Comments on “When They Died…”

It’s been nearly two months since I wrote an article about Armenian-Turkish relations which can be found on this site in English, Turkish and Armenian. Today, I’d like to share a sample of the comments I have since received from across the United States.   Here in no particular order are a few of the reactions to “When They Died….”

Gonca,Was in the middle of something, started reading and could not stop.  And then started crying as went on.  Thank you for sharing,                                             Anonymous

Dear Gonca, Your article challenged me to keep talking, keep questioning, keep learning and not pull back from both the Genocide or from people whose nationality is Turkish. Not to hide behind my own racism or hatred or what I think my community expects of me. A couple of weeks ago there was a discussion about Armenian folk tales and folk music. The artist was from Armenia describing the traditions that have come from before Christianity in stories, lessons, fables, music and dance. She asked what songs our families, our grandparents sang  in the house. And then the conversation turned very dark. Someone said “our families were deported, there was no music in my childhood home.” Someone else got up and said, “this is the other side of genocide, not just the loss of life, but also our music and our folktales, our language, our food and our our heritage because this part of culture isn’t written down, it is shared and taught generation to generation.” He called it the white genocide, the loss of more than just life, but everything that is Armenian. That made me grieve, but it also made me think, we shared villages then, perhaps we also shared music and stories and so much that was suddenly broken apart in 1915.  Somehow if we can bring out those familiar threads- in Turkish folklore/folk music a story that is similar in both of our languages, a tune of a song, a fable or lesson on values….. But we have to start the conversations, and it starts with our own selves. I am grateful for your clear voice and your bravery to start this and put it out to the world. I will still keep thinking and talking. Tsoleen Sarian (political campaign consultant)


What a profound and heartfelt message you have created and sent around to your inner world…  There are many conceptual experiences that we share in your story.  Individuals like Orhan Gunduz and Hrant Dink live or have lived among us through time.  Their intense commitment to their beliefs were similiar.  Who knows if their ancestry is shared at some point in the past?  The more we observe and freely discuss these issues (hopefully not sparked by another death or unfortunate event), the closer we become to facing the truth together, and the healing can begin and the anger slowly dissolved… I wonder that if things from the past could ever be somewhat settled, many of us (Armenians, Turks, Kurds, etc.) would indeed be freer to reflect on the ‘common memories’ we shared together along with the same land, food, culture and friends before the Genocide occurred.  Your personal reflection certainly deserved a response of gratitute, appreciation, acknowledgement and compassion from me.  Sincerely,                                                                                                                          An Armenian friend

Merhaba Gonca, I like what you have written.  This is the sort of piece that appeals to both open-minded Armenians and the open-minded Turks who are thankfully becoming less and less silent.                                                                                   Nareg Seferian (Graduate student of international affairs)

“Gonca,You have said so much here. We can all understand more clearly through your eyes. If I may, I would like to use this in Sunday School with our teens tomorrow.”  Laura Bilazarian Purutyan (Educator)


Dear Gonca Sonmez-Poole,                                                                                               I was deeply moved by reading your sincere inner feelings on such a sensitive subject. It takes great courage and humaneness to express your thoughts on the Armenian Genocide in such an open manner.                                                                              Harut Sassounian (Publisher, The California Courier)

Dear Gonca, I just sat down and read your essay and was moved to tears by it.  I am so grateful for the deepened personal reflections in this piece and your account of how very difficult it was to travel the distance you have travelled. Your honesty feels like a balm.  On my side (and I don’t know if I’ve expressed this to you already), I feel something like a yearning, a need, to make a connection with Turks—this began happening to me as I worked on the play.  In talking to you, in talking to Ahmet and Ayşe, and other Turks I’ve met, there’s a kind of release, I don’t know from what!  There’s some kind of freedom, some kind of balm.  Freedom from censorship in myself? Freedom to know Turks as human beings, as friends? Not to have to be walled off?  I think about how we all have a common wound. We are bound together by the past, by the attempt to divide us—we are all wounded by it, and that connects us. Joyce Van Dyke (Playwright)


Dear Gonca,Very heavy soul searching yet it seems like you are free at last in your search.  We had to choice as to how we were to enter this world, but once here, seek truth and have empathy along the way.  As you had said from the very beginning, above all, “I am a human being.” Thanks for sharing your inner feelings with me    Harry Parsekian (Retired businessman)


Gonca, this is so well written. I did not know of your personal journey.  Part of me is always sympathetic with Turks that it must not be easy to admit that one’s grandparents (not all, of course), did something horrific. It takes courage to acknowledge it. I will circulate this widely.  It brought tears to my eyes.                                                      Anna Ohanyan, PhD (Academician)


Gonca,  I am especially grateful to you for sending me your very sincere article…yes when they died…we all had tears gushfull tears for Orhan Bey whom my mother knew well and Hrant…right when I gave birth to my second child Orhan Gündüz was a victim of our horrendous conflict…was he not friend of Armenians?..of course he was!  Yet he was also a representative of Turkish government and he could not accept the genocide officially apropos to his officials…he was so helpful to  my mom whenever she wanted to go to Istanbul he arranged everything—we always visited him at Topkapı at Central Square I even brought gifts from Turkey to him…my mom and him had many friendly conversations and I felt deep grief of his assassination I wanted to turn my back to all these issues—just deny everything and not talk and be apathetic to all these…can I? …no…if I have in my family many  members killed only because they were Armenians…I have close friends who are Turkish…we are all people of that land… Varteni Mosdichyan (Artist/painter)


Gonca,Thank you for this. I see hope!                                                                          Kay Mouradian, EdD (author/health and physical education specialist)


Activism and the arts…never the two shall meet?

There is a fascinating Spanish film called Even the Rain, which takes place in Bolivia.  This 2010 production tells the story within a story and that’s what makes it a little masterpiece. The main character is the director who is determined to produce a most realistic portrayal of Christopher Columbus’ conquest in Cochabamba, Bolivia. He has the people, the crew, the sets, the budget (well…most of it anyway) and most importantly endless energy and abundant drive. What the young filmmaker doesn’t quite realize however is how his idealistic filmmaking is bound to fall victim to the realities on the ground. While he’s busy trying to round up extras within the impoverished local population, he doesn’t realize he’s falling right into the midst of a local rebellion.  His favored “extra” is a ringleader for the locals who are rising up against the multinational water company that is taking advantage of their land, in this case their livelihood.  That slippery slope of becoming part of the story while telling the story is one important question I think any documentarian or filmmaker must ask him/herself.  Is the story itself more vital and important than the telling of it on camera?  Do we as filmmakers, know just when to quit (or not) when we know we’re in over our heads sometimes?  Are we making the film for the sake of making it or for the sake of our cause?  I for one have been asking myself these very questions lately.  I don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t seen it but do take a look at Even the Rain…I promise it’ll be worth it.

Also, check out the following about Paul Simon’s music and South Africa: