The Armenian Genocide- Where is Justice?

By Ellen J. Kennedy, Ph.D., Founder and Executive Director of World Without Genocide

‘Race murder,’ Henry Morgenthau, US Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, called it – the extermination of all Christian Armenians by the Ottoman government during World War I. And ‘race murder’ it was, with 1,500,000 men, women, and children dead of torture, starvation, and killing. Although this catastrophe was widely documented by eyewitnesses while it was happening, there was no global intervention to stop the slaughter.

The Armenian catastrophe became almost a footnote to history. In fact, when Hitler was asked how he thought he would be able to exterminate all of Europe’s Jews, he infamously replied, “Who today remembers the Armenians?”

This year is the one-hundredth anniversary of the Armenian genocide, and we remember the Armenians.

Ending Impunity

What happened after the Armenian genocide? Following massive human rights abuses like genocide, people need to restore their belief in justice. This also restores their dignity and brings the truth to light.

When the war ended in 1918, Britain, France, and Russia wanted the leaders in Germany, Austria, and Turkey to be held responsible for violating the laws of war and the ‘laws of humanity.’ They began planning for an international war crimes tribunal, the first one ever, to try the German Kaiser and Talat, Enver, and Jamal Pasha, known as the Young Turks, along with other leading Turkish perpetrators.

The new Turk leaders hoped that, by blaming a few members of the Committee on Union and Progress, the Young Turks, they would shift blame away from the Turkish nation as a whole.

However, the three Young Turk leaders were convicted in absentia. They had fled the country; two were ultimately assassinated and one was killed in battle.

The British Foreign Office demanded that 141 Turks be tried for crimes against British soldiers, and another 17 tried for the crimes against Armenians during World War I.

Government and military leaders were arrested. Military courts-martial and at least six domestic trials were held in provincial cities where massacres had occurred. Ministers from the Young Turks’ government, party leaders, attorneys, governors, military officers, and other officials were arrested.

However, despite public hatred for the previous regime, the response to these courts was lukewarm. On April 4, 1919, Lewis Heck, the US High Commissioner in Istanbul, reported, “It is popularly believed that many of [the trials] are made from motives of personal vengeance or at the instigation of the Allied authorities, especially the British.”

Under Ataturk’s leadership, a nationalist had movement emerged and many people were afraid that the trials were part of an Allied plan to divide the Ottoman Empire. On August 11, 1920, Ataturk’s government ordered a stop to all the court proceedings.

Failing to Find Justice

In the end, there was no international tribunal. Some scholars suggest that there wasn’t enough forensic evidence. Others assert there were no international laws to use at the tribunal. However, there also was little interest in a tribunal. The Allies saw a large Turkish population waiting to modernize, a huge potential partner just waiting for trade and economic development. The Allies didn’t want to risk their long-term economic relationship with Turkey.

The British also wanted their prisoners of war back. In 1921, they released 145 Turkish perpetrators who had been held on Malta and exchanged them for 29 British soldiers. This ended any possibility of an international tribunal.

Denying Genocide

Despite extensive personal testimonies, photographs, and court documents, the Turkish government consistently denies that genocide occurred. However, 23 countries, 43 US states and many cities, and leading scholars around the world recognize that what happened was, indeed, genocide and have labeled it as such.

The leading perpetrators were never prosecuted for their crimes. The survivors never received restitution for their losses. The victims’ descendants never found justice for the terror inflicted on their ancestors. But we can remember those who perished and those who stood up against the violence.

In Minnesota, Texas, California, and New Hampshire, every April is designated as Genocide Awareness and Prevention Month. Six genocides are officially memorialized during April – Darfur, Bosnia, Rwanda, Cambodia, the Holocaust, and the Armenian genocide. This year, we will all remember. Attend an event, watch a film, or stage a reading of our play “Upstanders: Taking a Stand against the Armenian Genocide.”

Moving Towards Justice

Holocaust survivor, Raphael Lemkin, read about the tragedy of the Armenians. Lemkin had lost 49 members of his extended family during the Holocaust. He felt that there had to be a word to describe the killing of a people, for which there was no word. There were many words to describe the killing of people, such as homicide, suicide, and fratricide, but there was no word to describe the horrors perpetrated on the Armenians and, twenty-five years later, on the Jews.

