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Turkey Book Talk episode #95  –  Mehmet Fatih Uslu, faculty member in the Turkish Language and Literature Department at Istanbul Şehir University, on the pleasures and challenges of translating from Armenian into Turkish.

Uslu has translated a number of significant texts in recent years, including by the great early 20th century Istanbul Armenian feminist Zabel Yesayan and the 19th century playwright Hagop Baronyan.

Download the episode or listen below.

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Become a member to support Turkey Book Talk and get a load of extras: A 35% discount on any of over 400 books in IB Tauris/Bloomsbury’s excellent Turkey/Ottoman history category, English and Turkish transcripts of every interview upon publication, transcripts of the entire archive of 90+ episodes, and an archive of 231 reviews written by myself covering Turkish and international fiction, history, journalism and politics.

Sign up as a member to support Turkey Book Talk via Patreon.

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Turkey Book Talk episode #79 – Lora Sarı talks about the life and work of the late great Ara Güler.

Lora is an editor at Aras, an Armenian-focused publishing house that recently published “We Will Live After Babylon”, a collection of Güler’s largely fictional writings, penned mostly in the 1940s and 50s before he started taking photographs.

Download the episode or listen below.

Also check out a previous episode with Lora Sarı talking about Mıgırdıç Margosyan’s “Infidel Quarter” and the broader work of Aras.

Subscribe to Turkey Book Talk :  iTunes / PodBean / Stitcher / Acast / RSS

Follow Turkey Book Talk on Facebook or Twitter

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Join as a member to support Turkey Book Talk and get (English and Turkish) transcripts of every interview, transcripts of the entire archive, access to a 30% discount on over 200 Turkey/Ottoman history titles published by IB Tauris, and an archive of 231 reviews written by myself covering Turkish and international fiction, history, journalism and politics.

Sign up as a member to support Turkey Book Talk via Patreon.

Turkey Book Talk episode #77 – Avedis Hadjian on “Secret Nation: The Hidden Armenians of Turkey” (IB Tauris).

Download the episode or listen below.

Subscribe to Turkey Book Talk :  iTunes / PodBean / Stitcher / Acast / RSS

Follow Turkey Book Talk on Facebook or Twitter

Avedis Hadjian

Don’t forget the new addition to Turkey Book Talk’s membership system : Members now get access to an archive of 231 book reviews originally written for the Hurriyet Daily News. That archive was still standing for a few months but it now seems to have been deleted from the HDN website.

The reviews cover a pretty diverse spread of subjects: Turkish and international fiction and poetry, history, journalism, politics, the Middle East and Europe.

Members also get full transcripts in English and Turkish of every interview upon publication, transcripts of the entire Turkey Book Talk archive (over 70 conversations so far), and access to an exclusive 30% discount on over 200 Turkey/Ottoman History titles published by IB Tauris.

Sign up as a member to support Turkey Book Talk via Patreon.

Turkey Book Talk episode #67 – Jonathan Varjabedian on “My Dear Son Garabed: Kojaian Family Letters from Efkere/Kayseri to America (1912-1919)” (Histor Press).

The book is a collection of 88 letters written from the Anatolian village of Efkere to America between 1912 and 1919. They were sent to Garabed Kojaian and his father Harutian, who were among the many Ottoman Armenians migrating to America in the early 20th century.

Download the episode or listen below.

Subscribe to Turkey Book Talk :  iTunes / PodBean / Stitcher / Acast / RSS

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Here’s my review of the book from a few of weeks ago.

As mentioned in the episode, check out the website efkere.com, where Jonathan, the grandson of the late Garabed Kojaian, pieces together the lost history of the village.

Purchase the book (highly recommended) from Histor. Details on their Facebook page.

Support Turkey Book Talk by becoming a member. Membership gives you full transcripts in English and Turkish of every interview upon publication, transcripts of the entire Turkey Book Talk archive (over 60 conversations so far), and access to an exclusive 30% discount on over 200 Turkey/Ottoman History titles published by IB Tauris.

Turkey Book Talk episode #52 – LORA SARI on the Aras Publishing House, set up in Istanbul in 1993 as a “window onto Armenian literature.” We also discuss Mıgırdıç Margosyan’s “Infidel Quarter,” published this year as Aras’ first English-language title.

Download the episode or listen below.

Here’s my review of “Infidel Quarter” at HDN.

Subscribe to Turkey Book Talk :  iTunes / PodBean / Stitcher / Acast / RSS

Follow on Facebook or Twitter

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Extras

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* SPECIAL OFFER *

You can support Turkey Book Talk by taking advantage of a 33% discount plus free delivery (cheaper than Amazon) on five different titles, courtesy of Hurst Publishers:

  • ‘Jihad and Death: The Global Appeal of Islamic State’ by Olivier Roy
  • ‘The Circassian: A Life of Eşref Bey, Late Ottoman Insurgent and Special Agent’ by Benjamin Fortna
  • ‘The New Turkey and its Discontents’ by Simon Waldman and Emre Çalışkan
  • ‘The Poisoned Well: Empire and its Legacy in the Middle East’ by Roger Hardy
  • ‘Out of Nowhere: The Syrian Kurds in Peace and War’ by Michael Gunter

Follow this link to get that discount from Hurst Publishers.

