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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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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