Lemkin coined the word genocide, with geno from the Greek meaning tribe or group, and cide from the Latin meaning ‘to kill.’ Once he had the word, he felt that there had to be a law to prevent and to punish this crime. He wrote the United Nations Convention on the Punishment and Prevention of the Crime of Genocide, which was ratified by the United Nations in 1948.

What can we conclude? Some scholars say that the documents (encoded telegraphs and letters) attached to the verdicts of those regional trials prove that the Armenian deportations were aimed at total annihilation of the Armenian population. These trials and verdicts are important arguments against the denial of the Armenian Genocide.

But, just like with the trials of the Nazis at Nuremberg in 1946 and subsequent trials throughout Europe after World War II, most of the Ottoman officials who perpetrated the mass killings and property theft later held important positions in the military and political elite of Turkey.

Transitional Justice

The implementation of transitional justice following genocide or other atrocity crimes is critical. We need laws to prosecute the perpetrators. We need truth and reconciliation commissions to bring the guilty together with victims, witnesses, and survivors.

We need reparations for land, artifacts, money, and other assets that have been stolen. We need vetting of public officials to be sure that those who committed atrocities don’t stay in positions of power.

The path to justice in the world perhaps started with the Armenian genocide. Raphael Lemkin’s word and the UN Convention made the intent to exterminate a people, based on race, religion, ethnicity, or national origin, a crime. The first international criminal tribunal came close to reality with the attempt to prosecute the Young Turks. Although this tribunal never came to fruition, the three Allied nations of France, the UK, and Russia (later the Soviet Union) became three of the four major participants in the Nuremberg trials of 1946, the first international criminal tribunal to prosecute individuals for atrocity crimes. The Nazi trials at Nuremberg might not have happened without Britain, Russia, and France talking about an international tribunal for the Armenian atrocities.  We remember the Armenians and these small steps towards global justice.

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Ellen J. Kennedy, Ph.D., is the founder and Executive Director of World Without Genocide at William Mitchell College of Law, St. Paul. The organization provides education about past and current conflicts and advocacy at the local, state, and national levels to protect innocent people, prevent genocide, prosecute perpetrators, and remember those affected by genocide.

Kennedy has received many awards for her work, including Outstanding Citizen from the Anne Frank Center, Higher Education Leader of the Year from the National Society for Experiential Education, Outstanding Service Award from the Midwest Sociological Society, two awards from the University of Minnesota, and the Minnesota Women’s Press Change-maker award.

World Without Genocide received a Certificate of Merit from the State of Minnesota, Office of the Governor, for efforts to seek justice and to eliminate genocide around the globe; and the 2014 Minnesota Ethical Leadership Award.

Kennedy is an adjunct professor of law at William Mitchell College of Law and is the Minnesota representative to AMICC, a national organization that advocates for the International Criminal Court. She also serves on the Human Rights and Relations Commission for the City of Edina, Minnesota, and on the Board of Directors of the Minneapolis University Rotary Club.

Kennedy received her BA degree from the University of Michigan and doctorate degrees from the University of Minnesota.

Lost in Translation- Part I

By Christopher Yemenidjian (Guest Contributor)

Among the first Armenians who immigrated to the United States and the succeeding generations of Armenian-Americans, there have been phrases, terminologies, mannerisms, and behaviors that hold distinctly different meanings from those of non-Armenians. My non-Armenian friends have slowly learned the difference between Pacific Standard Time and Armenian time. They have seen our tables filled with food and wondered if more would be joining us. We aren’t the most straight-forward group of people, and we require a bit of conditioning to be properly understood. This series is intended to provide the necessary insight into how Armenians think, act, and operate, a means of bridging the gap between ourselves and our non-Armenian counterparts.

Disclaimer: The notes below are based on real-life experiences. They are not intended to insult, disparage, or disrespect Armenians or non-Armenians in any way, shape, or form. They may not reflect the views of every Armenian, and are not intended to do so. This piece is purely written for entertainment purposes. 

  1. “I will be there in 15 minutes”

Ordinary Meaning: I am about 10 – 20 minutes away.

Armenians: I am just now about to get in my car and should be there within an hour or two.

  1. “My dream is a small intimate wedding”

Ordinary Meaning: Similar to an elopement with less than 100 people (being generous).

Armenians: At least 300 people, and you just broke your mother’s heart because now she can’t invite this couple whom you have never met. However, the couple invited your parents to their daughter’s wedding 8 years ago, and are therefore obligated to send them a wedding invitation. Not to do so is considered an insult of epic proportions.

