliation. In the concrete case in the Armenian / Turkish relationship, the lie has added something difficult for reconciliation. Non recognition. During these 95 years the fact that there is no recognition, the fact becomes like a kind of tumor which excites, instead of being something concrete. Positioning yourself as a victim is not easy. There is a permanent job to do to extinguish the fire against the revolt against the lie. Time is against it, it excites the pain.
Marylen: It’s really about genocide. People who are taken and who do not have the opportunity to fight. If we have the opportunity to fight, to resist, we do not have that feeling. We do not feel victim. Resistance has been put forward because it is a way to recover his memory.
Serge: Among Armenians the appearance of terrorism is of this order. When justice is not done, people want to do justice by themselves. They take up arms, they organize themselves, they kill diplomats … it degenerates then, it becomes a blind terrorism. To get out of victimization is to wage war.
Marylen: Sometimes reconciliation is not possible. If there had not been French resistance I do not know where we would be. We think of Simone Veil who was pro-Petainist. For many years we live in a situation of peace, but sometimes you have to know how to fight for your ideas.
Sinan: But with great courage, even with politicians, reconciliation must be done by civil society, by people.
Serge: the problem in the Armenian / Turkish context is multilevel. If the reconciliation came from above it would make the problem easier, if the civil society was a little more heard it would be good.
Sinan: they tried to start with football matches!
Hovhannes: As Elise spoke of reconciliation and reconciliation. I think that in the context of conciliation we have the opportunity to discuss, collaborate, be together. But for reconciliation it will always be possible to forgive oneself because it always includes something badly done. You must always want to forgive. If there was no harm committed there is no reconciliation. Evil must be named to move forward. Even between two people, reconciliation is done when both are ready to reconcile. I am impressed by my Turkish colleagues who accept that the mistake was made. It’s a generosity on their part. We can not agree today on the political level. It will be necessary to accept the fact that Turkish politicians can not accept that their grandfathers have committed crimes. The younger generation is not responsible. It will be necessary to demonstrate the generosity of forgiving each other. We will always have to sit around the table.
Sedef: I am not a politician, a sociologist. I create a project and I need writing materials. What makes me angry is that the generation of the above has led me into negationism. I learned at 30 the genocide and it took me 5 years to accept it. It’s monstrous what the grandfather did, but it’s anger at the lying father I’m going to use for this job. I’m a little hangman girl and a lying monster girl.
Sinan: But you also have to wonder if he really knew it. The new generation accepts to recognize genocide; but not this Prime Minister who is not mine and who is of the same generation
Sedef: I want to write about those who prevented me from reconciliation. I do not want to play propaganda theater.
Marylèn: Me at the dance level I want to work on a gesture that will concern all situations, all genocides. And how do we fight against genocide? I spoke about Turkish / German relations. There are all kinds of relationships, we can feed ourselves and also deal with the intimate.
Vardan: I worked on this period. When you speak of humanity, I will leave almost the truth of the heart, of humanity. There was before the cult personality. You had to believe it. Lenin was almost a god and even the actor who was chosen to play Lenin. In three generations we understood that it was wrong. The turnaround happened very quickly. Maybe our job is to look at all this with a kind of tranquility without getting into a state of harm. My grandfather lived in a village, he had to marry an unknown girl by sight. And he gets married. There are people still in this state of mind, obey the tradition. I say it’s a tradition, ok, but it’s not my problem. It’s the break with tradition.
Christoff: Sometimes there are problems. In particular the Turks in Germany, problem of identification. This question is national.
Sedef: Whenever I wrote chronicles in Turkey about Armenia, I received threatening letters. So there are so many people who do not want to hear about it.
Marylen: The problem of displaced peoples exists. Often displaced Armenians are more Armenian than Armenians and it is the same for others. When we live elsewhere we try to make this country live with its memory.
Sinan: One must ask why the denial. By fear ? By shame?
Sedef: there are lots of meetings where I do not talk about it for fear.
Marylen: I listen to this story of reconciliation coming from Argentina where reconciliation is unthinkable. Some people in the family do not even talk to each other anymore and it’s irreducible. It will only be reducible with the death of certain generations.
Retranscription of the debate Reconciliation
May 5, 2012 Theater Aquarium, Paris.
Bruno Freyssinet: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for staying with us so many. To moderate this debate tonight, Ariane Bonzon is with us. She is a journalist and has traveled around the world, particularly in South Africa, Israel, Palestine and Turkey. She is therefore very familiar with the specificity of the Turkish situation since she was corresponding there for various media outlets. So she will take over and present this evening. Thank you.
Ariane Bonzon: Good evening. There is often a tendency to say that reconciliation and peace is what Europe knows best. The Franco-German reconciliation being a true case study, today it is undoubtedly the reconciliation between Turkey and France, and Europe in any case. That is to say the reconciliation between Armenia, the Armenians of the diaspora, and the Turks. This piece has already touched on the subject. Before giving the floor to the three personalities who are here, I would first like to ask a question. The title of this debate is: Reconciliation impossible. It is pessimistic, and as Bruno said, I had the opportunity to witness a reconciliation in South Africa myself. So it is not true that reconciliations are impossible. And I would already like to lay some groundwork: between the Armenians and the Turks we have all the indications, all the clues that make it a reconciliation, or in any case appear as such. We have seen it again lately. There is a fundamental opposition: national histories are antithetical, incompatible memories, ancestral hostility, sometimes conflicting interests … In short, it is also a textbook case, but in the other direction. Why then in South Africa, when we find these elements, it was possible?
