April 7, 2009: “Count on me”

When step-son Jeremy and his wife, Vita, invited David and me to travel with them and their toddler daughter Sasha this fall, maybe to Spain, maybe to Croatia, maybe to Turkey, we were flattered to be asked. Since I’ve been to what used to be Yugoslavia and spent several months in Spain, I’d volunteered that, given my druthers, Turkey would be my first choice (You know, life-lists, and all that.) It was only when Vita e-mailed that, yes, let’s do Turkey together that it occurred to me: What will Garen, my Armenian brother-in-law, and my sister, Deborah, also well-connected to Armenia, think? Will they be pissed that we’ll be traveling to a country that ethnically cleansed 1.5 million Armenians between 1915-1918? And now denies that genocide?

So I called my sister; we talked. Former assistant director of the Peace Corps in Armenia and still very active with Armenia-based organizations, with a wide circle of Armenian friends, my sister is far more in tune with the ongoing tensions re Turkey’s denial than most Americans. (Indeed, she’s been enormously  supportive re a play I’ve written re the genocide and denial.) But my sister, mother of a terrific son (who BTW, once attended an Armenian school), is also deeply connected to the whole idea of family. So while not thrilled about our plans (“It’s your life.”), she completely understood how excited we were to be accompanying “Baby Sasha”—no matter where.

“It’s [the genocide] going to come up,” she predicted. Which made me realize that, like the “Count on me” campaign here in Somerville a few years back, when white people in this community actually discussed what to say and what to do when someone made a racist remark, our little travel group (excluding year-old Sasha) needs to practice our remarks ahead of time. How to be honest, how to acknowledge a tragic event without putting notoriously gracious and hospitable Turks on the defensive, how to encourage talk, listen to stories? Not easy. But definitely required.

And, of course, not every Turk is a genocide denier. If we enter Turkey EXPECTING the worst from its citizens, that would be grossly unfair. So I am excited to see the wonders of this historic country and equally excited to learn from its people.

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