New Essay: A Duty to Remember?

"A Duty to Remember? Politics and Morality of Remembering Past Atrocities"

by Ziya Meral

Journal of International Political Anthropology, Vol 5 (2012) No.1 

An allusion to a “duty to remember” the dark episodes of history is a common occurrence in
today’s politics and popular discourse. The vision behind the call never to forget genocides,
massacres and wars is noble and praiseworthy. However, the way in which such events are
formulated and used is so embedded in the present as to raise serious questions about the
morality and political agendas of those who selectively undertake projects to enshrine past
atrocities. This essay seeks not only to decode the socio-political process for handling the past
but also to challenge the conventional belief that remembering the past will prevent future crimes
and heal countries. It goes on to argue for a balanced, realistic and ethical relationship between
the past and present.

My new book in Turkish is Out

Dear readers,

I am pleased to announce that my new book in Turkish, The Idiot: Nietzsche face to face with Dostoyevsky, has just been released by Kaknus publishing in Istanbul. It will shortly be available in most major bookshops across Turkey.

The book is a comparative study of Nietzsche and Dostoyevsky's life, thoughts and belief through Nietzsche's (mis)use of Dostoyevsky's novel The Idiot. Nietzsche uses the novel's main character as a type to deconstruct Jesus, but in the process misreads Dostoyevsky. What surfaces is a major clash on truth, God, morality, ethics and salvation of humanity between the two giant prophets of 20th century.

The book ends with a chapter on what reading Nietzsche and Dostoyevsky means in today's world and what we can learn from both of them.


Ziya Meral

A Declaration of Universal Human Vulnerability

Published in Turkish Daily News, 26 May 2007

There are two Hrant Dinks for the larger sections of Turkish society; Hrant Dink before his murder and Hrant Dink after his murder. Before his murder, except for those who read his writings and knew him personally, representations of Hrant Dink was a courageous man of convictions, which have caused quite a stir among Turks and Armenians alike. He was in fact a danger for anyone who held a black and white view of the past and present. “Hrant Dink” was a name separated from the man, a face without a body.

As his dead body lied on the ground something extremely important happened. Due to demands of political trauma management, there were a lot of high-level public declarations of condemnation, which owned him as a ‘child of our nation'. However, what caused the emergence of the new Hrant Dink was the hole on the sole of his shoes, not the declarations which were a bullet too late and often without a rhyme. A dead body and blood could have still been understood as the ‘rightful end' of a troublemaker. Yet, his warn out shoes pointed to the man behind the name; a man, fragile and human, not a monster or a powerful enemy. It was only this demystification of Hrant Dink as a vulnerable human being that granted him his humanity back and enabled people to hear his voice. Finally, we saw that Dink was not a powerful enemy, but a sensitive soul rushing among us like a pigeon.


Dehumanization of human beings is really what makes an ethnic, racial or political murder possible. First, the body is effaced, his/hers uniqueness or truth is distorted, thus making the flesh embodiment of whatever the enemy or evil or dirt or danger is. Then, hatred or commitment to higher aspirations can easily find their ‘rightful' out channelling on a human being. We have seen this paradoxically in the public comments following the murders of three Christians in Malatya- Necati, Uğur and Tillman. In the wise words of Devlet Bahçeli, the head of Turkish Nationalist Party, “we condemn these murders, but missionaries are not innocent!” Exegetically speaking, the dependent clause that follows the ‘humane' reaction is the main point of the declaration, which is the backbone of the dehumanization that lead to their murder. It seems that the only thing we condemn is the brutal method used and its political implications for us.When the Police entered the room where they were tied to chairs and their throats were cut, what they found was not a hidden Crusader ‘cevşen' (Islamic amulets which their murderers wore for protection) under their clothes, but only flesh and blood. It was in fact this fragile body that was kept away from us in the escalation of events that lead to their murders. They were dehumanized first as modern day Crusaders whose goals were something darker than just propagating their beliefs. Local media in Malatya took away their humanity first by placing them in a narrative of historical and national conflict, helping the murderers to legitimize their acts without facing any moral dilemma.

