The Truth Will Set You Free: Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day

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Yesterday, Armenians around the world commemorated the 101st anniversary of the Armenian Genocide of 1915, when 1.5 million Armenians were systematically murdered by the Ottoman Turkish Empire for refusing to renounce their Christian faith and Armenian culture.

There were marches of 100,000+ people over the weekend; performances of new music, films and plays; peaceful demonstrations at memorial monuments, lectures and sacred services; and a shining new tribute: the recently inaugurated Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity, co-developed by Armenian and non-Armenian philanthropists, Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel and George and Amal Clooney — “On behalf of the survivors of the Armenian Genocide and in gratitude to their saviors” — and awarded “to an individual whose actions have had an exceptional impact on preserving human life and advancing humanitarian causes.” The award was announced yesterday in Yerevan, Armenia’s capital (click here for announcement), and will be announced there each year.

These forward-looking, inspiring events help show that the Turks and their Genocide of Armenians did not succeed in eliminating Armenians — they show that the world is starting to understand and embrace the truth of our history. But whether the world ever fully accepts it or not, Armenians are stronger and freer than ever by faith in God, and by perseverance to the values that matter most: love, compassion, dignity, spiritual commitment, regardless of what lies or horrors swarm around us. Although Turkey’s recogition would go a long way in healing many hearts and souls, Armenians don’t have to wait for that reluctant recognition to accomplish all they were put on this earth to do.

But genocides continue, as we see in today’s news. Christians and other groups keep getting persecuted for their beliefs, particularly in the Muslim world. And countries, because of their power, allies or strategic connections and resources, continue to literally get away with murder. Even today, Turkey denies carrying out the Armenian Genocide 100 years ago.

On the PR battlefront, the current Turkish goverment is also trying to murder the truth of history by funding full-page ads in the New York Times and Washington Post, buying up billboards near Genocide recogition event sites, and even creating websites claiming to seek truth and peace about the 1915 genocide yet which only deny its realities.

So the fight continues to advocate for full recognition, to tell our own true stories, and to sustain our heritage, culture and faith in new ways. One theater organization, the Armenian Dramatic Arts Alliance (ADAA), accomplishes this mission by encouraging Armenian stories and wider human-rights stories to be told onstage via playwriting contests and readings. As ADAA’s slogan reads: “It’s Time Our Stories Were Told.” We can never stop telling them.

For my husband and me, our day took place at the 31st Times Square Armenian Genocide Commemoration in New York, co-sponsored by the Armenian fraternal and charitable organizations we are deeply involved in, The Knights and Daughters of Vartan.

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More than 3,000 people congregated in Times Square, to hear politicians, academics, advocates, clergy and community leaders (including my husband) speak the truth and to urge everyone to participate in local advocacy as much as possible — calling your congressman to get an Armenian Genocide resolution passed; writing your State Assemblyman to get the Armenian Genocide taught in the schools, building relationships and telling our stories as much as possible to raise awareness. It was an inspiring event.

And yet, just two days before, a pro-Turkish group hired a plane to skywrite messages of Armenian Genocide denial high in the New York skies, also paying a troupe of people to dance below as the messages appeared.

Really?

The mere presence of denial and antagonism does not mean that truth-tellers should stop telling the truth, or stop advocating for it. In fact, the presence of opposition affirms our need to get the truth out there even more. Not with hatred or closedmindedness, but with an honest view toward recognition, repararation and perhaps, even reconciliation. And I think only God can change people’s hearts, if they are open to it.

But even if those things never occur, the victory is won. We were not wiped out. We are still here. And as voices young and old rang out to the heavens yesterday, our sainted ancestors heard and smiled in glory.

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:38

Onward.

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For more information:

About the Armenian Genocide:

http://www.armenian-genocide.org/

http://www.armeniangenocidemuseum.org/#home

http://armeniangenocide100.org/en/

About The Aurora Prize: https://auroraprize.com/en/prize

About the Knights and Daughters of Vartan: www.kofv.org

About the Armenian Dramatic Arts Alliance: www.armeniandrama.org

When I Grow Up: Matilda and Our Armenian Daughters

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And when I grow up, when I grow up, I will be brave enough
To fight the creatures that you have to fight beneath the bed each night to
Be a grown up.

“When I Grow Up,” Matilda (Original Broadway Production, Music and Lyrics by Tim Minchin)

We were in New York last week with our daughters – their first time there. I wrote last week about the special Armenian Genocide Commemorations we were honored to participate in. Unforgettable.

But it was also an unforgettable family weekend with our girls: Going to the top of the Empire State Building to take in the view of the city and the Statue of Liberty, shopping at the Toys R Us (with the four-story ferris wheel inside!) and the larger-than-life M&M Store in Times Square, eating Junior’s Cheesecake, seeing their aunt and uncle, cousins, great aunt and uncle, family — and seeing their first Broadway show.

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Their first Broadway show – no small moment for this playwright. Thanks to some finagling by their uncle, my brother-in-law, we got tickets to see Matilda, one of my older daughter’s favorite books.

