ASALA victim calls for friendship

ASALA victim calls for friendship

The Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA) was an Armenian terrorist organization that operated from 1975 until the early 1990s. It conducted a series of assassinations against Turks throughout the 1970 and 1980s, killing 46 and injuring 299 people. Some 42 of the assassinated were Turkish diplomats.

While Turkey has been locked on the genocide debate on the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Massacres, the victims of ASALA are totally forgotten. They are not mentioned at all, and no one asks them how they perceive the massacres and all of these debates.

Emin Balcıoğlu must be the right person to ask these questions. 

Why him? Because both Balcıoğlu’s father and aunt were assassinated by ASALA in 1978 in Madrid as they were driving. Yet what makes him more exceptional is the fact that he has totally purified himself of hatred. Moreover, he has been struggling for Turkish-Armenian friendship for decades.

Starting our conversation, Balcıoğlu said his mom had died only six months prior to the incident. He was only 26. “All of a sudden I became the eldest in the family,” he says. However, what he experienced in the aftermath shook him even deeper.

“In those days, every time a Turkish diplomat was killed, state television TRT used to display the images of those who were killed previously, again and again. Therefore, I had to see my dad in blood and shot to ribbons at least 15 times, and each time I went through the same pain,” he said.

“I condemn this. I didn’t have to experience this,” he said.

He criticizes this also politically, saying TRT used these images as anti-Armenian propaganda. 

It was not just the media, but the state as well that acted insensibly. “During my dad’s funeral, then-Prime Minister [Bülent] Ecevit shook my hand and expressed his condolences. However, he was acting as if he wanted to get rid of the thing as soon as possible so that he could go back to work. There was no sign of empathy at all.”

However, despite all he went through, Balcıoğlu managed to purify himself of hatred completely. Furthermore, since then, he has struggled for Turkish-Armenian friendship as a member of the Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission. Being an architect himself, he has organized several exhibitions bringing together Turkish and Armenian artists to develop empathy.

But has he never felt any hatred toward the assassins? His answer is instructive: “You lose your most beloved ones. Of course you want them to get punished. Yet what really matters is not to project any hatred. You have to manage this. Otherwise, world history would be very bad.” 

Balcıoğlu thinks that a solution could come only from civil society. “The political environment is stuck. We need to strengthen civil society initiatives to diminish hatred and reconcile with Armenia. Relations on education, trade and art need to be developed. And this could pave the way for political reconciliation.”

He adds: “No matter what political and ideological meanings are attributed, the Armenian issue is a humanity issue and cannot be measured with numbers.”

In addition to not being anti-Armenian, he also criticizes Turkey. “This question has been either given ultra-nationalist reactions which have nothing to do with the issue itself or are totally denied.”

Yet he is against asking for an apology from Armenians “since people don’t know why they apologize.” According to him, “what we need is empathy, not apology and confessions.” 

Balcıoğlu is optimistic about rapprochement between Turks and Armenians and Turkey and Armenia, yet hopeless about the diaspora. “This trauma has interpenetrated their brain. This has become part of their identity. They keep the trauma alive to save their identity. Hence, you cannot solve this whatever you do.”

Yet he is still able to build empathy with them. He attributes their reaction to the psychological environment they live in and to the propaganda they have been exposed to for decades.

He also questions this hatred: “Have you ever tried to understand what it is like living with a terrible hatred which has penetrated into your soul? And at the end have you found yourself feeling pity for those ones? Most importantly, have you ever thanked God for being lucky to have parents who have not planted in hatred to you?”

“My last message is,” he says, “Let’s stay away from hatred. Let’s build empathy. And try to get close. It is important to share the pain.”

Knowing Balcıoğlu, one understands that no one has the right to hate anyone.