- The Washington Times - Friday, March 25, 2005

ISTANBUL — A hidden Armenian minority, after living in the shadows for decades, is coming forward to tell stories of a 1915 massacre in books and newspapers, and prompting Turkey to re-examine its past.

A group of senior politicians from Turkey’s governing and main opposition parties last week called for the events of 90 years ago to be “researched under United Nations arbitration.”

“If there is a need to settle accounts with history, we are ready,” they said.

Next month, Armenians all over the world will mark the 90th anniversary of the massacres — an event that successive governments in Turkey have denied took place.

Fethiye Cetin was a student when she discovered her grandmother Seher’s secret.

Seher, a pillar of a typical Turkish family, had been born an Armenian named Heranush, and was 9 years old when the massacres started in 1915.

She cowered in the churchyard as men from her village were slain and thrown into the river.

Forced with other women and children onto the road to Syria, she was abducted and handed over to a police corporal. He raised her as his own child.

Such tales are common in Turkey’s eastern provinces. Locals called people like the grandmother “those the sword left behind.”

What makes her story unusual is that the granddaughter made it into a book.

“She had hidden the things she told me for over 60 years,” said Miss Cetin, a lawyer who works from a small office in Istanbul. “I felt they needed to be given a voice.”

But she also wanted to help move the debate away from barren disputes over terminology and statistics: 300,000 killed? 800,000 killed? 1 million killed? Genocide? Ethnic cleansing? An unfortunate side effect of civil war?

Such arguments, she said, “hide the lives and deaths of individuals and do nothing to encourage people to listen.”

Turks certainly have been listening to her. Published in November, “My Grandmother” is already into its fifth edition.

Miss Cetin has lost count of the number of phone calls and letters she has received, of support, or from people with similar stories to tell.

“When books like this come out, even people with very different family histories begin to realize they aren’t the only ones to question what they have been taught,” she said.

Miss Cetin first published a summary of her grandmother’s history in an Istanbul-based Armenian newspaper in 2000. The article was ignored. “I could not have published my book back then,” she said.

In January, an Istanbul gallery hit the headlines with an exhibition of 500 postcards showing Turkish Armenians between 1900 and 1914.

“The history taught in schools is told as if only Turks had ever lived in Anatolia, no one else,” curator Osman Koker told reporters. “That is deeply unhealthy.”

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