A young Armenian-American journalist examines her identity and personal history.
New York Times contributor Toumani grew up hating Turkey. She knew that between 1915 and 1923, nearly 1 million Armenians were massacred and another 1 million deported from the Ottoman Empire, a surge of violence that punctuated generations of oppression. She also knew that the Armenian diaspora was obsessed with world recognition of the conflict as genocide, a term that Turkey vehemently rejected. Even 100 years later, many Armenians are still ferocious in their abhorrence of all things Turkish. But for Toumani, that hatred had come “to feel like a chokehold, a call to conformity,” and she wanted “to understand how history, identity, my clan and my feeling of obligation to it, had defined me.” That search took her to Turkey, where she lived for more than two years, interviewing writers, historians, students, professors and activists about the fraught relationship of Turks to ethnic minorities. Cautious about admitting that she was Armenian, Toumani discovered that once she did, “the distance from ‘Nice to meet you’ to the words ‘so-called genocide’ was sometimes less than two minutes long.” Many Turks claimed to have Armenian friends, but stereotypes were deeply entrenched: Armenians were greedy, shifty and duplicitous. The murder of an outspoken journalist who worked to find common ground between Turks and Armenians brought political hatreds into stark view. Arriving with the idea that “soft reconciliation was important and valuable—that simply getting Turks and Armenians to interact as human beings seemed like a major step,” Toumani felt increasingly frustrated with the intolerance she encountered and with her own prejudices, which “seemed stronger than ever.” She came to believe that the term “genocide” is no more than a clinical label that dilutes the visceral reality of the past.
This remarkable memoir serves as a moving examination of the complex forces of ethnicity, nationality and history that shape one’s sense of self and foster, threaten or fray the fragile tapestry of community.