  1. How to greet distant relatives

Ordinary way: With a handshake and a verbal greeting.

Armenians: Calculate the age and degree of consanguinity or affinity. Then select from the following list: handshake, a nod of the head, hug, or kiss on the cheek. If it is a kiss on the cheek, you must determine who will be the first to lean in. A slight miscalculation and you are left in an awkward position, and run the risk of offending your relative.

  1. A weekend barbecue

Ordinary Meaning: Hamburgers and hot dogs, and maybe a salad, properly apportioned to the number of guests.

Armenians: Beef Kebab, Chicken Kebab, Hummus, Lebne, Tabouleh, Fattoush, Rice, Basterma, Baba Ghanoush, Grilled Veggies, and a few other dishes that vary from house to house. Apportioned to feed about 3 villages in a 3rd world country for multiple days.

  1. The Mother from “Everybody Loves Raymond”

Ordinary Meaning: An overbearing, pain in your butt woman who does not exist.

Armenians: A mellow, toned down version of our mother or mother-in-law.

Christopher Yemenidjian graduated with a degree in Rhetoric from U.C. Berkeley and is currently a law student in Portland, Oregon.  He spends his free time playing video games, watching movies, and driving his family crazy.  He’s had vegan powers for the past four years and counting. 

If I Could Visit Armenia Someday

By Tamar Hovsepian (Guest Contributor)

If I could go to Armenia one day, where would I go?  The answer does not come easy for someone like me who never visited Armenia and would like to go and visit very badly.  There are so many beautiful historical sites, sacred churches and monuments in our homeland, Armenia, that I’ve heard about and would love to see. However, the one place that stands out for me is the Armenian Genocide Memorial, Tsitsernakaberd.

This Armenian Genocide Memorial is found in Yerevan and construction started in 1965 after Armenians demonstrated in Armenia on the 50th anniversary of the genocide. The construction of the monument was completed in 1968. Every year on April 24, thousands of Armenians from Armenia and around the world commemorate the anniversary of the genocide by laying flowers around the eternal flame. I have never been to Armenia, but when I do go, the first place I want to visit will be the Armenian Genocide Memorial because it will be the place where I will lay flowers and say our Lord’s Prayer Hayr Mer for the souls of my ancestors who perished away at the hands of Turks.

This genocide monument in Yerevan is dedicated to the memory of all my ancestors who perished in the first genocide of the twentieth century. This is a very painful part of our history and a human disaster, a very personal one for me because my great-grandparents and family members from both my mother’s and father’s side were victims of this terrible crime. They lost their lives, their farmlands and their homeland. Listening to very personal stories about the genocide from my mom who heard it firsthand from her surviving great-aunt definitely makes me want to go Tsitsernakaberd to remember, pay my respect, and honor the victims by lighting a candle and laying flowers on the ground as millions of people did and will continue to do.

Tamar Hovsepian is an 8th grade student in Philadelphia.  She attends Haigazian Armenian School on the weekends and is a member of Meghry Dance Group, where she performs and exercises her passion for Armenian dance.  Tamar loves theatre, playing the piano, and painting.  

A Douchebag from Glendale

By Missak Artinian

I have come to learn that being Armenian in a small suburb of Virginia (where I was born and raised) and being Armenian in Glendale, California (where I recently moved) is a vastly different experience. Here’s what I mean. Back home, when someone asked me about my ancestry and I said Armenian, I was automatically associated with mystery and intrigue. Here in Glendale, when someone asks me about my ancestry and I say Armenian, I am automatically associated with car insurance fraud.

Being Armenian in a small town had some advantages because it gave me the opportunity to set a precedent. How a stranger would perceive Armenians as a whole rested on the content of my character, for better or for worse. As the only Armenian within at least a 30-mile radius, I had a responsibility to make good first impressions with strangers because, unfortunately, in a world where people so easily make broad generalizations of any given race, ethnicity, or religion based on the actions of a few individuals, it’s especially important for those of us who belong in an ethnic minority to project a positive image.

For some residents of Glendale, however, the damage may already be done.

Take Diana, for example, an attractive Israeli girl who sells lotion at one of those kiosks in Glendale Galleria. A few weeks ago, she approached me as I was walking back to work, and asked if I had a girlfriend. Misinterpreting her icebreaker sales tactic for romantic interest (she must see something she likes, I reasoned), I was drawn into her net as an unwary sailor is lured unto rocks by a siren’s song.