Another way to support the podcast, if you enjoy or benefit from it: Make a pledge to Turkey Book Talk via Patreon. Many thanks to current supporters Michelle Zimmer, Steve Bryant, Jan-Markus Vömel, Celia Jocelyn Kerslake, Aaron Ataman, Max Hoffman, Andrew MacDowall, Paul Levin and Tan Tunalı.

The latest podcast is with Judith Saryan, who edited a new English edition of Zabel Yessayan’s account of a trip to Adana in the aftermath of pogroms targeting Armenians there in 1909.

Download the podcast or listen below:

Subscribe: iTunes / PodBean / Stitcher / Facebook / RSS

Read my Hurriyet Daily News review of “In the Ruins: The 1909 Massacres of Armenians in Adana” (AIWA).

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Here’s an interview from last year with translator Jennifer Manoukian, discussing Yessayan’s remarkable life and work.

Here’s another piece I wrote last year for Al Monitor from a crumbling station on the Armenian side of the closed Turkey-Armenia border. The immediate political dynamics have changed since then but it may still be an interesting read. View photos I took of the station here.

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Finally, let me flag up my newly opened Patreon account – Through it you can support the Turkey Book Talk podcast by making a monetary donation, large or small, on a per episode basis. Check it out. Many thanks to my first supporter Sera Aleksandra Marshall.

[I’ve started writing book reviews for the Hürriyet Daily News blog. I’ll be able to post them here a couple of weeks after they first appear on there (contractual yawn). This one went up on May 5, and can be found in original form here: http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/literary-reflections-on-the-armenian-issue.aspx?pageID=500&eid=16]

Ece Temelkuran – Deep Mountain: Across the Turkish-Armenian Divide, Verso, 2010, 288pp

Fethiye Çetin – My Grandmother, Verso, 2008, 144pp

There’s a book, quite easily found in any reasonably-sized Istanbul bookshop, its name written in block capitals along the spine: ‘Ermeni Dosyası’ (The Armenian Dossier). Written by former Turkish diplomat Kamuran Gurun, and ominously subtitled ‘The Myth of Innocence Exposed’, it has been popular amongst Turkish readers ever since first being published in1983. Packed with imposing-looking graphs and statistics, its main thesis can be summarised thus: The numbers claimed by the Armenians as killed in the ‘events’ of 1915 is far too high and, in fact, Ottoman soldiers were themselves also killed in large numbers at the same time. In any case, the Armenian population was far from innocent, with large numbers rebelling against the empire and often colluding with the advancing Russian forces on the eastern Anatolian frontier. Essentially, the book implies, the Armenians got what they had coming to them. If you’re interested, a new English-language print run of the book came out only two months ago. I haven’t read it, nor do I ever intend to make that sacrifice, but – however questionable its scholarship – ‘The Armenian Dossier’ is unquestionably significant, if only because it represents what has been the official Turkish narrative for almost 100 years.

Encouragingly however, this isn’t the only story on the shelves any more. While they still may not attract the sales figures of more flattering histories, voices dissenting from the official line are being increasingly heard in today’s Turkey. Ece Temelkuran was once a columnist with daily newspaper Habertürk (ironically enough one of the mouthpieces of the nationalist establishment) and her ‘Deep Mountain’, published in English in 2010, is part of this new, questioning tendency.

Temelkuran set herself the ostensibly simple task of meeting Armenians, talking to them, listening to them, and reporting back for the Turkish audience. Eschewing the directly political, she preferred ‘to write about Armenians, not necessarily what happened in 1915’, and while this may seem like a modest undertaking to an outsider, in Turkey it was a brave and taboo-shaking exercise. Quite how perilous the path was can be judgedfrom the example ofthe Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, to whom Temelkuran dedicates the book. Dink decried the politics of megaphone slogans and foreign parliamentary writs on the issue, and instead spent years trying to get the two sides talking to each other honestly about their shared history and common trauma. He was assassinated for his troubles in 2007 by an ultra-nationalist Turkish gang, outside the Istanbul office of his newspaper. Dink’s killing could have acted as either a spur to writing, or a warning against it, so – first and foremost – ‘Deep Mountain’ should be applauded as an act of bravery.

