“We are talking about a radical change in what we might call the meaning of life based on shared memories. That meaning is eroded by a structural transformation in the living spaces offered by modernity.”
Paul Connerton-How Modernity Forgets
“The Toledoist state is carrying out a policy of amnesia and erosion here under the name of ‘urban transformation’ to erase this resistance from history,” writes Meral Çiçek for Yeni Özgür Politika.
Ahmet Güneştekin’s exhibition and art installation entitled ‘Memory room’, which was recently opened in Goat Bastion, in Sur neighbourhood of Amed has been passionately discussed amongst Kurds for several days.
There have been many critical assessments made about it, such as it represents the aestheticization of the pain, celebrations at the place where a massacre was carried out by the state only a few years ago, and the fact that the people who have legitimised these massacres were dancing the traditional Kurdish folk dance there.
To avoid repeating all of these criticisms, I’d like to take the subject from another dimension.
In the context of war, conflict, and genocide, memory studies are carried out in many parts of the world, mostly for reckoning and confronting the past. Rarely memory and truth-oriented studies are carried out while there is still conflict going on.
There is no such thing as one is right and the other is wrong. The main thing is the perception and understanding of the truth.
For example, in some memory studies, wars and conflicts must end first, and a ‘past’ must exist first so that confrontation can be achieved. But there is also an approach defending that the truth and memory works assist in the ending of the war in question.
For example, Hakikat Adalet Hafiza Merkezi (the Truth-Justice Memory Centre) aims to contribute to the democratisation of Turkey and the establishment of social peace within the framework of transitional justice.
During the last İmralı dialogue process, Leader Abdullah Ocalan also proposed the establishment of truth research commissions before the conflicts come to an end, unlike the South African model. Because he believed that the work of these commissions could contribute to the ending of the war. He believed that these commissions could do that by exposing the genocide policies of the TC (Turkish Republic) towards the Kurdish people.
Can memory be independent of truth?
Therefore, the development of works of truth, justice, and memory is of course important and meaningful in Kurdistan. However, in these works– whether artistic or academic, etc.– the way how truth is expressed is decisive.
In this context, memory cannot be independent of truth. Every memory work is based on an understanding or perception of truth and aims to spread its understanding.
An exhibition with no subject and perpetrator
So, what is the truth in Ahmet Güneştekin’s exhibition? What do these numbered coloured coffins, the pile of black rubber shoes, the street signs with the names of those murdered (the perpetrators of these murders are known), the skulls wrapped in fabrics symbolised by the Kurds mean?
Death, war, genocide. But why were these people killed? Who killed them? Who is the victim, who is the perpetrator?
There are no answers to these questions. The dead in Ahmet Güneştekin’s exhibition have no identity, even if their names are on the signs. I think that is the biggest problem with the exhibition.
Therefore, the memory-in-the-name is amnesia. Who were these dead people? Oh, that’s right. The Kurds. But why did they die? Why were they killed? Who killed him?
Denial of identity and killing the truth
When the dead are stripped of their identity, the truth is blurred and the memory is gone. Meaning is lost when the perpetrator is invisible and there is only the unidentified dead bodies left behind. When meaning is lost, so is the truth. Memory becomes simulation. Memory is locked in the museum. The murderous state will not be responsible for anything once again.
In Sur, where the exhibition was opened, in close history that can not even be called the past, fascism ordered to “raze to the ground” and one of the greatest resistances in our recent history took place against all kinds of extermination attacks of the fascist forces.
The Toledoist state is carrying out a policy of amnesia and erosion here under the name of ‘urban transformation’ to erase this resistance from history.
Keeping memory alive
Keeping the memory alive against modernity and its local representatives’ policies of living only in present, is also a kind of war of truth. This war must be fought mostly by oppressed and exploited societies.
Otherwise, they will not be able to escape from the denial of their identity while they are dead or alive.