Last month Rotterdam held its annual International Film Festival. I thought it would be fun to go, so I started to search for films and decided to look at the films whose title started with a Z (my thinking being how could you possibly come up with a film name starting with the letter Z?!). The first film was listed as Zara and since it’s my name spelled backwards, I decided to go.
The film is written and directed by a Kurdish filmmaker. It’s the story of a young Kurdish girl that goes back to her village (Zara) after having spent over a decade away. The show I saw was the European premiere, so the Director, Producer and others were present for a brief Q&A after the show. They mentioned the film took a long time to get into production because getting funding was hard; main reason being was that it is a very melancholic and sad film (and of course lots of people don’t really want to see films like that).
Kurdish people do have a quite sad history. Now I’m not saying that they’ve been perfect; every race/culture has had its share of hurting others. My understanding is the recent history has been particularly painful as Kurds have been denied their right to exist as a race and their right to have sovereignty over a territory they see as their home.
The film was indeed quite melancholic. What struck me was that I could relate to their sadness. Growing up in Canada as part of the Armenian Diaspora, I experienced a lot of this sadness in my family and in the Armenian community. The sadness is mostly around what Armenian’s describe as Turkey’s denial of the genocide, which took place in 1915. I remember my father telling me stories about why his mother was an orphan; that she saw her parents killed in front of her eyes, because her father was a priest and the intellectuals were the first ones killed. He would describe the pain she experienced of being forced to walk through the desert in Syria to finally end up with her sister at an orphanage in Aleppo.
Growing up hearing these stories shaped my understanding of truth. However as I read, explored, and experienced the world I discovered that this was not the version of truth held by others. I got the chance to challenge my understanding of the truth by engaging others in a meaningful dialogue on this topic as I explored their stories with them. I have the fortune of having several Turkish friends who are quite dear to me. Together we’ve discovered so much in common about ourselves, our cultures, and actually had the chance to talk about our versions of the truth, what it means, and how it makes us feel. One of my good friends who I went on my first trip to Armenia has a Turkish mother, and an Armenian father, and speaks both languages. And I fell in love with Istanbul when I went there and definitely plan to visit again soon.
I remember being in Puerto Rico in 2006 and I met a systems engineer who wanted to find an internship to Turkey. When he found out that I have an Armenian heritage he said, “so then you don’t like Turkey right?”. I was shocked by this statement. It made me realize that some people don’t look at me as a person; they look at me as a race.
I recently read this statement in an article, “you can’t hate someone whose story you know”. I believe that this is the way for people to start looking at each other as humans. Sharing with each other our stories, our versions of the truth, is for me the only way that we will ever be able to find the “T”ruth.
I capitalized the T in truth as I do believe that there can be one universal truth. I also accept that reality is shaped by the perceiver. My hypothesis is that we can only arrive to the Truth by sharing, understanding, and empathizing about our multiple truths. I believe this can open the door to ending hatred and finding peace.
The only sad part I remember of being in Istanbul was when I was in line to get food in the cafeteria. The man you served me looked at me and asked, “Turkish”? I said no and I explained that I am Canadian and Armenian. The smile on his face suddenly disappeared and was replaced by a cold hard stare. It made me wish we could communicate so I could learn his story.