She proceeded to sensually caress my wrist and compliment my complexion, which, according to her, would look even more radiant if only I were to purchase a four hundred dollar beauty package. Upon hearing this price, the expression on my face probably suggested, How reasonable! But in my mind, I was really thinking, where can I get me some of your crack?

Before I could come up with an excuse to escape her web, she gripped my shoulders, leaned forward, peered deeply into my eyes, and whispered, “But for you, I will sell for three hundred.” Moments like these don’t happen often, but when they do, I can’t help but think, Missak, you still got it.

Flattered as I was by Diana’s generous discount, I had to pass, as I was unable to convince myself that magic exfoliating potions and serums were a better value proposition than, say, a ton of cheese from Trader Joe’s. So predictably, the chemistry between us fizzled, but to repay her for boosting my self-esteem, I offered to buy the cheapest product she had (a bar of mud soap, twenty dollars). When I handed her my credit card, she noticed my last name, and said, “Oh.”

“What?” I said.

“You are Armenian.”

“That’s very perceptive.”

“Your people, you need to open your mind,” she exclaimed, as she tapped my forehead with her index finger. “Open.”

“Open my mind, or open my wallet?” I snapped back, grinning.

She laughed, and we made a connection then and there that was pure and genuine, though admittedly, I tend to embellish my memories as delusional people do, so maybe not.

What struck me the most about the transaction was the look on her face when she saw the –ian at the end of my last name. In her defense, I am ethnically ambiguous, which can be advantageous during job interviews and an inconvenience during TSA screenings. Nonetheless, it was that look on Diana’s face that left a lasting impression, a look that suggested; if only you were wearing a gold chain, I wouldn’t have wasted my time. Not that I blame the poor girl. Her job is to sell snake oil in a mall heavily patronized by Armenians – a group of people, mind you, who have mastered the art of selling snake oil!

A few weeks later, I met a young professional by the name of Thomas at Broadway Bar in Downtown, Los Angeles. We spoke for a few minutes, and during our conversation, I mentioned that I had recently moved to Glendale from the D.C. metro area.

“Why Glendale?” he asked.

“Close to my new job, mainly.”

“Careful, man. Lots of douchebags there.”

“Really? What do you mean?” I asked, though I had an idea of where this conversation was heading. Keep in mind that I introduced myself as Mike (my nickname), so as far as he was concerned, he was talking to some white guy.

“Armenians. Armenians everywhere.”

“That’s what I heard.”

“They drive Benzes and Bimmers like they got money, right? But actually, what they do is they pretend their kids are retarded so they get extra money out the government.”

“No way. That’s terrible.”

“Yeah, man. They’re just milking the system.”

By the end of Thomas’ tirade, I was sad. I was sad because I knew there was truth in what he was saying, that in this world, there are bad Armenians who do bad things. But more than sadness, I felt disappointment. Mainly in Thomas, whose apparent intelligence could not save him from falling prey to the trappings of prejudice. Before saying farewell, I offered him another round on me, and though he may never realize it, he unwittingly clinked glasses with a douchebag from Glendale.

On the drive back home (after sobering up, to be clear), I wondered why I didn’t school Thomas? Surely any self-respecting Armenian would’ve opted for a more confrontational approach, perhaps with a few obscenities mixed in for good measure. But that I said nothing and did nothing was concerning to me. Why did I conceal my identity? Why did I fail to defend my people? And most perplexingly, why did I buy him a drink?

“Because you’re a self-hating Armenian,” my shoulder devil whispered into my ear.

“That’s not true,” my shoulder angel jumped in, defending me. “Missak may hate himself, but not because he’s Armenian.

My shoulder angel had a point. I genuinely do believe that being Armenian has its positives. Let me count the ways:

1.

1

2.

2

3.

3

But growing up Armenian in a town where I felt like the only Missak in the world sucked. Because there’s no way you can ever be cool in school when your name alludes to male genitalia. That just doesn’t happen, not in a world teeming with Brians, Davids, and Matts. I sometimes wonder where some of my classmates are today, the creative geniuses who came up with increasingly clever ways to make fun of me by calling me names like Meat-sack and No-sack. I can imagine them working at some shady ad agency, coining product names like:

4

and

5

Like many first-generation Americans, I struggled with the same issues that are common in immigrant stories. Toula’s struggle to fit in with her American classmates in My Big Fat Greek Wedding comes to mind; or Woody Allen’s existential crisis when he attempts to give Catholicism a try in Hannah and her Sisters, shaming his proud Jewish parents. Even stories about Chinese moms and their assimilated daughters (see everything ever written by Amy Tan) were oddly relatable, even though I have no ovaries and I’m about as Asian as Frank Underwood is kind.

