The campus-wide summer reading for the 2017-2018 academic year is There Was and There Was Not: A Journey Through Hate and Possibility in Turkey, Armenia, and Beyond by Meline Toumani.
In both Turkish and Armenian, a story begins with the phrase "there was and there was not," not unlike the familiar English phrase "once upon a time." Meline Toumani takes this phrase as the title of a book that explores the questions surrounding what happened in Armenia in 1915, that searches for the truth behind the drive for recognition and denial. How can we know what really happened?
Toumani herself is an Armenian-American who, although born in Iran, was raised in New Jersey. Her memoir is about Toumani's experiences growing up in the Armenian diaspora. At some point, Toumani grew to question what she perceived as a singular agenda in her Armenian-American community--hatred for the Turks--and eventually moved to Turkey to confront that hatred. During her two years in Turkey, Toumani began to write a book that humanizes Turks but also encourages them to acknowledge the genocide. At the same time, she raises questions for Armenians about the ultimate value of genocide recognition in relation to other political and economic priorities.
Toumani's book reveals many surprising contradictions in the lives of the remaining Armenians and Turkish neighbors in the Caucasis region. In part, Toumani goes to Turkey to meet Turks, Armenians, Greeks, Jews, and Kurds face to face; in part, she goes there to wonder what would happen if we could look beyond those labels and national identities.
As you read Toumani's memoir, think about the communities that you belong to, and also the communities that you don't belong to. How does the author challenge all of us to see humanity in those with whom we are at odds? How might we claim and value our identities in community and yet move thoughtfully to new understandings as individuals? These are questions that you will face, both as you begin your college journey and throughout your life in a diverse global community.
Order your copy of There Was and There Was Not from the Luther Book Shop.