Some elements made this reconciliation possible. For example, there is first, the establishment of a device of course, but especially the conviction that we must speak together in a common interest. We saw it for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there probably was not this awareness there. There is a failure. On the other hand, there are also charismatic characters. Whether in South Africa with De Klerk, Nelson Mandela, or somehow less fortunate, in Israel with Rabin and Arafat, charismatic personalities count. There is also obviously the role of international pressure. For South Africa, it played a huge role in the peace process. Maybe the international pressure has not been the same in Israel and Palestine. Then we can, and this interests us particularly in the Armenian / Turkish question, ask the question about the importance of religion. In South Africa, I remember some quite edifying scenes of black ministers and white activists holding hands and praying at the same time. In Israel and Palestine, there is obviously a religious antinomy. On the Armenian / Turkish side, the question also arises. We will try to answer all these questions.
Yves Ternon, historian specializing in Jewish, Armenian and Rwandan genocides, who has devoted himself to research on crimes against humanity and the question of Holocaust denial. War and genocide in the 20th century, published by Odile Jacob, 2007
Jean-Pierre Mahe, orientalist, philologist and historian of the Caucasus, specialist in Armenian studies. Armenia to the test of the centuries, Gallimard, Discoveries History, 2005,
Michel Marian, Associate of Philosophy at the Paris Political Institute Dialogue on the Armenian Taboo, 2009, written in collaboration with Ahmet Insel, Turkish.
Bruno Freyssinet, director of the play Les descendants
We regret not to have with us Turkish, our guest could not come, but the Turkish community is represented in the room: I think Sedef Ecer and Serra Yilmaz will intervene in this debate.
Bruno Freyssinet will explain to us how he tried to make this reconciliation concretely in this play.
Everyone speaks for 10 minutes and then the floor will be given to the audience.
We start with Yves Ternon.
Yves Ternon: When, in 1994, there was talk of reconciliation in South Africa, the most horrendous mass crime occurred in Rwanda: the genocide of Tutsis. The key problem is first to understand what genocide is. I pay tribute to the authors and actors of this play for understanding, at least in part, what genocide was. It’s not just a crime against humanity, it’s an absolutely specific event. This means that at a given moment, in a given place, a given group no longer has the right to live: women, children, men, old people, everyone must disappear in the name of an ideology, in the name of a principle that condemns them definitively. It is an event so terrifying that it is difficult to think of it in the immediate future, to think it later.
Obviously the question arises for historians (those who speak after them and not those who speak during which we speak in the room) to decipher exactly what happened. It’s a long job. A work of several decades. We are still able to pin down what happened in 1915/1916 in the Ottoman Empire, from 1941 to 1945 in the countries of Europe occupied by the Nazis and in Rwanda in 1994. But that suppose the truth is established and acknowledged. It is for the Holocaust at trial, when the Nazis recognized the facts, without asking for forgiveness, of course. But it is especially so for the following generations in Germany, who have worked to establish this truth, and who have largely participated in historical research. There is no taboo on the issue of the Holocaust in Germany. So the reconciliation between the descendants of the Germans and the Jewish victims does not pose in itself a problem since the truth was there, in the heart.
It is different for the genocide of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire. For a very simple reason, it is that this genocide was not really a failure for these authors. This is because they pursued, later, in a different way, of course, but the same principles of nationalism that had been at the origin of the genocide. Because the perpetrators of this genocide were the founders of the Republic of Turkey. And because they have maintained, and still maintain today the refusal to establish the truth for a number of reasons. First of all for a reason of honor, because “it can not have happened in Turkey”. This is the problem of reconciliation. Everything is possible between the descendants of executioners and those of the victims insofar as there is no refusal of the truth.
When considering a law for the criminalization of the genocide of Armenians in France, and that Turkey has landed 20,000 people from all over Europe to protest against what are alleged allegations; when, on the 7th of April, in Metz, 10,000 people, called by the Turkish / French reports federation, will say that they are inventions and that the Armenians should be reasonable; at that moment there is no reconciliation possible. Reconciliation must come from the grassroots and that’s all the work I want to see developed. And with that the possibility for the children of executioners, the children of the victims, to be reconciled, because have been established links, dialogues, the truth. At that moment everything is possible, it’s true.
But as long as the government controls these possibilities of reconciliation, as long as it blocks the establishment of truth, as long as it asks committees of historians to establish a truth that is indisputably known to all historians, that moment there is no reconciliation possible. So I think it’s in Turkey, basically, that this reconciliation has to be done.
In Rwanda, for example, reconciliation is infinitely difficult because victims and executioners, 18 years later, live together. They know each other, they talk to each other, they hate each other and they love each other at the same time because they are from the same country. Reconciliation is also possible. It will be long insofar as we are faced with the very cause of the genocide that is in Rwanda ethnicity. The very cause that was, in Germany, the folly that is biological racism. We could see this madness embodied in the room by a woman, which was very clever elsewhere.