Like many of these characters, I spent most of my formative years being pulled in two directions, with my Armenian identity on one side and my American identity on the other. No matter how hard I tried to find the right balance between appeasing the expectations of my traditional Armenian family and assimilating to the culture of the country in which I was born, I always felt like I was stuck between two worlds.

And now that I live in Glendale, do I feel less like an outsider? Nope. And you know what? That’s okay. To be an outsider is to experience the world as a critic and an admirer. Glendale has its issues (I’m looking at you, you aggressive drivers), but it also has a lot of beauty. And whether people like Thomas agree with me or not, a lot of that beauty is due to the city’s decidedly Armenian identity.

The tri-colored Armenian flag is as ubiquitous here as rain is in Seattle. The Armenian alphabet is displayed practically on every deli, grocery store, and small business. The music is audible on the street, inside my car, from my balcony. The language is spoken in the unlikeliest of places, like the Wholefoods where a group of older Armenian women congregate outside during lunchtime and speak of politics in boisterous shrills. Hell, the view outside my office window features a large building with letters that read USArmenia, which serves as a daily reminder that I’m far from the small town whose identity was as uncertain as mine.

It is this celebration of identity, I think, that unites the Armenians of Glendale, and indeed, Armenians all around the world. They are a people who will show their friends the tiny country of Armenia on a map, will educate random strangers that Armenia was the first nation to adopt Christianity as a state religion, will speak out in class when their history books gloss over or skip the Armenian Genocide, and will protest Turkey’s ongoing denial of the systematic attempt to eradicate the Armenian culture, religion, and people from the face of the Earth.

Armenians are a people whose voices cannot be silenced, because for a small ethnic group that so narrowly escaped complete annihilation, to be silent is to dishonor the survivors, their enduring spirits, without whom, these very words would cease to exist.

Mayrig

By Dr. Kay Mouradian (Guest Contributor)

My mayrig and I had an endearing relationship. She never interfered with my life, never held me back from exploring or living in many parts of this glorious planet and I always returned home. My mayrig lived by a philosophy that you hold by letting go. Pretty remarkable for this small 5-foot woman who survived the Armenian Genocide, whose life had been colored by the horrors of the past and who dwelled on the loss of her family who had perished at the hands of the Turks.

In 1988 I went to Aleppo, Syria, to search for the family who had given my mayrig refuge. Incredibly, I found the one remaining descendant. Born after my mother had left Aleppo, the handsome woman knew all about the 14-year-old Armenian girl, Flora, who had cared for her two sisters. Delighted to meet me, she gave me a gift I still cherish today–photos of her sisters, her mother and of her father, a kind man who treated my mother as one of his own.

The day after our extraordinary meeting I received a call from home. Mayrig was back in the hospital. I immediately left for Los Angeles. With her heart laboring in cardiac care, her doctor did not expect her to survive the night. Three of us sat at her bedside, waiting. Mayrig had been unresponsive. Then she started to speak.

“Do you know why I’m still here?” she asked, sounding as if she knew a great truth. She looked at my cousin and said, “Because you don’t have any children.” She turned toward me and again said, “Because you don’t have any children.” Then to my nephew sitting nearby she said, “And you don’t have any children. If I died no one would know.”

“They showed me a lot of pictures,” she continued.

I wondered who “they” were. I knew people with near-death experiences claimed to view their lives at the moment of death. Was my mother sharing the same kind of vision with whoever “they” were?

She looked at my cousin. “Your mother was there.” His mother had died thirty years earlier. She mentioned seeing an Armenian family who was a karmic mirror of her family and told us prophetic things that would happen to members of our own family. Two of them have already come to pass.

“They showed the afghans,” she said. She had made afghans for everyone over the years; relatives, neighbors, my friends, her friends, and my sister’s friends. Interestingly, after this vision she made them specifically for disabled veterans.

She turned her gaze to me. “You’re going to write a book about my life.”

“No, Mom, not me,” I said. “Maybe your other daughter will. She’s the real Armenian in the family.”

“No! You are!” Then she ended her little speech with, “They said it was my choice.”

