I remember very clearly the first time I heard the word “Armenian” and quite often I wondered why it stayed etched in my memory for no apparent reason. Many years later, I had heard something about the Genocide of the Armenian people, but I had no knowledge on how it had happened. It took an encounter with Armenians and thanks to the joy from that encounter it became necessary to learn more about it. Knowledge, the will to learn is then an effect of joy. A joy defined here in Spinozian terms (from the philosopher Baruch Spinoza), which means that joy is “the power to act”, it is that which gives us strength for acting.
One of the first expressions that I learnt when I arrived at the Armenian House was «ցավդ տանեմ» (I take your pain with me). This expression has deeply touched me. I will leave aside its usage because I would like to focus on the questions and thoughts that it has aroused in me.
“To take someone else’s pain with me” has made me think about the question about pain. Not just pain, but someone else’s pain. This shared pain is a pain that creates bonds. My life with Armenians and the story of a shared pain, transmitted in a loving and joyful way has created bonds of a great strength. In other words, these bonds of pain would otherwise be unbearable if there weren’t at the same time those bonds of joy, supported by a cultural history of extraordinary richness; it is the joy of bonding. Pain would be unbearable to the point of impeding a transmission if there wasn’t the capacity to sustain that cultural production- a production that includes the singularity of a language and its expressions.
There is, of course, a difference between physical and psychological pain, but the time that I want to talk about is the time where both types of pain intertwine. This pain is the pain of a people who have been massacred. A people who have seen its most brilliant minds be eliminated, who have been conducted through the dessert with no food nor water to a cruel and atrocious death. I strongly advise you to listen, to read the accounts, to watch the images, to know what has happened during the Genocide perpetrated to the Armenian people. Not to “understand” in the sense that we think we know what it is about; but the exact opposite. Do not understand! We should not understand, above all things, how such an atrocity has taken place. We need to interrogate the history of humanity, the Turks, the Armenians… we need to interrogate ourselves. “Taking the pain” is not “understanding it”, but it involves a bond of solidarity and empathy. We take the risk of not asking any more questions if we believe we understand it all, and thus, we would risk finding a “final solution-answer”.
By listening to their conversations and their music, as I was being baptized in the Armenian culture, I wondered: What have the Armenian people done with their pain? Jacques Lacan (French psychoanalyst) organizes his teachings in three dimensions: the symbolic, the imaginary and the real. I will only define here the real, since it concerns my development. The real is what is impossible to apprehend with language. It is impossible to name it because there are no words for it. How can we pass on from one generation to another the history of a horrible real as the Genocide? How can we name a horror for which there are no words? This, inexorably, sends me back to my own story, marked by that of my Jewish grand-mother’s and the deafening silence of the death that has touched her family. Even when she never spoke about her story, we knew her pain. I wonder now, if that silence was the way in which she was able to transmit a part of her own wordless story.
I sit at the table with my Armenian friends and I realize what allows me to create a bond with the Other from my past and the others from my present. It is thanks to transmission as something that goes beyond words that something of the real of that pain can be apprehended, as we share life itself. Joy, as the power to act, is also the possibility of invention, the power for creation. It is what Spinoza calls “the power of existence” and when it is reaffirmed, joy and affection are born. The systematic elimination of human beings carried out by Genocides has more to do with “impotence”, since it brings nothing but the destruction of existence. I feel the strength of an existence that is attached to its identity and it makes me wonder about my own identity. Fanaticism, narrow-minded souls and the other’s denial has absolutely no relationship with identity. And I am saying this not only regarding to what each one of us should do - thoroughly look inside ourselves - but also regarding the Turkish nation. How can a strong identity be built on the bases of a systematic denial of its own history and of the other? The possibility of exchanging (not in terms of a globalization that expects to extend a homogenization of culture, but) in terms of an exchange that allows us to think. Thanks to the joy of having built an identity that is strong and open to creating bonds not only with those who are equals, but also with those who are different.
I look at my Armenians and I keep them inside a soul that has become partly Armenian. I listen to them talking a language that I do not understand, but it does have, nevertheless, a very clear meaning for me. I know them now. I recognize them and I recognize myself. And it is there where the importance of RECOGNITION resides.