The Armenian Studies Program was privileged to welcome Turkish lawyer and human rights activist Fethiye Çetin to give a talk on “Echo of Silence” on Wednesday, April 26, at St Paul Armenian Church in Fresno.
Çetin spoke in Fresno as part of a nation-wide speaking tour and was accompanied by Ani Kasparian of Detroit, who read the English translation of Çetin’s speech.
In her presentation Çetin, speaking in Turkish, expanded on her memoir, My Grandmother: A Memoir, published in 2004, in which she tells the story of how her grandmother Seher revealed to her that she was not Turkish but Armenian and that her birth name was Heranush.
She told Çetin that a Turkish soldier had taken her away from her family during the death march, adopted her, and raised her as a Muslim woman. This revelation initially shocked and confused Çetin, but it ultimately led her to question everything she was taught and knew about her life.
Çetin recounted how her grandmother was uprooted from her home and lost her religion and voice. The community around her disappeared; even the names of the villages that were once familiar were changed. Çetin spoke of her grandmother’s silent moments during her revelation, and how she would look to the sky and rub her knee, rocking back and forth. These actions demonstrated a silent cry, a way of coping with the tragic events that took place in her youth.
For Çetin, her grandmother’s silent pauses were the most painful to witness, yet she stated, “Her pain was now my pain.” There was no turning back for Çetin. What was she to do with the information that was revealed to her?
“I was very confused at first,” stated Çetin. “I thought that all the things I had learned were wrong.”
Things became clearer when her grandmother began to tell Çetin about her relatives in the United States, which she initially took as a joke. She then asked her grandmother about why her relatives were in the United States and why she had not gone with them. Her grandmother began to tell Çetin what had happened to her when she was younger. “When I wrote the book [My Grandmother],” said Çetin, “it was like opening a champagne bottle that was shaken up.”
According to Çetin, once the book was written, “others began to come forth and to talk about how their grandparents were Armenian.”
When Çetin was asked if these others were obliged to speak out, she stated that individuals needed to speak out in order to have peace in their hearts.
Those with stories similar to those told by Çetin now have another obstacle to overcome. On April 16, 2017, Turkish President Reccip Tayyip Erdogan, consolidated his authoritarian rule with the passing of the Turkish Constitutional Referendum.
When Çetin was asked why she continued to pursue her convictions despite possible threats, she responded with boldness.
“I want everybody to learn the truth. I want justice for the injustices that were done,” Çetin said. “This crime against humanity must be accepted. I don’t want another 1915 to happen again.”
It is estimated that around two million Turks in Turkey share a similar story to Çetins, many of whom have yet to speak out.