“A man is what he remembers. And he is free by virtue of what he remembers.” Leon Surmelian
The internet is buzzing with news of Christian villages and towns being destroyed by rebels in Syria, churches burnt, nuns taken hostage and youths beheaded. The latest news is the siege of the Armenian village of Kessab near the border of Turkey. Islamist militants, mostly Turks, have forced the inhabitants to flee and have taken the village, looting and destroying their homes.
This kind of news resonates strongly with me. My mind goes back to the days when I used to listen to my grandparents telling their story of how they were displaced and forced to flee their villages by the same Turks, to never go back again. And what was once their home became a memory they cherished and passed on to us together with the bad. Leon Surmelian wrote:
“Memory preserves continuity. And if it is destroyed, suppression of memories is the most awful tyranny of all, for it destroys the self and kills the soul of man.”
My heart bleeds as I continue to read. Because deep down I want to hope against hope that this time it is not the same. That everything is going to be okay for all those innocent civilians against whom atrocities are committed in the name of democracy or freedom. That people and authorities have learned from the mistakes of the past and that history will not be repeated a century later.
I have first hand experience of civil war, I grew up in it. I have seen and know what it can do to people caught in it. I was lucky to have been given a second chance, to leave and live a normal life outside. As Haruki Murakami writes:
“Most things are forgotten over time. Even the war itself, the life-and-death struggle people went through is now like something from the distant past. We’re so caught up in our everyday lives that events of the past are no longer in orbit around our minds. There are just too many things we have to think about everyday, too many new things we have to learn. But still, no matter how much time passes, no matter what takes place in the interim, there are some things we can never assign to oblivion, memories we can never rub away. They remain with us forever, like a touchstone.”