This can only be possible in Turkey if the ideology ceases to be an extreme nationalist, and if that country moves towards democracy. I pay tribute to those who, in Turkey, aspire to democracy by tending to establish a dialogue between the descendants of Armenians and those of the Turks. Especially since a number of the descendants of these victims are often Turks today. During this very specific phenomenon of the Armenian genocide, which has made at least 10,000 missing, some have been abducted and raised in Turkish homes and their Armenian identity sometimes resurrects at the 5th generation. These can contribute to reconciliation, but it is possible only if there are two healthy people facing each other, two people who accept the truth. If one continues to lie, if one does not ask forgiveness for this abomination that is a genocide, reconciliation is impossible.
Ariane Bonzon: So no recognition, no reconciliation as long as the historical truth is not officially recognized.
Jean-Pierre Mahé, is there an Armenian fatality? Have there ever been for Armenians, who may not have been at the right time in the right place, conflicts and reconciliations? What processes for this historical perspective that you will expose us?
Jean-Pierre Mahé: After hearing what Dr. Ternon said, we understand an essential point is that the genocide is something quite unspeakable. And which, in a certain way, can not be presented as the result of a sort of sequence, of a historical fatality. There must be a break. As you know, the Armenian Genocide of 1915 is something other than a massacre. There was a plan, a change of nature. There were extremely serious massacres in 1896. Maybe at a certain point, we were inclined, in historical research, to think that basically these massacres (about 250 000 to 300 000 victims) was a kind of preparation for the future genocide. We are well aware today that it is not at all the same thing. These massacres of 1894 were a repetition of what had happened in the past many times in the Ottoman Empire: operations intended to break up revolts, to frighten people who had revealed themselves. While what happened in 1915 responded to an entirely new process, something planned, and for us, hard to imagine. In a way, what can be pointed out about Armenia’s long and tragic past will always be out of sync with this catastrophe.
If I had to explain quickly what the fate of Armenia was, I will use a geological comparison. Everyone knows the 1988 earthquake that reminded us tragically in a striking way. Armenia is at the junction of tectonic plates. If we read the Armenian chronicles from Antiquity to the Middle Ages, we will find terrible earthquakes recurring.
What is geologically valid is also here geopolitically. In my opinion, due to events that occurred at the turn of our era, the expansion of the Roman Empire towards the East stopped in the Caucasus which marked the extreme limit and all the Roman conquerors until at Pompey took a nearly identical course: to give up going east, (despite some attempts to fight the Spartes ended in failures) and to give up Armenia as a Roman province. Armenia was therefore a frontier state, a defensive glacis at the edge of major strategic blocks: successively Rome, Persia, Byzantium, the Arabs, the Ottoman Empire, the Safavids, Khazars, and then the Russians. The result for the Armenians is an extremely dangerous position: as soon as one bloc tries to gain the advantage over the other, it will try to conquer the middle space, dragging Armenia into all sorts of disastrous war raking up. the erosion of its territory. Recall that Armenia today represents less than a tenth of the territory of historic Armenia.
Another point may be the question: did the Ottoman Empire, established in the East from the 16th century, bring something different from the foreign domination imposed on Armenia in previous centuries? I think so. I would say that the essential point is that the Ottoman Empire in its beginnings and at its classical age chose a policy very different from that of the Persians, Byzantines and Arabs. He chose the policy of getting rid of traditional Armenian elites. If you see for example the Arab domination, perhaps the most characteristic on this subject, a treaty of protection has been proposed to the Armenians. This is of course an understatement to say submission. On the whole, the Armenian princes were kept in their domain, in their principality. After that it was a bit spoiled because there were revolts but overall there is a before and after the Arab domination, without any discontinuity. There are local elites who have stayed. On the contrary with the Ottomans, during the conquest, all the Armenian aristocracy disappeared. So there remained a population on these lands but which depended exclusively, either of the sultan, or of persons to whom the Sultan had granted land. Naturally I put aside the religious domains. The disadvantage of this situation is that, when the elites are kept in place, the possibility of dialogue with the people is kept open. After the suppression of the elites, there is no more dialogue possible. After the deportations and the economic evolutions produced, we have elites that are exteriorized. The Armenians living in eastern Anatolia were mere subjects of the rayas, people of very small conditions, poor peasants. The cultivated Armenians were very large traders in Persia or India and to the West. A divorce was created between these new elites outside the Ottoman Empire and the Ottoman rulers. This divorce became serious, dangerous, threatening for the balance of the Ottoman Empire and there began decadence. Armenian political parties were established abroad, with foreign doctrines, with bases in Switzerland, Russia or elsewhere, and they became potentially dangerous for a country perceived at that time as “the sick man” of the ‘Europe.
Was reconciliation at that moment impossible? Surely not, and she almost failed to take place. For at that time, Turkish enlightened and aware of the problem of their country, have held overseas congresses of the Ottoman opposition. It is very clear that from 1902, the Armenian political parties approached these Ottoman opposition parties abroad, reached agreements with them and so the 1908 revolution was made jointly by the young Turks and the Armenians. Unfortunately, there was a series of events at the time, especially the Balkan wars and independence, which awakened the demons of nationalism. This generated violence first tolerated and then programmed by Turkish leaders.
