Facing History

One of the most important lessons that I have learned at Andover is the significance of coming to terms with my nation’s roots and history. Prior to my experience at Andover, facing my history objectively and taking responsible action had been some of the most challenging tasks that I had to grapple with. Growing up in an environment that strictly adhered to its national pride and the supposed legitimacy of its actions in the past, I found myself torn between my nationalistic instincts and pressing humanitarian feelings. This so-called rift became more amplified during my time at Andover.

Years of ideological indoctrination to which I was exposed in my history classes taught me only one side of the Armenian Massacre that occured in 1915. We were taught that the forced displacement of millions of Armenian people was a wartime necessity rather than something whose consequences we had a sense of responsibility to delve deeper into. It was true to a certain extent that the forced displacement was meant to be a response to the inter-ethnic conflicts in which a limited number of Armenian groups participated. As students, however, we never felt compelled to think about the sheer tragedy of the 1.5 million innocents who lost their lives. Although I remember the times when I pondered about the circumstances and consequences of this human tragedy, an inexplicable force from within held me back from thinking freely and with a true sense of impartiality.

My history classes and the diverse backgrounds of the student body at Andover have compelled me to think about these matters from different perspectives. The reality is that the world is not revolving around one individual, group of people or nation. I immersed myself in other realities and stories in which I had to look through different lenses. In doing so, I not only learned how to approach and evaluate issues critically and fairly, but I also came to realize the importance of common humanity. Although I began to realize the importance of my own identity and origins when I came to Andover, I also started to disassociate my true self from the things that my origins entailed. I am not my country, my government, the Turkish flag or its national anthem. First and foremost, I am a human.

It is important for us to remember that we are not only living in a multicultural community at Andover, but also in one that shares countless historical intersections. This is an invaluable benefit to living in a diverse community as long as we stay mindful of each other’s pasts and work towards drawing constructive lessons from them. Remembering the past plays a major role in constructing our current and future society, and so we must maintain our sensitivity towards other perspectives and listen to every side of each story instead of turning a blind eye. Although we may find ourselves in disagreement with one another from time to time, we are not in true discord. Elsewhere, such discord would stem from a lack of mutual understanding and empathy. Therefore, while discussing cultural issues, we must pay great attention to all sides of history because only in unity can these perspectives provide us with unerring objectivity.

My education at Andover, which I consider to be an inseparable combination of academics and community, led me to a realization that allowed me to establish both critical thinking and a stronger sense of identity. So on April 23, a day of national sovereignty and the celebration of children in Turkey, I was overjoyed to hear the news that our Prime Minister had become the first Turkish politician to offer condolences to the victims of the Armenian Genocide. The following day saw the gathering of hundreds of thousands of individuals, Turkish and Armenian alike, to mourn the deaths of these innocents. After such a long time, I felt that we were finally doing something right.

It was a great feeling to rejoice this step of progress with my Armenian friends and to share our hopes of a better future for both of our countries and peoples. Our shared history might hold deep and haunting wounds, but it is our obligation as a new generation to heal them with an open heart and an honest mind, which happens only through self-acceptance and collaboration. Our remedy is each other.

Cem Vardar is a new Upper from Instanbul, Turkey.