Why This Week Matters


The purple forget-me-not flower is the official emblem of the worldwide 100th Commemoration of the Armenian Genocide. See http://armeniangenocide100.org.

The week ahead is 100 years in the making.

The 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide of 1915 will be commemorated this week around the world, at a variety of marches, events, services, performances and monuments, on April 24th. Those who call ourselves Armenian, or who are friends with Armenians, are all too familiar with this milestone tragedy in world history.

But many are not familiar with this, the first genocide of the 20th century — Ottoman Turkey’s systematic killings of 1.5 million Armenians – as well as Assyrians and others – in their effort to create a pan-Turkish state.

Hitler studied this atrocity when planning the Holocaust; lawyer and scholar Raphael Lemkin coined the word “genocide” in the early 1940s in response to what happened to the Armenians in 1915; documentation is clear and deep in worldwide archives — 145 articles in The New York Times alone that year, Turkish military records and memos authorizing murder, first-hand foreign diplomat accounts by letter, photos too gruesome to show here, missionary diaries, and family oral histories. Turkey wanted these enterprising Armenian Christians wiped off the face of the earth. Kill the leaders and drive the rest into the desert to die.

Henry Morgenthau Sr.
U.S. Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, 1919:

“When the Turkish authorities gave the orders for these deportations, they were merely giving the death warrant to a whole race; they understood this well, and, in their conversations with me, they made no particular attempt to conceal the fact. . . . I am confident that the whole history of the human race contains no such horrible episode as this. The great massacres and persecutions of the past seem almost insignificant when compared to the sufferings of the Armenian race in 1915.”

Yet, like the Ottoman Empire before it, present-day Turkey has refused to acknowledge this series of events as genocide, claiming that Armenians, too, fought in various civil battles against the Turks and are just as guilty of mass killings, which could not be farther from the truth.

The Armenians that escaped and survived the systematic killings ended up scattering around the globe — a traumatized diaspora that nevertheless keeps going and rebuilding in whatever corner of the earth it finds itself.

That George and Amal Clooney, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, and Pope Francis acknowledged the Armenian Genocide in recent weeks and got Armenia mentioned, twittered, googled and explored all over social media is great news. People are finally learning about a country that no one knows about, with a history that schools don’t teach, and with collective ethnic wounds that have still not healed. Wounds that bled again and again, when similar cries of despair rang out from Cambodia or Rwanda or Darfur in the decades that followed.

But now, Armenia is experiencing a worldwide awakening in people’s awareness and advocacy. Perhaps finally it will lead to the level of momentum that can actually create change – proper acknowledgement and restitution for the past, and a springboard for Armenians into a productive global future. And most importantly, a commitment worldwide never to repeat such a genocide again among any people group.

Yet there, pouting in the corner, is Turkey, red-faced and furious that its efforts to deter and diffuse Armenian Genocide talk are not working. You can only hide the truth for so long before it screams to come out. If we kept silent, to paraphrase the verse in Luke, then would the very rocks cry out.

armenian-genocide-memorial-tsitsernakaberd-april24.2012.jpg.pagespeed.ce.ttioLTko9C http://www.armenianow.com, Armenian Genocide Monument in Yerevan, Armenia

This week, millions will cry out — speaking the truth, around the world, and remembering their ancestors’ sacrifice.

I will remember that my maternal great-grandfather was one of the leaders of his village who was gunned down in an ‘important meeting that was called’ by Turks in 1915 for all the local Armenian community leaders, who were killed within minutes, sitting in a row in someone’s living room.

I will remember that my paternal great-grandmother pleaded with her well-to-do family to come with her to America in 1912 because she felt in her bones ‘something awful was going to happen,’ but that they laughed her off – and by 1915 they were all wiped out.

Everyone has their stories, but no one can tell your story but you. Don’t be afraid to tell it, and tell it as often as possible. Side by side, we all have stories of tragedy and stories of triumph and perseverance. My father-in-law’s parents were both orphans from the Genocide. But they met in an Armenian orphanage and grew up together — and later got married. I’m grateful they did, so that I could meet and marry the grandson they never got to see, on the other side of the world, at an Armenian church event, 80 years later.

When we travel this week to one of the world’s biggest and best-known Armenian Genocide commemorations, I will be preparing to give the speech of my life, among people far more learned and articulate on the issue than I. Yet I know I will be bolstered by hearing the voices of thousands of gathered Armenians, joining the voices of our ancestors in glory…saying that Turkey failed to silence our people — because we are still here, generations later, living and loving and working, celebrating our faith freely, cooking our food and singing our songs, getting married and having children, serving our communities and creating works of art and science – thriving.

Amen. Onward.

NOTE: This week, the Armenian Apostolic Church will consecrate the 1.5 million Armenian Genocide martyrs as saints, and will no longer conduct requiem services for them in future years. No more mourning, only celebration of their eternal victory.

Mother Arising Out of the Ashes (memorial statue to the Armenian

“Mother Arising Out of the Ashes” by Սէրուժ Ուրիշեան (Serouj Ourishian) – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org


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