Friday, January 24, 2014

Hasan Cemal Speaks at Dink Commemoration in Toronto

TORONTO, Canada—On Jan. 19, the Toronto Armenian community gathered to commemorate the 7th anniversary of the assassination of Hrant Dink. More than 500 people filled the Armenian General Benevolent Union Centre to capacity, with standing room only. The keynote speaker was renowned Turkish journalist and author Hasan Cemal, who also happens to be the grandson of Cemal Pasha, one of the three leaders of the Committee of Union and Progress (Ittihat ve Terakki), which planned and perpetrated the Armenian Genocide in 1915.
 Hasan Cemal Speaks at Dink Commemoration in Toronto
Cemal (L) and Bedrosyan
Mgrditch Mgrditchian was the master of ceremonies. After a beautiful rendition of Sari Aghchig and Cilicia by young soprano Lynn Anoush Isnar, Raffi Bedrosyan, one of Hrant’s friends, introduced Hasan Cemal. Bedrosyan explained that Hasan Cemal worked for many years (until 1992) as the editor-in-chief of the Cumhuriyet daily, the official mouthpiece of the Kemalist state and the defender of the denialist official version of history related to the 1915 events. Hasan Cemal then moved on to Sabah newspaper, the newspaper with the largest circulation at the time, as editor (until 1998), and then to Milliyet until March 2013, when he had to resign under pressure from Prime Minister Erdogan for criticizing the anti-democratic policies of the government. In recent years, Hasan Cemal got influenced by the writings of journalist Hrant Dink and historian Taner Akcam, and started questioning the veracity of the state version of history. As a result, he went through a gradual intellectual transformation, until he reached the conclusion that those events were indeed a genocide. In 2008, the year after Hrant Dink was assassinated, he went to Armenia and visited the Genocide Memorial, placing flowers there for Hrant and all the past genocide victims, sharing their pain. In 2012, he wrote a book titled 1915: Armenian Genocide in Turkish. The book, explaining his personal evolution, became a bestseller.
In his speech, Hasan Cemal stressed the need to separate personal family history from general history. He gave examples as to how he had to distinguish between his grandfather’s actions versus his stand against the genocide, and his dramatic meeting in Yerevan with the grandson of one of the planners of Cemal Pasha’s assassination in Tbilisi in 1922. Hasan Cemal also explained the long journey he had to go through from having a “captive” mind, based on the state version of history, to an “emancipated” or “liberated” mind, after seeking and finding the facts and truth about the 1915 events. Cemal stated that a small but fast increasing segment of the Turkish civil society has already started to acknowledge the truth about the genocide, and urged the Turkish state also to face its past and acknowledge and apologize for the 1915 events.
After his speech, there was a short discussion session among Hasan Cemal and two Zoryan Institute representatives, president Kurken Sarkissian and Executive Director George Shirinian, moderated by Raffi Bedrosyan, about the significance of building a “common body of knowledge” regarding the historic facts of 1915, in order to be able to have meaningful and constructive dialogue toward reconciliation between Turks and Armenians.
The Toronto commemoration was another proof that Hrant Dink’s legacy lives on and gains more momentum every year, both within Turkey and in all four corners of the world, with demands of truth and justice to prevail for the 1.5 million Armenians plus one

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