Susan Neiman

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17 July 2009

Truth, hope and light

The language of morality has been hijacked by the religious Right — yet
however shabbily its partisans may behave, argues Susan Neiman, they offer a public conception of goodness the Left forgot how to defend.

The conference “Ottoman Armenians during the decline of the empire: Issues of scientific responsibility and democracy”, held at Istanbul Bilgi University in 2005, marked the beginning of a fierce public debate on the “Armenian issue” in Turkey. Attempts to hold the conference at Bosphorous University were twice blocked by the Turkish government, and in a speech given to the members of the parliament before the conference, the Turkish minister of justice accused the conference organizers and participants of treason. The “Armenian issue” then emerged “full-blown onto the public sphere”.

The public debate has had tragic consequences and has eventually led to the marginalization of many Turkish intellectuals who argued that Turkey must come to terms with its past. Tensions finally boiled over with the assassination of the outspoken Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. Many attribute the act to the increasing influence of nationalist discourses that are flourishing in the run-up to the general elections this year.

Hrant Dink’s murder marks a new phase in the history of the “Armenian issue” in Turkey. With the formation of a violent ultra-nationalist front opposed to any public discussion of the genocide, it is a taboo that has become ever more dangerous to break.

But the duties remain the same. The murder of Hrant Dink was an attempt to silence the voice of dialogue. It must be countered with more dialogue and more analysis. Insisting on the continuing relevance of issues of responsibility and democracy is a way of paying tribute to Dink’s memory, a way of translating his legacy “into the jargon of the living”.

In December 2005, in the wake of the above-mentioned conference, E. Efe Çakmak asked a number of scholars from various disciplines within the humanities to comment on Turkey’s official policy regarding the “Armenian issue” — a policy that has not changed since. We have merged two of these interviews into one text, in which Susan Neiman and Andreas Huyssen, both representatives of the first post-Auschwitz generation, talk about the role that can be played by the public sphere in reflecting and guiding a politics of memory.