I grew up in a country where each year was an anniversary, the round ones especially important, those marking decades more remote, less meaningful and in that sadder.
In Cyprus, which remains divided following the Turkish invasion of 1974, Greek Cypriots will every year commemorate the island’s forceful division and subsequent expulsion of thousands of refugees, whilst Turkish Cypriots honor the end of their oppression and gain of sovereignty.
The phrase instilled in me as a child (and all other children of my generation on both sides of the border) was “I will not forget”—and even though I fervently wish a solution to the Cyprus problem to finally permit me to forget what happened in the 1960s and 1970s, I do not think I will ever manage to get rid of the command—or was it a plead?—not to forget.
Faced with the tenth anniversary of 9/11 and the flood of commentaries, books, documentaries, and speeches from around the world, I am reminded of my ‘not forget’—but also the many others accumulated over a life learning to become aware of all the wrongs done onto groups and individuals in different parts of the world.
Commemoration is about paying respect to victims, survivors and helpers; and it is about condemning perpetrators. Equally important, and against the background of an improved understanding of what happened and why, it is about recalling that the wrong-doing is in the past. Alone the fact that we are here standing to mark an anniversary also means that we have survived and have managed to uphold our way of life and our values.
In the book ‘Fatelessness’ by Imre Kertész, György, a sixteen-year-old, returns from Auschwitz to find the same neighbors who had chased him out of his home greet him as a poor victim. He could be angry with them, but he is not. He is rather disappointed that his attainment—surviving Auschwitz—is not acknowledged.
It seems to me there is something in that about anniversaries too.