There Was and There Was Not
A Journey through Hate and Possibility in Turkey, Armenia, and Beyond

(ISBN: 978-0-8050-9762-7)
2014 New York
286 pages
Size: 6 1/2" x 9 1/2"
Language(s): English

There Was and There Was Not — a phrase that throughout the Middle East signals the start of a fable—is a story about the clashing narratives left to us by history. In this nonfiction work that blends memoir, essay and reportage, Meline Toumani, an ethnic Armenian raised in the U.S., examines the legacy of the Armenian genocide of 1915.

Frustrated by decades-long campaigns by Armenians around the world to convince governments to acknowledge the genocide, and by equally fanatical Turkish efforts to prevent such recognition, Toumani asks whether the Armenians’ objective is worth its emotional and intellectual price. She also asks the most confounding question: why can’t Turkey admit it? 

Beginning with her New Jersey childhood whose fondest moments were spent at a nationalistic Armenian summer camp, Toumani traces her journey from diaspora patriot to alienated cynic, a journey that eventually takes her to Turkey. Over the course of four years, she conducts interviews with Turkish scholars, visits the remains of Armenian villages, and builds a complicated life for herself in Istanbul, learning to speak Turkish and developing fraught but revealing friendships with Turks and Kurds. Her attempts to talk about the Armenian issue in a place where such conversations are not only taboo but often illegal form the heart of her personal quest and of this book.

Standing apart from Armenian genocide literature that seeks to prove what happened or to demonize Turkey, Toumani asks questions that are at the heart of conflicts the world over: how to belong to a community without conforming to it, how to acknowledge a tragedy without exploiting it, and most importantly how to remember a genocide without perpetuating the kind of hatred that gave rise to it in the first place.

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