Freitag, 4. Januar 2013


SAT U R D AY, DE C EMB E R 22, 201
Muriel Mirak-Weissbac

Her name is Sabiha, the same name as the favorite adopted daughter of Kemal
Mustafa (Atatürk), who as a female pilot was a symbol for her nation. But this
Sabiha is German, and lives with her immigrant mother, whom she calls Anne –
“mother” in Turkish. This Sabiha, we learn from her best friend (actually soul
mate), also named Anne, is 150 per cent German, and only learns Turkish when
she attends university. She soon feels drawn to Turkish nationalist circles, and
even participates in nationalist demonstrations, honoring Talaat Pasha, for

But who is Sabiha really? Is she German? Is she Turkish? Or is she, perhaps,
something else? Could she be Armenian?

Dogan Akhanli
This is the question posed by a new play whose debut took place in Berlin at the
Theater unterm Dach (Theatre under the Loft) in October. Composed by the
well-known German-Turkish author and activist Doğan Akhanlı, the play,
entitled “Anne’s Silence,” is a monologue, brilliantly performed by Bea Ehlers-
Kerbekian, of Armenian descent, and directed with startlingly modern creative
insight by the German Jew Ron Rosenberg. The play dramatizes the search for personal identity in the context of a polemical confrontation with the official Turkish policy of genocide denial, a policy which lies at the core of nationalist identity. As the program notes comment, the production presents the
“speechlessness of the successor generations to the nationalist criminals“ in this search, and Sabiha, “by living and expressing her own conflict, can find herself and overcome the cycle of violence and memory suppression, identity loss and isolation.”

Sabiha herself condones nationalist ideology, and agrees to translate a speech for a well-known intellectual from Turkey who has come to Berlin to address a “day of action” organized by nationalist Turks on March 15, to commemorate the anniversary of the assassination of Talaat Pasha on the Hardenbergstrasse. She cannot bring herself to translate certain menacing phrases uttered by the speaker against Hrant Dink, the editor of AGOS who had researched the Armenian heritage of Atatürk’s daughter Sabiha, because she thinks the formulations would be offensive in Germany. However, in her own short speech which follows, she too denounces the genocide as a lie. She has decided to begin her
speech with a joke, which is to suggest that she too is Armenian, since her name
is Sabiha. To her surprise, instead of laughing, the people cry out, “God forbid!”

Sabiha’s mother has also come with her to the rally, and when they return home
she asks her mother why she is called Sabiha. It is then that she learns that,
indeed, she was named after that adopted daughter of Atatürk.
Sabiha’s mother dies one day very suddenly, collapsing on the floor in the
kitchen. When her panicked daughter loosens the woman’s blouse in an attempt
to ease her breathing, Sabiha discovers an Armenian cross tattooed between her
breasts and is profoundly shaken. Later, she discovers a silver cross and a bible
in her dead mother’s hope chest, and also finds a copy of AGOS. Her mother
had gotten it from the Turkish speaker at the demo, who had held it up in
agitation while denouncing Dink. After Sabiha reads the paper, she calls the
AGOS office and tells the editor she thinks she, too, might be Armenian. His
answer, she tells us, was: “In this country, no person can be sure of his or her

Bea Ehlers-Kerbekian in "Annes Silence"
When an assassin’s bullet kills Hrant Dink, Sabiha follows events on Turkish
television, participating from afar in the funeral proceedings as thousands of
Turks carry hand signs saying “We are all Hrant. We are all Armenians!” and
witnesses his widow’s moving address. Sabiha’s final vision is that of her
mother along with thousands of saddened women like her, ascending and being
turned into cranes in flight. “Now is the time,” she says, “to break Anne’s

In this tightly composed monologue, actress Bea Ehlers-Kerbekian plays all the
roles, thus giving artistic expression to the different but related identities. First
she appears on stage as Sabiha’s friend Anne, who says they were both born on
the same day, and are therefore like “twin sisters”— Anne seems to embody the
German identity. Then the actress plays Sabiha preparing to go to the demo with
her mother. The same woman appears as the fiery speaker at the rally, and then
jumps into the role of Sabiha who tells the rest of the story. In the exchanges
between mother and daughter, again actress Ehlers-Kerbekian assumes both
parts, shifting deftly from the reticent older woman to the vivacious,
multifaceted personality of Sabiha. By presenting first her friend, then Sabiha,
then her mother, then the other characters, and having them all portrayed by one
actress, the dramatist succeeds in showing us the multiple aspects of his
heroine’s identity and the clash between them. To compose such a piece is a
literary challenge, which the dramatist has met by selecting single short episodes
and juxtaposing them thematically; for example, he also weaves into his
narrative references to identity traumas in the German historical experience.
Then to perform such a monologue, maintaining the individuality of each
character while at the same time respecting the thematic and artistic continuity,
requires extraordinary concentration and acting skills. It comes as no surprise to
the audience to learn that Ehlers-Kerbekian has won several prizes for acting in

Author Akhanlı had explored the theme of the Armenian genocide in an earlier
novel and has been active in Germany in projects aimed at helping Germans,
Turks, and Armenians to work through their common history in an effort to
acknowledge the reality and reach reconciliation. His new theatre piece, whose
brevity and poetical structure enhance its impact, constitutes a further
contribution to this social process of dealing with the tormented past; for, after
each performance of the short play (just over an hour in duration), viewers have
the opportunity to hear presentations by historians, social scientists, persons
involved in conflict resolution and so forth, and to discuss the broader issues
with them as well as with the author, director and actress. Such cultural events
play a vital role in the discussion process unfolding not only in Germany around
the Armenian genocide, but also in Turkey itself, where the citizens’ search for
their true identity has given birth to a vast array of literary works and generated
a broad social debate around the events of 1915. This new dramatic work by
Dogan Akhanli will be featured in January during events in Germany honoring
the memory of Hrant Dink, and there are plans for performances in Istanbul and
Yerevan. It is to be hoped that an English version will soon be available for an
American public.