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Of Victims and Victimhood

Rehana Sen

By Alan Drew
Bloomsbury, London, 2008, pp. 338, Rs. 495.00

By Anu Jayanth
Harper Collins Publishers in a joint venture with The India Today Group, New Delhi, 2008, pp. 359, Rs. 295.00


See all this land? his father said. ‘It’s ours. It’s been the Kurds since before the Arabs, since before the Turks even came here from Central Asia. From Ararat, where Noah set foot on the ground again … to Van to Babylonia. Ours. ‘And yet, with Ocalan, the Kurdish separatist leader recently hunted down and incarcerated’ the struggle for independence seemed doomed.   How much are we victims of history? Can we struggle to escape the shackles of the past into a more independent present, leading to a promising future? Can we, indeed should we, guide our children into an understanding of our moment in time, our situation in history and encourage them to move forward shedding the burden of their ancestors? In the context of present international political tensions, these questions become increasingly relevant.   In the last scene of Gardens of Water, where Sinan Basioglu heads back again to the snow-clad mountains of his forefathers, the answer to all these questions are sadly in the negative. We are victims of history, says the narrative; we cannot escape the shackles of the past; we need to burden our children with inherited prejudices, in spite of changed circumstances, to keep them aware of the shattered hopes, the dark guilt of those gone before us.   The earthquake that shook the southwestern coast of Turkey serves as the backdrop to this tale steeped in the political divisiveness of modern-day Turkey. Sinan is a Kurd, and as such will always be under suspicion. The primeval jolt that destroys the lives of so many diverse ethnic groups, temporarily brushes aside these divisions, but they are always lurking.   Sinan’s father had, decades earlier, been rounded up and shot by the Turkish Secret Police (PKK). As he buried his innocent farmer father, Sinan swore revenge, not only on those who had killed the Kurdish separatists, but on those who had supplied them with the weapons. Thus the Americans are his hate objects, perhaps far more than the PKK and the Turkish government. In them he sees everything to despise, which makes him determined not to accept any offer of help by the American social workers who come to the aid of the quake victims when the Turkish authorities were nowhere to be seen. He resists aid, but is persuaded by his wife Niloufer, for the sake of their injured son Ismail, to receive the help that ...

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