SPRING 07 In Dialogue: Asli Erdogan and Cécile Oumhani

Added: February 2007 to


The Turkish writer Asli Erdogan was a friend of Hrant Dink and, deeply affected by his murder, she writes to her friends, ". . . today my name was listed on the death list because I sold Agos newspaper on the streets with a handful of intellectuals, [but] it is more important for my voice to be heard." Asli Erdogan has written a letter to the public.

And poet and novelist Cécile Oumhani writes an open letter of condolence to her friend Asli Erdogan:

We left a deep, invisible mark behind us

The couple behind me both turned round to look back. Then so did those on their right, in front of them, behind them... They looked in surprise, one by one, in twos. They were trying to see the back of what seemed to be an endless procession. Were there so many of us? Why had we allowed so much time to go by in a solitude that had been imposed upon us? I wished that looking back on our lives, our own lives, we had not been confronted with so many defeats, so many disappointments and disillusionments.

It was a long, silent walk. Thousands and thousands of people were slowly walking, side by side, under an unexpected winter sun, a luminous sky, reminiscent of spring. A compact, homogeneous crowd was filling the avenues, the streets, the squares. There were blood-red carnations. Black signs spelling out the same message in three different languages:

"We are all Hrant, we are all Armenians." Hrant's face emerges above arms, above heads, an intact face, bearing no signs of aging, with his gentle, comforting smile... Thousands of people, in mourning, heartbroken, intently turned to that face with a sense of loss even deeper than if he had been one of them. Newspapers, headlines, people clapping their hands, the white dove, so alive, in front of AGOS, people recognising each other and humbly greeting, heads bowed in gravity, weighed down by the assassination. It was a winter sun that we did not seem to deserve. (But who had the right to deprive anyone of that sun, be it for a single minute?) "They say it is five miles away, do you think we can walk that far?" a voice says. Another one replies: "We will make it!" We walk on, leaving a deep invisible mark behind us.

That was two or three years ago. We were in AGOS, on a solidarity visit and there were ten or fifteen of us, all familiar faces. "Welcome to you", he had said smiling... I had sat down in a corner and gazed at him as I drank my tea. The way he spoke of the injustice he had suffered unswervingly, his warm enthusiastic sincerity... I recognized him as a man of heart, of feelings, from head to foot, and I liked him straightaway. On that day, it seemed to me I had caught a glimpse of a solitude I could not bring myself to name.

Last Friday, I went back to AGOS, my face covered with rain, soaked with his shadow. It was the first time in my life I had ever managed to chant slogans. There was also that New Year's Eve message I had sent to him eighteen days before: "Happy New Year! I wish you a Happy New Year!"

My eyes will often turn to helicopters, I don't know why, and to the birds silently flying and circling over the procession... I will walk to the sea, until I can get a glimpse of the old Istanbul... In that warm light, under this astonishingly lavish sun, on that mild January morning... I will think of Hrant, I will think of my own losses... Mourning all those I have lost, what I am to lose, all those years, those emotions... Sometimes I will join the thunder of applause, rising in successive waves... What are we applauding? We are applauding Hrant, his resistance, resistances, our union, that unexpected solidarity...

Or is it life, just life? I walk on without saying a word. It is the first time in ages I have not felt lonely. Today here we are, thousands of people overwhelmed with emotion. Each of us is a soul, each of us is a dove. A dove carrying an olive branch in its beak.

Here we are, still alive.

PS: And so am I, before it is too late, with our past as well as with our present.

Asli Erdogan


Letter to my Turkish friend

A winter evening comes to an end, warm and grey. My eyes heavy with sleep, I see your name appear on the screen. Happy, eager to read your message, I am immediately baffled by its subject. The word URGENT appears in capital letters.

For a few years, we have arranged our meetings on the phone. A few words feverishly typed and sent out as an SMS to set a day, a specific moment, without our even having to decide on a place, since it is at the Select that time stops for us, for an afternoon, for an evening... So much so that I could easily leave the batch of my students' papers beside my chair and you could forget all about that other appointment you had made. For hours are too short for us to say everything we want to tell each other, about the world, life, the East, the West, women, writing. And here I am, thinking you are telling me tonight about your next visit to Paris, that we are about to pick up that conversation we reluctantly interrupted just over a month ago. That time you did not have Lapsang Souchong. Just café au lait and the afternoon had gone by quickly, so quickly...

I have to read your message twice, as I am so upset by what you have written to me. We had talked about the Armenians, and my thoughts had been with them, with you, with such force, when they announced the assassination of Hrant Dink. I knew how you would feel. I also knew that you would not keep silent. And the thick, icy spiral coils inside me as I read your message, as I suddenly grasp what is weighing upon you. A few words of humanity, a few words, both sad and beautiful, to say that we are all standing side by side and all of a sudden, you are under threat too... So I will repeat it after you, I will type it out on the screen of my computer: "We are all Hrant, we are all Armenians." And I know that others will repeat it after you, after me. I know that all together we will walk on, carrying the echo of these words between cries and murmurs, whatever may come. We will not drop the olive branch slipped in our beaks and our wings will be joined in one immense flight of doves.

Cécile Oumhani


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