Can we now imagine a reconciliation?
On this point I will be brief, because Dr. Ternon has practically said everything. I agree with the idea that reconciliation is possible only at the price of truth. I may add this nuance: at a given moment, a society is only able to receive a small dose of truth, and for this dose of truth tolerable by public opinion to grow, it takes a long democratic preparation . And in my opinion, the most important thing to note at the moment is that things are not reassuring in Turkey. I regret to say that the massive imprisonment of parliamentarians, journalists, for offense of opinion, are serious. This, in my opinion, should be the focus of attention and vigilance of those who want reconciliation.
Ariane Bonzon: Thank you for this presentation and in particular for showing the geographical and historical specificity of Armenia which allows us to better understand the difficulties of reconciliation. We see how far the roots of the problem are. You say that the people are sometimes ready to hear a small dose of truth and that they need a long democratic preparation.
Michel Marian, you would be at the beginning of this long democratic preparation since you have decided, despite the fact that the historical facts have not been officially acknowledged, to reach out and start the dialogue with the Turks.
Now, Turkey remains. But in those years, one could ask whether recognition by Turkey would be the automatic consequence of recognition by all the world’s largest countries. And probably that was not the case. This is the reflection I made after a few years. I told myself that we had to find another way. Obviously, there was a disconnect between the relative speed at which this reintegration of the history of the Armenian Genocide was made into the body of values and hierarchical facts and the resistance of Turkey. I started to look at these new dialogue issues. At the time, it was quite “hot” because the few Armenians who entered dialogue mechanisms were immediately suspected and accused of playing the game of political communication with the Turkish government. The latter, he tried to install (sometimes hastily) speakers for dialogue, especially to prevent France, the United States and many others recognize the genocide.
So I told myself that we had to set conditions for this dialogue to make sense, and I wrote an article in 2007 to define these conditions. It seemed to me that there were two conditions. The first was that the people with whom we spoke recognized the break that spoke Jean-Pierre Mahe. Recognize that the genocide is a kind of black hole, a phenomenon both incredible and unique, which is not part of a chain of slaughter and counter-slaughter, recognize the absolute specificity of this crime. In this case, what happened in 1915. The second was that people recognize that there was a form of moral responsibility in their country that needed to be formulated. I did not formulate a third condition, I did not ask them to be people who pronounce the word “genocide” as a prerequisite for any sincere and genuine dialogue.
I think these conditions have been gradually filled by more and more Turks. There was this petition, in the name of which 30,000 Turkish signatories apologized to their “Armenian brothers” not only for what was called “The great catastrophe”, but also for the lie that perpetuated this disaster. This lie was a different offense, but an offense to take into account.
From that moment, with one of the intellectuals who initiated this petition and thanks to the idea of Ariane Bonzon to whom I pay homage, I was able to make a dialogue around this issue to try to both to bring our historical visions closer together and to find the words allowing Turkish society to move forward. I think that at the time there was a certain echo because the context was buoyant.
Recall the points that Ariane has cited, points favorable to reconciliation:
Awareness of a common interest:
Note that on the side of the diaspora it is not obvious that there is a common interest with Turkey. But the existence and isolation of the Armenian state means that there will always be an ambivalence with Turkey, because it is both the threatening neighbor and the gateway to Europe. At the time, the common interest began to be perceived.
Hrant Dink, Turkish Armenian journalist, who advocated another approach to the work of memory, which is more in the fraternity, reciprocity. He was murdered by a Turkish nationalist. But this assassination was echoed by a very large part of the Turkish population, with a demonstration of 100,000 people shouting “We are all Armenians”. This could obviously have helped to change the image of Turkish society in the eyes of Armenians, and even here of the diaspora.
International pressure: We need it and there was always at that time.
Religion: This is obviously the most difficult because there is a line of religious divide between Armenian Christians and Turkish Muslims. But this is also the time when, through a book by Fetieh Cheti? and a certain number of discussions, it was realized that a certain number of Armenians, and especially Armenians and children had been saved in exchange for an Islamization that had lasted for three generations. Yet many of them had kept the awareness of their Armenian origins or found it.
All these elements were therefore carriers.
In a fragile process like this, the context can suddenly change. He changed. There was what would appear to be a state of institutionalization, a form of hang-up in which the question of genocide could be accepted by Turkey. There have been these protocols between the two states, which have been suspended by Turkey on the condition of reconciliation on Karabar, a subject not directly related to the Turkish Armenian problem. As a result, all the conditions have hardened again and the diaspora, especially in France, has revived the issue of the law of criminalization.
