Remember Not To Forget

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.



By Melissa Lake

If my mother taught me anything growing up, it was that hatred is more often the poison than the antidote, and I’ve come to realize throughout the course of my life that she was right.

I think a lot of people harbor hate inside of them- they think that it will add buoyancy to their pain- but most often it serves more as a metaphorical anchor; it weighs their anguish down inside them, preventing it from dissipating and disappearing. When I was 13, I remember sitting at my kitchen table having my fortune read from the bitter dregs and coffee bean grinds of a thick and hot liquid I had to hold my breath to get down my throat. I hated when my aunt came over because that always meant drinking what may as well have been liquid dirt to me. As my aunt peered into the future through the bottom of my lip gloss-stained cup, I fumbled with the tablecloth wondering what tragedy would befall me now (for it seemed that my aunt was incapable of finding anything but tragedy in my future). As I heard her sharp intake of breath, I imagined what it could be- last week it was drowning, the week before it was poverty, the week before that the loss of something important.

“I see a wedding,” she said. I sighed in relief. What could be bad about a wedding? “But it is dark and filled with unhappiness”- immediate disappointment on my behalf. “Your family is all sad- I can see them crying. Something is wrong.” Great, I thought. My future looking dimmer with every word. She peered deeper and then gasped, the cup falling from her hands, black clumps of coffee grinds splattering across the table like speckles of mud. She looked up at me, completely serious, her eyes full of steel, her hands clenched together, when she said, “We will never forgive you if you marry a Turk.” I looked at her and said nothing. And my mother, who for her whole life had never been a silent woman, said nothing either. I swallowed, a task that was harder than usual due to the rising lump in my throat, and nodded my understanding. I was well informed about the Turks. For as long as I could remember my aunt had ranted and raved about them. My mother had been born and raised in Turkey but “always as an Armenian”, my aunt made sure to emphasize. I knew what the Turks had done to my people. I was not ignorant of the tragedy that had occurred, of the suffering my people had endured at their hands. But never had I heard my mother say anything against them. Never did she flash dirty looks at the Turks she met on the street. Never did she encourage me to hate. Never did she condemn an entire people.

When my aunt had finally left- after an hour long rant on the evils of Turkey and a solemn reminder for me to not trust the Turks- my mother sighed. While loading the dishes that lay on the table into the dishwasher, she turned to me and said in her broken English, “There is no purpose in hating anybody, even the Turks. Marry who you want, love who you want. The Turks did not kill our people, Turkish men with evil and hate in their hearts did.” And she was right. A woman that had lost grandparents to the evil of men knew better than most, that the acts of a few did not dictate the nature of all. She understood that it was hate that was the root of our tragedy and that more hate would not solve it. She grew up in Turkey. Her friends at school, her teachers, her neighbors- all would have been Turks and she found no cause for enmity towards them.

My mom was all too aware of the burden that hate adds to the soul, she knew what price came from bitterness. Of course she wanted vengeance, and of course there was some spite within her: spite for those who killed so many, spite for those who still denied the truth- but that hate was heavy enough.

Melissa Lake

Melissa Lake was born and raised outside of Boston, Massachusetts.  She is a student at Seton Hall University, studying to be a Physician’s Assistant. Her passions include reading, spontaneous excursions into New York City, and cats.