Now, that sentence gripped my attention. I’ve spent my adult life trying to make right choices, and it is not ever an easy thing and now my mother had made the choice to stay on in defiance of her body’s fragile and deathly state.

Against the odds she rallied, a few days later she was released from the hospital. In the middle of her first night home I heard her stir. I rushed into her bedroom and turned on the light. There she sat in bed, her face absolutely radiant. She gave me a huge smile. “Do you know what life is all about?” she asked, not waiting for a reply. “It’s all about love and understanding, but everyone’s brain is not the same, so you help when you can. That’s what life’s all about.” She smiled, laid herself down and went back to sleep. I will never forget that night.

The next day she again couldn’t move without help. I had dismissed much of her vision on that hospital bed as delusion. I certainly had no plans to write a book about her or the Armenian tragedy. But I began to read about events that happened in the Ottoman Empire during World War I and became overwhelmed. I had not known the depth of the Armenian tragedy, and I began to understand my mother’s heartbreaking scars and those of Armenian survivors everywhere. Now I knew my mother’s story needed to be told. But at the time I had no idea that years later I would meet a filmmaker and he would turn her story into a documentary.


Dr. Kay Mouradian is an educator, filmmaker, and author of My Mother’s Voice, a book depicting her mother’s story as a victim and survivor of the Armenian Genocide.  She also wrote, narrated, and co-produced My Mother’s Voice, a documentary based on her book.  She holds a doctorate in education from Nova Southeastern University and holds degrees from Boston University and UCLA.

Unforgivable Sin

By Natalin Daldalian (Guest Contributor)

We sit, we question, we ponder why?
Why did all those people have to die?
Every year we listen lie after lie,
Forgive and forget they say, it’s been a century since your people died.
Sit back in your seat and close your eyes
Listen to their prayers, listen to their cries.
Talaat Pasha gave Armenians two options in his request-
Convert to Islam or perish like the rest.
Women carried their children, their hearts wrenching,
All through a walk that had no ending.

How would you feel if you buried your child with your bare hands?
Or watched them be thrown into mud and then covered with sand?
Watched your little girls be stripped and draped,
Watch them be tortured, abused and raped.
Walk down a road and see bodies on the way,
Hear a friend say “I can’t make it through another day.”
And when they were near death, have them left in the rain,
Nothing you could do but watch them slowly die in agony and pain.
Listen, there’s a bullet from the gun of a Turk,
She falls dead on the ground, and on his face an evil smirk.
Women and children all lit on fire
As Turks watched, with much desire.

Torture, abuse, rape, humiliate,
Take over our land, control and dictate.
Now open your eyes, do you see what they’ve done?
Their goal was to annihilate us, bury us, forever gone.
But we did not fall, their plan ceased to work,
And now there is constant denial in the eyes of a Turk.
They destroyed our books, and burned down our churches,
But our soul still searches
Searches for the Holy lands we no longer possess,
The land we call Armenia, the land that God blessed.

Beloved 1.5 million Armenians do rest in peace,
Their ‘Sacred Goals’ were not reached.
A century has passed but the truth will soon prevail
The world knows the Genocide is not a made up tall tale.
It’s only a matter of time, we’re almost there,
Their threats and lies no longer scare.
Our time is now, and we shall soon win,
What they did was an unforgettable, unforgivable sin.

Natalin Daldalian was born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela. She currently resides in Southern California while studying criminology.

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.

 

An Open Letter to the Armenian Diaspora

By Madinah Wardak Noorai  (Guest Contributor)

I am writing this to you as a twenty-something year old citizen of Los Angeles. As someone who gets confused for Armenian more than my own race, which I don’t mind, because I find your women to be among the most beautiful of the East. I am writing this to you as a neighbor of 10 Armenian families between the years 2000-2010. I am writing this to you as the best friend and second daughter to an Armenian family, the Arakelyans, as the schoolmate to countless Armenians in Van Nuys High School, and as a fellow victim of large-scale denial.

I remember meeting you in middle school. Wondering where Armenia was, then finding it on a map, and thinking, “so close to Afghanistan”. I remember first hearing the word, “genocide”, and the grief on your faces when you remembered. How shocked I was that this was not in our school books – not one page? I remember hearing that it was the Muslims who did it, and how guilty I felt, knowing the same melodic call to prayer that brings me peace, must bring you pained memories of your ancestral past. I remember (once) being called Turkish, not thinking anything of it, then being told this was an insult.

