Never forget that this has happened.
Remember these words.
Engrave them in your hearts,
When at home or in the street,
When lying down, when getting up.
Repeat them to your children.
Or may your houses be destroyed,
May illness strike you down,
May your offspring turn their faces from you.

Primo Levi, If this is a man.


Zmine myaqre, bshyano u bashlomo athutu lu lumodo.

Dear esteemed participants and guests,

We are delighted to have you here to participate in the workshop An Intergenerational Approach to the Study of Genocide which has been financed by the EU Grundtvig programme. Thank you very much for coming.

It is a great honor for us that colleagues in different fields have gathered to discuss the topic of genocide. Some of them are students and others have already a whole career behind them. Their efforts need no introduction. We are honored to have Professor David Gaunt as our keynote speaker.

I have begun my talk with an extract from the poem by the Italian Jewish writer Primo Levi who was a survivor of the Holocaust. While stressing the paramount importance to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive, Levi identifies the forgetting of the genocide as a process of being damned, becoming rootless and futureless. Levi’s strong emphasis on remembering is essential in order to understand the internal logic of intergenerational transformation of collective memories of genocide.

The victims of genocide experience the dilemma of the unbearable lightness of forgetting and the heavy existence of remembering. If Dante had written something about this topic, he would probably associate the choice to forget with paradise and remembering of experiences of genocide with inferno. Indeed, he has a point! Although the genocide was experienced almost hundred years ago, to live with the reality of the genocide is a challenging hinder especially for later generations. In Greek mythology, there is a king named Sisyphus, who was punished by being compelled to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, and to repeat this throughout eternity. The dilemma between forgetting and remembering puts the new generations in a context where they feel like Sisyphus.

During my prison time in Turkey, I witnessed many prisoners who had suffered from the illness of Wernicke-Korsakow as a result of long hunger strikes, which caused an incurable damage in the human brain. The tragic point was that they were forgetting everything, even their names within a few hours; just like the characters of Gabriel Garcia Marquez in his novel One Hundred Years of Solitude. There were also prisoners who were suffering from post-traumatic events which they had experienced. They basically could not forget and go ahead in their lives. I see parallel points with genocide victims. A famous revolutionary question is: How-to-do? How to get rid of this dilemma?

I remember a phrase used in the Iñárritu’s drama-movie 21 grams (2003). After a tragic traffic accident the woman looses her husband and everyone tries to console her. The well-known consolatory phrase is “Life is going on…” But she objects and says “No, life is not going on…” For some people, for some generations life is not going on after the big chocks they experienced in their life course. Metaphorically, 21 grams can be associated with the soul of all genocide victims which has been stuck on the bodies of the post-Seyfo generations. The 21 grams is the burden of past, which functions as a reminder. Using the words of famous novelist Yasar Kemal, it is like a hunchback, which is not so easy to get rid of it.

Esteemed colleagues:

The initial idea to organize a summer school about the Seyfo was expressed a few years ago by Prof. David Gaunt during an informal meeting in Sweden. Thereafter, a small group of volunteers tried to find sources for financing such a project. But we couldn’t manage to realize that in Sweden. Thereafter, the newly established Inanna Foundation in the Netherlands picked up this idea, reformulated it and found sources in the EU Grundtvig Programme to finance it.

With this conference Inanna Foundation aims at bringing the voices of different generations together in order to make a first step in touching on diverse aspects of the Seyfo as one example of a genocide committed in the 20th Century. The programme of this conference expresses only some of these aspects and is therefore not exhaustive. The conference aims also at bringing together academics in different fields in order to develop a network of people who are interested in this topic for future interdisciplinary cooperation.

To link up with the ideas of remembering of the disaster which Primo Levy experienced, I would like to read from Abdulmesih Qarabashi, who survived the Seyfo and who wrote down many eyewitness accounts while he was a young pupil at the Zafaran Monastery in Mardin: 1
I have written them so that they will on one hand buzz like an admonishing voice in the ears of following generations in case they open their ears to hear the moaning of the oppressed. On the other hand so that they can function as an admonishing image for the eyes and mind of humanity; to move them to penance tears and also to present an atrocious example of how this people that has been dealt with unjustly. When humanity gets enlightened it can then breath freely again and know the truth.
For me the reports are a valuable memory and a chronicle that make me cry every time I read them and think about the sorrow. My sadness renews my painful feelings to awake and moan because of pain from the cruelty, disgust, catastrophe and nuisances which our fathers and brothers have lived through…
If times improve and show remorse over these bad deeds, show regret about everything that has been done, and has mercy on the refugees who escaped the bloodshed, then the distress of this people will change during this enlightenment and their pain will become peace and their fears will dissolve. When they behold the light of life and peace, they may even come across this book. Perhaps they will read these stories, reflect on them and develop the bitter image of the acute agony and suffering of the this devastating war which their fathers, brothers and sisters had to endure without grumbling, protest and complaint as lambs slaughtered quietly and silently. Then they will perhaps give a sigh of agony about their innocent dead and direct themselves to God as those who died and who hoped on revenge from God - who does not forget the crying of those who are without means.

Well:

Prepare yourself to be challenged, excited and inspired.


1 Translation taken from N. Atto (forthcoming)