Personally, I am reserved and even opposed to this type of law for philosophical reasons. For me, there is a foundation for the argument that this law is liberticide. But I think that there is moreover an inconsistency compared to the fight of the Armenians, that is to say a fight for a moral recognition. This moral recognition presupposes forms of reciprocity in procedures and principles, even in the most complete inequality of responsibilities. If we think that freedom of expression is enough for historical truth to prevail, as was the case in France, in the United States, there is no reason why it should not be the same thing in Turkey. There is therefore no reason to forbid opinions, even if these opinions are the translation of state ideology. That’s the first reason. The second reason, less strong but still important, would be that this law seems untimely to me at a time when the Turkish society is moving. We have seen that there has been no threat or prosecution in Turkey against the few people who have come out in favor of this French penalization law. These people, Baskin Oran, to quote the best known, but also others, continued to be able to express themselves in the media, which, on the contrary, shows that something irreversible has happened in the society. Turkish, which is on the side of pluralism. Admittedly, an unequal pluralism, since the state retains its position of lobbying, of pressure, whenever the word “genocide” is pronounced in international fora. But, despite everything, it is wrong to say that it is the same as in the 80s / 90s. There is no longer a doctrine of state, there is systematically a form of questioning of this truth of genocide yet internationally established. It’s not quite the same thing, and I think we need to be aware of this difference to find a way.
Ariane Bonzon: Before giving way to the room, I wanted to know if Sedef Ecer, writer of the play, or Serra Yilmaz, actress who participates in the association of (name) would like to say a few words about this evolution within the Turkish society. Serra, have you seen things move in a positive way?
Serra Yilmaz: I think we’ve all seen things move. When we are motivated, and we are interested in this subject, we can all be aware of it. Since, unfortunately, when we lost …, it was a very big mobilization at the level of Turkish opinion. Many things that were taboo are no longer taboo. Just look at the participation in the silent setting of April 24 in Taksim Square: a handful of people last year, but this year three times more. Going to do this setting is still showing determinism in what we live, which is not necessarily easy. I believe that in Europe, where we have not risked things in everyday life, it is difficult to imagine what this can mean for a Turk to commit to assert truth of the genocide. Today, going to sit on Taksim Square with pictures of Armenian figures arrested and brought to this building that has now become the Museum of Islamic Arts is an extremely courageous act. As has been said, there are 96 journalists in prison today, not to mention parliamentarians and others. It is, therefore, a struggle that is engaged. Myself, for example, I am not one of the first to have signed the petition but one of the last. Because I thought it was up to the Turkish state to ask for forgiveness first and foremost.
Ariane Bonzon: Remember what this petition was.
Serra Yilmaz: This petition from Turkish intellectuals to Armenians was a form of request for forgiveness. Personally I was born in 1954, and I inherited, as in the room, from this situation. And I felt that first and foremost it’s a state that needs to address these issues. Just when we were discussing this between us, an incredible phenomenon occurred. A member of the CHP party (Social Democrats increasingly socialist nationalists in my opinion), had an allegation coming from the President of the Republic, originally from …, (50: 22) place of Armenian residence, saying it would be himself of Armenian origin. What the president has never really pronounced. This event put me so much out of me that I exceeded this personal reserve, and I signed the petition. I agree with Michel Marian, because I find that this kind of law is totally contradictory to what we defend. She is playing dirty politics. Nevertheless, I admit that I understand the fact that all my Armenian friends have supported this law, even if for me it is wrong. Because I noticed the little psychological relief that awakened them. As a Turk, this is a way for me to see how deep the scar is. It can even blind our reasonable side, which would be to fight for fairer policies at that level.
What can add, seeing your reactions, is that the French politician who voted this law will continue his acrobatics to go to negotiate from behind with Turkey. Negotiate helicopters, or weapons, that will fall on the heads of Kurds for example.
Yves Ternon: I’m sorry, I really wonder what I’m doing here because I completely disagree with what Michel Marian and Serra Yilmaz said. About the law of criminalization of the denial of the Armenian genocide. I do not think you live what the Armenian community lives. Holocaust denial is the continuation of genocide by other means. It is the way in which one “kills the memory”, as had said … (53: 17). The penalization law of the denial of the Armenian genocide is in line with the Gayssot law for the negation of the Holocaust. It is a necessity to protect this memory and to avoid the unbearable manifestations that are taking place on the French territory at the moment, and the violence towards the various Armenian communities. This is the importance of this law: to slow down this expansion a little.
I would also like to add that people whose Armenian origin reappears today have not only been Islamized people but also women and children abducted and raped, and later, provided they are Islamized, integrated into homes. Turkish? This is the consequence of kidnapping, kidnapping. We must really dive into what has been the reality of this genocide, the horror of deportation, camps. Especially the period 1916, where the survivors walk along the dying Euphrates, to be after murdered in Teresor? Tens of thousands of testimonies and documents tell the story of this genocide. As long as the truth is not established, that the Turkish government, through the media and its interventions in France, will continue to say that they are inventions, allegations and no reconciliation is possible. They maintain hatred. (You spoke earlier about Hrant Ding, but his son is in prison today, as far as I know, no, that of …) The mass arrests in October were quite disturbing, the persecutions against the Kurdish community are massive right now in Turkey. That there are demonstrations in favor of democracy there at the moment, I admit, but really, the government insists on spreading hatred, do not turn away the words. And that’s why we are trying hard to get a hold on this hatred, with this law criminalizing the denial of genocide.
Audience: I would like you to be very clear about why the Turkish government is bent on denying the Armenian Genocide. What are the stakes of this negation?
