By Melissa Lake
When I was young (before the Kardashians had reached any degree of notoriety) and people used to ask me what ethnicity I was, the typical response, after I said “Armenian”, was a bewildered expression and then a nodding of the head- on rare occasions some would mumble a polite “that’s nice”. Anybody who didn’t know what an Armenian was didn’t care to learn and those that did know knew very little: a small country in Eastern Europe, poor, irrelevant. Nobody knew about my people and nobody cared to know. The last time any powerful world leader had made any allusion to Armenians with any significant relevance or result was when Adolf Hitler asked, with a degree of almost pretentious mockery, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”; his words spoken in an effort to assuage the fears of those around him that the massacre of innocents he intended upon enacting would face no backlash. It is when a mass-murderer uses the degree of apathy the world has applied toward the genocide of your people as justification and insurance for his own carnage that you start to truly wonder- who really remembers the Armenians?
The answer to that question is a simple one. Who better to remember the Armenians than the Armenians themselves? My mother had never stepped foot on Armenian soil, neither had her mother before her or her mother before that. Born and raised on the outskirts of eastern Istanbul, my mother grew up surrounded by the very culture that had seen to the decimation of her own. In a time where assimilation would have been both easier and understandable by all means, her family remained proudly Armenian. While the language of their mother country was lost overtime through generations, their beliefs, practices, and ancestral culture remained the same. Christians in an Islamic world, my mother’s family were the devout descendants of a country that was proud to call itself the first Christian nation. But their beliefs, as too often we see throughout history, came at a cost. Forced into abject poverty, scorned and made pariahs by the society they had found themselves trapped within, my mother and her family never once faltered in their faith or heritage. When my mother turned 20, she boarded a plane to leave her country for what would be an excess of 20 odd years. My mother had all the reason in the world to abandon her culture. She was in a new country, thousands of miles away from a pseudo-motherland she was never even physically capable of calling home. In America it was irrelevant, Turkish, Armenian- foreign is all the same race in the end. But like her forefathers, she retained her roots, planted in a soil she had never had the privilege of knowing.
I am the oldest of four daughters and I can promise you that not a single one of us is ignorant of the genocide of our ancestors. I spent my youth writing essays, doing projects, attending museums, lecturing friends- I was never not acutely aware of the ignorance the world possessed in regard to Armenians and I was also never not fiercely determined to eradicate it. When I researched the history of the genocide when I was young, a quote that affected me so strongly that I still recall it was, “Forgetting is killing twice.” I think that’s the responsibility of every Armenian, young and old: to remember where we came from; to be the voice for those who can no longer speak.