It was a delight, deeply meaningful and yet also humorous and musically catchy. A brave and unusually gifted girl overcoming a horrible family situation and bonding with a kind teacher who also benefits from the girl’s bravery and becomes braver herself.

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The Voice of Victory

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Yesterday, April 26, 2015, I had the privilege of speaking in Times Square for the 100th Armenian Genocide Commemoration – a call to remember the 1.5 million Armenians massacred by Ottoman Turkey seeking to ethnically cleanse its country (a good portion of which used to be ancient Armenia).

Among writers and scholars far more qualified than I to speak on the subject, I was honored to be there because of service, because I currently chair a national Armenian women’s organization dedicated to serving our people around the world.

Sometimes when we serve, we go on unexpected journeys, learning unexpected lessons and benefiting from unexpected opportunities. Yesterday’s was the largest crowd I had ever given a speech to, and perhaps ignorance is bliss: I later learned that there were 15,000 people in the crowd, which might have been a knee-freezer had I known earlier!

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Why This Week Matters

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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.”


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A March to Remember

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The forecast was rain. But we marched anyway. To commemorate the coming 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, my husband, two daughters and I marched across the Golden Gate Bridge yesterday.

I first thought: maybe we’ll catch a cold, one of my family’s biggest avoidances. Maybe we’ll be utterly exhausted, with the rest of our busy schedule that we crammed this into, flying in from San Diego and back in one day. Maybe — this wasn’t such a good idea.

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“Let Me Build Altars Out of Words…”

My father in law passed away this week at the blessed age of 91. He was a strong Armenian man devoted to his family and his heritage, and he encouraged me in many ways as a writer and family member.

So in this special week of remembrance, I thought I would share a few translated poems by one of his favorite Armenian poets, Missak Medzarents.

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800 Beautiful Hands: A Capital Experience, Part 2

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My trip to Washington DC last week was extremely moving for many reasons (see my prior blog post). But one of the biggest reasons the trip was meaningful was the special piece seen in the photo above.

I was in town for meetings with an Armenian women’s organization I currently chair, along with a few of my fellow officers. And we had the opportunity to see a treasure at the White House Visitors Center: The Armenian Orphan Rug, given to President Calvin Coolidge in 1925 by the Near East Relief Society as a gift of gratitude for the United States’ assistance in helping 100,000 Armenian orphans displaced by the 1915 Armenian Genocide, perpetrated by Ottoman Turkey (and still denied to this day).

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In an orphanage in Ghazir (formerly in Syria, now in Lebanon), right after the Armenian Genocide, 400 Armenian orphan girls made this rug, spending 18 months weaving four million knots into this 18-foot masterpiece, depicting scenes reminiscent of the Garden of Eden, as well as lions, unicorns, eagles and birds in a beautiful center medallion, surrounded by other intricate patterns. It was breathtaking to see, and heartbreaking at the same time.

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When The World Listens

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This past weekend I had the opportunity to speak in New York City’s Times Square, during the 99th Armenian Genocide Commemoration, co-sponsored there every year by two Armenian fraternal, charitable organizations — The Knights of Vartan and the Daughters of Vartan, of which I am currently national chairman.

 

Although I’ve given talks to a variety of groups over the years, this was the first time I spoke in front of thousands, literally; with live radio and web broadcasts around the world; alongside senators, congress and city council members; in one of the most recognized public places in America; about one of the most intense issues of my lifetime: the Armenian Genocide — the 1915 massacre of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire to cleanse its nation of any non-Turkish influence, commemorated the week of April 24 every year.

 

Talk about the Armenian Genocide to any Armenian you meet, and you will learn that they lost a relative, or perhaps several, in the genocide. You’ll see their face and tone of voice change — you’ll see or even feel the sense of a wound being reopened or re-injured, yet to be healed.

 

Talk to a Turkish person, and likely they will either claim the Armenian Genocide never happened, or that it was a mere subset skirmish of World War One’s bigger battles. Only now, so many decades later, are some Turkish intellectuals acknowledging the truth — and sometimes getting jailed for it.

 

The truth is that the Armenian Genocide occurred. It was the first genocide of the 20th Century and the systematic campaign that Hitler cited and studied when preparing for the Jewish Holocaust (“Who, after all, remembers the extermination of the Armenians?” he said to his advisors). And yet despite extensive genocide documentation from Turkish, German and US governments, missionaries, journalists and diplomats in the Ottoman Empire at the time, Turkey has yet to formally acknowledge the Armenian Genocide occurred, at their hand.

 

What is it like speaking on such a public stage, about something so difficult, that’s been part of your personal and community history for so long? How far do you go? How much do you balance the past-centered frustration and the need/desire to look forward with hope and redemption? How bold do you get, knowing that some crazy in the crowd could be lobbing a bomb at you at any time for what you believe?

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All these things raced through my mind as I stood there on the podium yesterday, in front of 2,000 people, in a closed off area between 43rd and 44th Street, near where the New Year’s Eve ball drops every December 31.

 

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