For 10 years, I lived alongside you in Van Nuys. My mother and her Armenian girlfriends smoked Parliaments in the halls of our building, spoke loudly in Russian, their language of communication, to each other over music, nostalgically remembering the Soviet days. I’ve attended your birthdays, your christenings, your weddings. I’ve eaten your food, drank your coffee, smoked hookah alongside you. My mother and I have marveled at how similar we are, even more similar than our Persian cousins – how easy it is to dance to your music, how I can pick up words in your language that are the same as mine, how I can eat your food and realize we have the same dishes.

And I have witnessed, every year, the deep seeded pain you all express, the anxiety you feel, the absolute grief and anger that rises from your souls and into your throats – the pain of denial. How frustrating it must be, that every year, you must make your case again, and again, to try and get recognition, some kind of acknowledgement, a sign of compassion, of the injustice you went through so many years ago. I see the tears and hear the facts, (that for some crazy reason must be presented as arguments – almost theories), I’ve witnessed the silent protests and Googled the pictures, in Izmit, in Bursa, in Der-Zor. I have seen the skulls in the Syrian Desert, your brightest intellectuals hung in the Turkish squares, the march into the unforgiving sands that took your children from you.

And it is in your eyes that I suddenly find myself, each year. 1.5 million of yours perished in 1915, exiled from your land, stripped of your culture, your religion, made to hide amongst the various ethnicities of the Middle East, made to forget your language, to assimilate yourselves for protection. How your trauma showed once again when Kessab was under attack, how open your wounds truly are. How generations later, you mourn the loss of your people.

My people have died – and are dying, too. They estimate roughly 30,000 in the past decade of war – but this is their statistic. History is written by the winners – don’t we both know it? When I see the skulls in Der-Zor, I remember the piles of men in Abu Ghraib. When I see the babies left in the desert, I remember the little girls being raped in Kabul. When I hear of the Armenians converting to Islam for protection, I remember the Afghans accepting Christ for theirs.

I am not saying this to prove that I understand you. Our pains are different, but in the end, aren’t they one in the same? My genocide is still occurring – they are calling it a War on Terrorism, but why is my family calling us with stories of the Americans barging in, rounding up our men, shooting them in the streets? Is this not what the Ottomans did to your youngest and bravest men? Wasn’t it both our women and children left to feign for themselves?

When I am welcomed into your homes, sometimes I am given pomegranates. You call them “Noor”, we call them “Anor”. And I see your Evil Eye charms on the walls, much like the ones hanging on mine. These pomegranates are symbols of the blood still on the hands of the Turks. These pomegranates remind my mother of a fruitful Afghanistan. It seems our charms didn’t work.

I will never fully understand your pain. But you are not alone. The Native Americans are with you, the Rwandans, the millions of hijacked Africans brought to America, the Tibetans, the Bosnians, the Jews, the citizens of Darfur; we are shedding tears with you. I know the pain you feel, being citizens of this country, but not getting the governmental recognition of your Genocide. They are not recognizing the Afghans, because they are perpetuating ours.

Centuries ago, the jewel of the Mughal Court was an Armenian, our beloved Queen Mariam Zamani Begum – who we, the Afghans, built Christian churches for throughout antiquity. Even now, in Lahore, we still operate the church in her name. Our King Akbar loved her, and we love you, and we have always loved you, even as we share the same religion of your oppressors. It is Humanity, not color nor creed, that matters in the face of Denial.

I am sorry that your wounds are still open. I am sorry that this day marks the beginning of the arduous struggle for you, every year, to make your case. I am sorry that your grandmothers, and great-grandmothers, remember their childhood and mourn for it. I am sorry you are still fighting.

I will pray for you. I will pray for your hearts peace, I will pray for the 1.5 million of your ancestors gone with the sands. We do not need governments to recognize our pain. For was it not governments who organized it?

Inshallah, God-willing, with the tenacity your people exhibit, and the fervor of your generation, one day, the Armenians will receive the Recognition they so deserve. For as long as they are Denied, the common heartbeat of Humanity will forever skip a beat on April 24th.

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Madinah Noorai is a first generation Afghan-American living in Los Angeles. A UC Irvine graduate in Political Science, Madinah aims to bridge cultural gaps and create solidarity and unity through her writing. She is fluent in Farsi and Pashto, and hopes to pursue an MPH.

Hate

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.