Yves Ternon: The very cause of the Armenian genocide, as explained by Jean-Pierre Mahé, is that it was necessary to evacuate the Armenians in eastern Anatolia to truly ensure the border between Anatolia and the neighboring countries. And above all, keep a Turkish unity, which was considered the heart of young-Turkish political thought. It is therefore for political reasons: with the aim that at the end of the war, when Armenians would ask, by a revolutionary law, not even independence but autonomy, they never acquire it (to check) . This is the major cause of the genocide. Once the Turkish revolution culminated in the creation of the Republic of Turkey, there was a first imperative, that Mustafa Kemal declared upon his arrival in 1919 in Anatolia: one will not give an inch of Turkey. The establishment of this border is therefore irreversible and the Armenians have understood it so well that no one is asking for land … Except some, and Turkey is afraid for its territory. That’s the first point.
The second point is that most of the founders of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Quemal aside, were secretaries responsible for planning the Armenian Genocide.
The third, and perhaps most important, point is that the imaginary history of Turkey, written in the 1930s, made the Turk a special character in the history of humanity: someone worthy, pure, honorable. It was therefore unthinkable that the Turks had committed horrors in their past.
We, in France, made quite a few mistakes, from the Qatari war to the Algerian war, but we recognized them. But it is in the argument of the Turkish government, to be able to say that theirs have committed this horror that is a genocide. This is why Turkey is stubborn in this denial that undermines its credibility in the eyes of the Nations.
Ariane Bonzon: Bruno, you worked in Turkey. Have you addressed this issue of genocide and how was it treated?
Bruno Freyssinet: When we started this project we spent a week in Istanbul during which we met with Turkish intellectuals, especially the main signatories of the request for forgiveness. Including Amhet Insel, with whom, Michel Marian, you made this dialogue on the Armenian taboo. And it is true that at that moment we saw how much there was a willingness on their part to speak about this subject there, will coupled with a reserve and a worry about the question of how far he could address this question. Notably the word “genocide that is so complicated to pronounce.
Moreover we were very surprised when we did a workshop with about fifty young Istanbulans who had come very willingly for a weekend. Very surprised on the contrary by the freedom of tone and the speed with which the word “genocide” was used in our theatrical improvisations. We discovered a group of young people who did not know each other at the beginning, volunteers coming from all kinds of different establishments and who were there with a great desire to break the abscess, through the game and the fiction. We spent two days of great excitement because there was an impression of great acceleration brought by these young people from 17 to 25 years to be able to release the word. It has been a wonderful place for us.
The moment of surprise was the final restitution. We had a theater in the private university Istanbul … which has a lot of means and a great openness to all progressive vocations, to advance the dialogue in Turkey. During this final presentation, we were very surprised that the young participants of the workshop did not invite anyone.
It has been a kind of return trip for us. At one time we saw them in a great freedom in the context of the workshop, and finally, they were not yet at the stage where they could claim this freedom in front of their friends, their parents …
We ended up with fifty young people, but fewer guests. It was, in a way, a return of reality. I came out of this experience with the conviction that there was a lot of room for dialogue but also a question of space for this dialogue: the public space was still really difficult.
To clarify this, we have benefited from the support of a large foundation in Turkey, … culture, very active in terms of dialogue, especially with the Kurdish community. As you know, the Armenian question is foundational in Turkish history, but Kurdish history is more present and even more topical. This association organizes a lot of exchange, it is very active in terms of youth. She organized with us the recruitment of young people to participate in the workshop, and very quickly, they realized that it was not possible to go through official channels. When they sent the ad to the institutions, there was a reluctance to post the ad. Finally, recruitment was done through word-of-mouth networks. Theater speakers in high schools were talking about the project, but the information was not really written down. By means of mails, of candidatures, we had a great participation but at the time of the publicity of that, we met a reluctance.
Ariane Bonzon: Recruitment under the mantle in a certain way. And the play happened, or will it happen in Turkey? Because indeed, it is really didactic, it pronounces the word “genocide”.
Bruno Freyssinet: Today no, we have no representations planned in Turkey.
Ariane Bonzon: Because it blocks? Because officials have seen the show and must give their permission?
Bruno Freyssinet: No, I really do not think that’s it. Simply the conditions are not met, and honestly I can not explain to you clearly why. When the project was based on partnership with organizations in each country, there was a genuine desire on the German side and on the Armenian side to set up the project. As much on the side of the Turkish partners, there was the same desire to participate in this project, but for the moment, the notion of final representation is not done. But again, it’s hard to attribute it to censorship. It’s not that easy. The fact that a traveling show is not simply a censorship is the story of many parameters, financial, realistic. I still think it’s possible, but today the conditions are not there. Maybe on Monday, the French political situation could reopen doors. We do not know, and today I do not have any answers to give you on that, but I’m hopeful we can go one way or another. Maybe only six months from now, but I hope that the experience we have today will make a theater or organization in Turkey want to say, “Come on! “.
Audience: In which language did you do your workshops?
