The Armenian Question… with Kami E

Kami E was one of two ethnic Armenians I photographed in Istanbul (the other being Yuchi P). I’d been to Armenia twice before, but never to Istanbul. In Yerevan, the Armenian capital, I visited the Armenian Genocide Memorial, commemorating the 1.5 million Armenians killed by Ottoman Turkish forces in 1915. Contributing to the sorrow felt today is the “Armenian Question”, referring to the lack of acknowledgement by the Turkish government of the genocide. Even in Turkish law, Article 301 bans people from “insulting Turkey”, such as by recognising the Genocide.

So it was with this sense of conflict that I worried about the treatment of ethnic Armenians in Istanbul. I was shocked for example, when I got to Kami’s apartment, that his next door neighbour flew a huge portrait of Atatürk, an Ottoman army officer and first president of Turkey, from his window. I thought this was offensive, but Kami took no notice. Nationalism is strong in Turkey today, flags fly everywhere, and Atatürk by the very meaning of the name means ‘father of the Turks’. It was not escapable.

So in my usual tendency to prod at controversy, I talked about Armenians with almost every guy I met in Istanbul. I was ready for an argument, but it never came. While I’m sure there are hardliners out there with anti-Armenian feeling, I didn’t meet any. Everyone I met responded to me with lovely indifference — “Armenians, Turks… we are just people, we are all the same.” The political side of me would have loved to prod harder, deeper… but it would have been me starting the conflict.

As one of the boys said, “there have always been Armenians in Turkey, as well as Turks, Kurds, and others. And we all have our home here.” We need to move on. But in order to do so, we do need to acknowledge the Genocide too. Ignoring it will not make the pain go away.

See more of Kami E and read his story in Elska Magazine Issue (06) Istanbul —

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