Remembering a Genocide: A Monumental Educational Trip to Turkey and Armenia

It was the last day of traveling. We had begun the morning in Istanbul with a typically decadent breakfast buffet of bread, cheese, olives, and tomatoes. The 14 of us – UC Irvine students, faculty, and administrators – continued with a tour of the old city Sultanahmet, its ancient walls filled by three thousand years of empires and republics.

Now we were at our final destination: the Hrant Dink Foundation. Here, we talked and had copper-colored çay with Rober Koptaş, newspaper editor, and Delar Dink, daughter of Hrant Dink, Turk-Armenian and former Agos editor who was assassinated by a Turkish nationalist. Our visit included a stop at the site of Dink’s untimely 2007 death, marked by a plaque in the sidewalk. The foundation has carried on Hrant Dink’s mission, including hosting dialogue programs between Turks and Armenians.

Dialogue. This word had followed us on the two-week tour through the South Caucasus countries of Turkey, Georgia, and Armenia where we studied the genocide of 1915. A dictionary would define “dialogue” as an “exchange of ideas” and “discussion … aimed at resolution.” But our many conversations never reached a resolution and were unsettling, uprooting generations of pain in our own group.

Was peaceful resolution ever possible? Was justice within reach? Continue reading

Is Travel a Political Act? I Absolutely Think So.

It was early autumn, and the locals told me that I had arrived just before the seasons shifted and the rains arrived. I wouldn’t have known it. Taking a swim didn’t help either. At an uncomfortable 30°C (86°F), the salty Red Sea provided no relief from the 35°C (95°F) breeze. Air conditioning was rare. I lethargically waited under the ceiling fan for the sun to set. Why had I decided to visit Eritrea?

Months earlier, while planning a six-month round-the-world trip, my friend and I looked at a map of Asia and Africa and compromised. Both of us wanted to go to Ghana and India. But we had bought the limited-mileage ticket, and visiting both countries meant we wouldn’t be able to visit Europe. We compromised: if we were going to India, we could also go to an African country, but only if it was in the north. And now we were sitting in the heat, wondering why we were apparently the only foreigners in the country who weren’t working for the U.N.

The evening, however, brought happy activity. As the sun set, a call to prayer rang out from the local minaret. Families ordered tea and cakes at the local hotel restaurant. Music played on the radio. A wedding party began to sing and dance in the streets against the bullet-ridden walls and bombed mosque domes, reminders of a decade-old war with Ethiopia. Continue reading