Bruno Freyssinet: We had speakers of Turkish, Armenian, and German origin so the workshops could be done in all four languages. And we met a lot of young people in Turkey who could speak a little bit of French or English. But many theatrical improvisations have also been made in Turkish. We had interpreters with us who were translating as we went along. We drank whey because we heard a freedom of tone and fantasy. I am thinking in particular of an improvisation that has created three generations. Grandchildren, parents, grandparents were represented, all these characters played by children of course. And we saw children turning to fictitious grandparents and asked, “What happened? We know something has happened. At school, in the street they told me about it. I read a book that talked about it. Grandpa, tell me what happened? “. The children were delighted with the leaks not to talk, the internal conflicts of the parents in the middle who said to themselves: “Should I prevent my child from speaking or take this opportunity to let them ask what I myself have not dared? “.
These things were extremely lively and present in the improvisations. For us, it was very pleasant. Afterwards, we noticed the presence of the word “genocide” in private, and its disappearance in public.
Things have also happened in Germany with second-generation Turkish youth and others of Armenian origins, since this community is very present in Berlin. And there were those communities that met in these workshops and delivered very beautiful things.
But it is true that in Turkey, there is really a fever of expression … accompanied by a fear.
I would like to ask the question to Selin Altiparmak, comedian of the show who comes from Turkey but who lives in France for a few years. There are things that work, obviously, that do not go without a form of worry.
Audience: I would like to both confirm and expand what you just said. It turns out that I myself have been engaged for decades in Franco-German reconciliation, I work at the OFAJ in particular and we have been able to set up franco-German-Turkish exchange programs since the beginning of the 90s. I myself went to Ankara at that time for a meeting with the Minister of Turkish Youth. Meeting that did not succeed for a reason that does not quite fit in with what you said. I had the feeling that one of the fundamental stakes was the emergence of a real civil society in Turkey, which is able to emancipate itself from this weight of the State that plays at all levels. These are things I felt when there was no mention of the Armenian genocide at all. We have seen the same things you describe. Turkish parliamentarians, who in Germany and France had complete freedom of expression and initiative and who, on the spot, in Turkey, were almost unrecognizable. I will not really speak of political fear but we felt that they were caught, more simply, by the weight of the institutions in which they were inserted.
Secondly, what you mentioned, the role that Turkish immigration can play in other countries. We are facing extremely rich situations but also very complex. I am thinking of Germany in particular, because we are at a greater distance from the Turkish state. You mention the case of the Kurds, and their role in the genocide. This is a question I would like to ask historians because I find it very interesting.
I lived in Cologne absolutely amazing situations. Some Kurds today have realized the very important role that the Kurds played in the massacres: they were indeed at the forefront of the slaughterers. Today, they embarked on an introspection of their current situation vis-à-vis the Turks, and in a reflection on the legitimacy of their claims to the Turks today given their own past with respect to Armenians. So there is, in my opinion, a whole series of usable situations.
And last point, which goes in the direction of what you did in your workshops, it is the whole question of the use of reconciliation tools, especially as we could forge them in a French context. German. Not in the case of automatic transposition that never works, but in the sense that these tools have a universal value, in terms of intercultural learning, discovery of the other etc. It would be a vast subject that I simply wanted to raise.
All this to say that your experience interests me passionately, it is part of a whole context, and it is rich in development.
Yves Ternon: I can answer on the problem of Armenian Kurdish reconciliation. The truths were stated on both sides between Armenians and Kurds at the end of the First World War. As you know, the Kurds were slaughtered in Turkey in 1927. The fact that there was an Armenian diaspora and hardly any Kurdish diaspora encouraged the Kurds to talk to the Armenians. The most powerful and upsetting moment was in April 1984, when the Sorbonne held a People’s Court on the Armenian genocide. Yilmaz Güney, the great Kurdish filmmaker, stood up. He was very tired, it was a few months before his death. And he said, “I apologize to the Armenians for what the Kurds have done to them.”
You see, it’s so simple reconciliation. It’s childish when the truth gushes out. The Kurds know perfectly well under what conditions they were brought to massacre the Armenians. Particularly in the province of XX, there are very specific details of how young Turkish deputies have been to see Kurdish communities to explain to them the interest of participating in the curia. It must also be added that in the Dersim region some of the Kurds saved Armenians and that, on top of that, the only real mass rescue of Armenians was the one that took place by Kurds … in the mountains of … All these events allow to target exactly Armenian / Kurdish relations during the genocide. Everything is clear, from the moment everything is said. You’re absolutely right to talk about it, it’s a shining example of reconciliation. Rather than complicating matters by saying that it did not happen, that the circumstances must be reviewed, that the situation must be examined by historians’ commissions, it would be so simple to say, yes, we know what has been recognized, we will work on it. And at this moment, as in Germany today, we would have new elements on the events constituting the genocide. The best work on the Holocaust is done by German historians who have access to often local documents, giving singular visions that we did not have completely. This recognition is therefore a prerequisite, and then reconciliation flows naturally. If this movement that seems to be emerging in Turkey in civil society continues, yes. But the lock, sometimes the verbal delirium of the Turkish government is absolutely wrong. It is in this conflict that the problem of reconciliation can be solved.
Michel Marian: I think that the diaspora question is extremely important and we observe very different situations. In a country like Germany, the political authorities in the Turkish diaspora are in agreement with a humanist line. The example is Ozdemir, the co-chair of the Green Party, who signed the petition we talked about earlier and who recently reminded the Turkish government that it would be good to recognize the genocide. Conversely, in a country like Belgium, one can make a career inside a Belgian political party by seeking the support of the Turkish community on theses of genocide denials!
We therefore have extremely varied situations. For example, for the Armenians of France, it is important to take into account the growing Turkish community, and to succeed in finding the words with respect to it.
Audience: It seems to me that what has been one of the stakes of reconciliation after the Holocaust is the absence of territorial stakes. And the other is that, to my knowledge, there has been no defeat of the Ottoman Empire. A victorious people writes their history and in the face of that, I feel that it is very difficult to do anything.
Jean-Pierre Mahé: Excuse me, maybe this is a little discussed, Turkey has been forced to sign the armistice of Moudros, which is not something victorious. And the first conditions that the allies put to Turkey were very hard. And despite Mustafa Quemal’s recovery and strong reaction, it is certain that the Ottoman Empire itself was totally dismantled. To say that there is a very different position between Turkey and Germany seems to me exaggerated. In debates, I have sometimes heard some opponents of the recognition of genocide say that genocide is the version of the victors: “We were beaten at that time, and you, you claim to impose your version. ” I do not know what you think about it…
Yves Ternon: I will be more in agreement with Sir, because firstly the armistice of Moudros was signed by the English, without the knowledge of France. On the other hand, it allows the Turkish army to keep its weapons in Anatolia. As a result, the resistance movement opposing the allies occupying Constantinople immediately developed from May 1919, when they found themselves a leader in the period of Mustafa Quemal. So from 1919 to 1923, Turkish nationalism is reinstated, with a more limited vision: that of turquism, and no pan-Turkism. Because first, it was necessary to survive, to survive and that arrived a leader of an exceptional political quality, Mustafa Quemal. Turkish nationalism thus varied from that of the young Turks, but it survived. And to a certain extent, the genocide of the Armenians has partly succeeded, since it has achieved the result sought by the assassins: the preservation of a territory inhabited by Armenians.
Audience: I would just like to react very quickly to what you said, Mr Ternon, in relation to France. I think it’s very clear that Turkey has to go a certain distance from its official national history. But even if France has already done a lot, I am not sure that we did everything, especially concerning the Algerian war and their common past that you could mention. It was a personal reaction, but I had to say it.
Yves Ternon: I would like to answer you anyway. When there was the vote in the Senate, Erdogan said: France has made a genocide in Algeria, France invented ovens to burn Algerians. The Algerian government has responded very well by saying, “It is not up to you to take care of our history.” We, we now know what has been done in Algeria, especially those who, like me, defended its Independence. This truth is more and more often evoked, known, and this History is really well written now. We know the horrors that have been done, we must now recognize them. On both sides, but first by the French.
Ariane Bonzon: If I can add something on this issue Benjamin Stora who works a lot on this issue, has set up a reconciliation commission between France and Algeria on the model of that which takes place in South Africa. So maybe it’s also an idea to dig.
Audience: I wanted to talk for a long time, but all these questions are complicated for me, they awaken in me many things. I will try to be fair, to say the essentials in relation to a psychology of a descendant, since I am a descendant of Armenians. I also made a very special path to dialogue. Personally of course since we are only people. I say that because all that is History and Politics, on which I have looked a lot, I think to the Armenians in particular and also to the Tricks who are very aware of things, all that gives a little vertigo. Just a little thing on the historical map Mr. Ternon, on which you have an authority. We do not talk much about the responsibility of states that were at war (France, England and Germany) on oblivion. And this despite the warnings of people who were aware, in Anatolia, who saw what was happening. Nobody reacted. They were at war, they finally had a lot of other things to do. But after, it was the same. On the one hand, there was some international support, including from our countries that welcomed the Diaspora on this genocide. These were obviously political reasons, as they are political reasons that today, brings to its laws the penalization of Holocaust denial.
I lived it like that. I wanted her to pass this law, because shit, it’s not possible … And at the same time, engaged in the dialogue with my Turkish friends I told myself: it will spoil everything! Because civil society needs to move. We must not create conditions that block the dialogue between the Armenians and the Turks and that there is in Turkey, even more bastards that are said … Excuse me, I speak with the heart. So at the same time, I was happy when she passed, and relieved when she was rejected. It’s crazy ! We become schizophrenic.
We always talk about where we are and that’s fine. Historians like you, Mr. Ternon, Mr. Mahé (and moreover, thank you for telling us things) are above all human beings, but they talk about where they are, in their place as historians. We, when simply, personally or even in our functions, we try to dialogue, we also talk about where we are. We see what happens. I was in Taksim Square, Istanbul, a week ago. The first time, when I went to Turkey on April 24th, I had returned like a pancake. I thought, the recognition is here! We feel it, it is palpable. It was a young Kurd, at one point, wearing the veil, who got up and made a speech: it was of an extraordinary dignity and above all one felt worn, completely. Recognition and dialogue are on the way.
Bruno Freyssinet: I think that’s a nice conclusion …