The book is divided into three parts, the first detailing Temelkuran’s encounters with the Armenians of Armenia itself, and the other two her meetings with the Armenian Diaspora communities in Franceand the United States. The picture painted of Armenian capital Yerevan is of a cultured but impoverished city of feeble opportunities and feeble ambitions, still yet to recover from the end of the Soviet Union and now crippled by the closed (since 1993) border with Turkey. Whilst bitter enmity for Turks exists, the Armenian Armenians are perhaps most concerned with the practical matter of getting the border open again, and with it securing an economic lifeline. The French and American Armenians, however, have come to adopt the genocide as the essential, irreducible feature of what it means to be ‘Armenian’. Meeting numerous community leaders, academics, artists, and businesspeople, Temelkuran describes the trajectory that emerges again and again in the Diaspora: How the first generation of Armenian migrants to Europe and America were most concerned with ‘getting on’ and fitting into the adopted culture, and how it is only with the second and third generation – threatened by the identity-engulfing vortex of a new homeland – that the genocide has been revisited and latched on to as an unshakable, almost pathological core.

As one of the Los Angeles Armenians revealingly says: ‘you need to create an identity, something to hold on to both culturally and individually. Turkey’s refusal to recognise the genocide is what binds those of us in the Diaspora. Were the genocide to be recognized, it would probably be the end of us’. Pain has become ‘the pillar propping up the home’, and to release that pillar means oblivion. Similarly, many Turks – afraid of losing their country and seeing recognition as threatening their own oblivion – cling just as fast to their own selective amnesia. In a striking phrase, the author at one point describes it as a ‘huge industry. Not just politics and money; a psychological industry too, for both sides. An industry of anguish’. The most sympathetic portraits in the book are thus reserved for those who are able to understand this identity paralysis and rise above such acrimony, recognising the absurdity of an official political ‘debate’ that doesn’t go much deeper than one side screaming ‘It was genocide!’ while the other responds ‘No it wasn’t!’

Perhaps inevitably, the book occasionally lapses into worthiness,though not nearly as often as you fear when you read the following meaningless fluff early on: ‘If an Armenian were to lose their way one day anywhere in the world, they’d be able to locate the capital of Armenia by consulting the map of their heart. They would navigate toward it by reference to the coordinates of pride and fear, of mourning and loss’. Worse, when she moves on to Los Angeles, Temelkuran can’t help butoffer a steady stream of unhelpful anti-American swipes. These come off as stale, predictable, and not a little immature (constant sneering about cigars and McDonalds, really?!) But these are minor criticisms, and should not detract from the more important qualities of a book that is sensitive, honest and ‘engaged’ in the best sense of the word.

Another modern voice with little time for the official Turkish narrative is Fethiye Çetin, a human rights lawyer currently representing the deceased’s family in the grimly ongoing Hrant Dink case. Çetin spent her whole youth believing she was of ‘pure’ Turkish stock, until one day her aging grandmother, Seher, took her aside. Seher revealed that she had been born an Armenian Christian, originally named Heranuş, and was plucked from a death march in 1915 by a Turkish gendarme commander, who went on to raise her with his wife as a Muslim Turk. Translated into English in 2008, ‘My Grandmother’ is Çetin’s elegiac description of this story.

The first section of the book contents itself with gentle, sepia-tinged descriptions of a rural upbringing with her family in the eastern Turkish province of Elazığ: her beautiful sisters; her grandfather, whose mood always depended on how full his stomach was; her grandmother, the charismatic matriarch of the family, powerful but taciturn, somehow never able to bring herself to sing, as if always harbouring the secret that would one day be revealed to Fethiye. The central revelation doesn’t come until midway through the book, but when it does Çetin writes that what she heard ‘did not fit with anything I knew. It turned the known world on its head, smashing my values into a thousand pieces’. Seher, or Heranuş, was one of the kılıç artığı, the ‘leftovers of the sword’ of that traumatic period; only one of her sisters was also spared, while the rest of the family – including uncles, aunts, cousins, and her mother – was killed. The second part of the novel consists of Çetin trying to digest this heritage, and also trying to forge a reunion of the two sides of a family which now – like so many Armenian families – is ‘scattered like pomegranate seeds’ across the world.

It’s a quietly powerful book, modest but courageous. There are no unnecessary fireworks or forced emotions. In a way, it could be seen as a manifestation of the very thing Temelkuran advocates in ‘Deep Mountain’, a kind of picking up of the baton. There’s little in the way of direct politics and no recriminations: I don’t think the word ‘genocide’ is mentioned once in the entire book (and that’s not because of Turkish laws against these things). It’s simply a human story, told in an unshowy, humane way.

Both Temelkuran and Çetin manage to address the vexed Armenian issue with admirable clarity, concerning themselves with the personal and the human as a kind of riposte to the debilitating rancour of the official, political dispute. Both try to chart a precipitous course between two entrenched sides that long ago stopped listening to each another; neither condemn anything other than this wilful deafness. In the years to come, one can only hope there are more books published like these two, and less like ‘The Armenian Dossier’.

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