Nunca Mas and the failure of law:

So in a sense, we have not learned anything from the bloody 20th century in which at least 60 million people alone were killed by genocides and ethnic cleansings. What made mass atrocities possible at the first place was the racial constructions and dehumanisations, which made ‘vermin' out of Jews, ‘cockroaches' out of Tutsis, ‘rapists' and ‘baby factories' out of Bosnian Muslims, ‘lesser' human beings out of Gypsies and ‘waste' out of the handicapped. Amidst these representations, the language of ‘inherent dignity' of a human being does not help us at all, as the media and rhetoric capture for us what constitutes a human being and whose life is worth to protect at the expense of the other. Against all of the intentions of post World War II cosmopolitan desires to ensure that such things happen Never Again (Nunca Mas) and attempts to establish “Universal” declarations and covenants, the wheels of dehumanization continue to turn and produce new ways the human being can be done away with easily. As one of the most respected thinkers of our age, Giorgio Agamben points out; we are now living in an era in which the state of exception is the norm. In this legal status that legally decides to suspend the law, the language of ‘universal rights' too looses a corresponding truth out side of its own word plays. Terror laws, Emergency Laws or Patriot Acts are all legal frameworks that take away any legal protection a human being may ever have. Any given moment the sovereign can decide to not grant any rights to his subjects.

Shifting sand:

Unlike the fixed boundaries of previous centuries- caste systems, classes and racial formations based on ‘scientific truths', today the line that separates who is constituted a Human Being or a mere body and can be easily done away with, is quite liquid. As a sweeping sociological answer to the chicken and egg's chronology, racism, which is the exclusion of the other on perceived grounds of difference or danger, comes before the construction of ‘race'. Nowadays, racism shows itself in the properties of belonging, not so much the sizes of the skulls or god-given levels of biological superiorities: You are either with ‘us' or with ‘them'. Since ‘us' can no more be constructed biologically, you are one ‘us' to the extent you are aligned with ‘us' not just with your place of birth, language and ID, but primarily with what we think and how we see the world. The negative reference point that equally makes us into ‘us' is the threat we are all facing from ‘them'. In the age of global panic attacks and worries of security, the definition of who constitutes a danger and is one of ‘them' changes daily. And as the men wearing orange jumpers and catching tan on a tropical island know too well, all you need is to be caught in the wrong place and time, with a wrong physical outlook and a different view of the world. Yet, for those of us who feel safe with which part of the narrative we belong, the bad news is that there is a high chance that tomorrow's newspapers will inform the world that now it is you and me who is out of the game. Then, in vain, we will scream for our ‘rights' and ‘inherent dignity'. When one is dehumanized, he or she is just a body who has no rights or dignity!

Lowest common denominator:

Sadly, the dark side of the 20th century still lingers in its 21st century forms. Since, we the post-everythingists find it very difficult to hold on to universal moral reference points, and our semi-sacred beliefs in universal human rights have been bastardized, there is not much left for us to appeal as a reason on why we should not kill our neighbour, except the final line of defence: human vulnerability. In this extremely interdependent world, we are all truly vulnerable to being hurt by others who may live in far away lands from us. As the failures of neo-con masculine attempts to make the world safer have proven, we become more vulnerable when we try to protect our vulnerability by the use of force, exclusion and homogenization. Only by seeking to protect the vulnerability and fragility of the other, can we protect our own. Unlike the politics of dominance and muscular power, what we need now is a feminine one that sees the relationship not as means but the ultimate end, chooses to listen and above all is moved by the vulnerability of the other to help and care not just one of ‘us' but ‘them' as well.

Imperative of a new way of imagining identity and politics:

For all we know, we can no longer continue this way. The blood of our political imaginations is now causing us to see nightmares like that of Raskolnikov. We don't need new laws or new political systems or awakening of some long dead utopias, but a firm belief in the Universal Human Vulnerability that we share with every single human being on this planet and not allowing the fear of the possibility of being hurt by the other lead us into the temptation of turning into monsters ourselves. Cherishing this vulnerability and using it positively means that we should train our children not convinced of their superiority from the others and of the danger the other present to ‘us', but convinced of the greatness in the other and what we share with them. The main pressure point we need to put our fingers on, if we want to stop this bleeding, is not high level politics but a whole hearted rejection of dehumanization that we read, hear and see in day to day life. Only when the individuals, not states, ratify this Personal Covenant for the Protection of Human Vulnerability, (which by the way does not exist), can we have some sort of hope for future. Only when there is no ‘but' following the sentence ‘we condemn these', can we stop seeing dead bodies lying on the side walk with holes on their shoes.