Armenian Genocide: A Century of Denial

I was born and raised in Glendale, California, which is home to a big Armenian community. I’ve grown up with a huge Armenian influence in my life, from my family, friends, and my community and I’ve had the privilege of engaging tremendously in the Armenian culture by learning traditional Armenian dance, eating delicious Armenian cuisine, reading and writing in Armenian, and learning the history of Armenia, which includes the tragic Armenian Genocide.

stock-footage-national-flag-of-armenia-waving-in-the-wind-background-animation-for-home-videos-vacation-movies

The Armenian Genocide is commemorated on April 24, 1915, the day the Turkish government placed an arrest on over 200 Armenian community leaders in Constantinople. This was part of a strategical plan, organized by the Young Turk regime of the Ottoman Empire, for the organized killing of the Armenian people to end their collective existence. Between 1915 and 1923, more than 1.5 million Armenians where subject to deportation, torture, starvation, and massacre. Women were raped and children were abused.

My great-grandfather (Gurgen Sardaryan) and his family lived in Van, which is currently a city in eastern Turkey, but before the genocide, it was part of Armenia which was in the region of Vaspurakan considered to be the cradle of Armenian civilization.

Gurgen Sardaryan

Gurgen Sardaryan

My great-grandfather Gurgen Sardaryan on the left.

My great-grandfather Gurgen Sardaryan on the left.

The Armenian population in Van was devastated during the genocide, and had tried to fight against the Young Turks. My great-grandfather was among those who fought for his land. He was the only one out his whole family, along with their house-maid Varsenik (my great-grandmother), who managed to escape Van when the Young Turks invaded the land and have survived. The rest of their family members were murdered. My grandfather, Ruben Sardaryan, always dreamt about returning to Van to see his family home once the land was reclaimed by Armenia. Unfortunately, the land which belongs to the Armenians, is still claimed by Turkey, until the Armenian Genocide is recognized by the Turkish government and the land is finally returned.

For 100 years, the Turkish government refuses to acknowledge these brutal killings as a genocide. Now, a century later, the Armenian Genocide is still unrecognized, and many times, unheard of.

Armenian Genocide

Armenian Genocide

Armenian Genocide

Armenian Genocide

It wasn’t until I moved out of Glendale for college in New York City that I realized how many people did not know of the Armenian Genocide, or even worse, know that Armenia exists. I have encountered fellow classmates at New York University, who have starred at me in confused, blank faces when I told them I’m Armenian. Students who have managed to get accepted into one of the most prestigious universities in the country did not know of Armenia and have not learned about the genocide at some point in their lives. But then I thought, how is it their fault that they don’t know, when it has been denied by the Turkish government for almost a century, briefly (if at all) mentioned in our history books, and still formally unrecognized by the government of the United States. From then on, I’ve been more vocal than I’ve ever been about my Armenian culture and the history of my people, and have made a better effort to educate non-Armenians of this small, yet immensely strong and vibrant country and people.

It’s important to know that the fight for genocide recognition is not only for Armenians, it’s a fight that involves every race in this world. When we don’t learn from our lessons, history repeats itself. “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” Adolf Hitler said in relation to the Holocaust three decades later. Following both tragic events, a genocide has happened in Cambodia in 1975, Rwanda in 1990, Bosnia in 1991, and Darfur in 2003, and it can happen again. How hard would you fight for recognition if this had happened to your race and your people? The wounds of the Armenian Genocide have been passed down through generations, and every year, the Armenian people are greeted with silence and denial from the Turkish government, as well as the overdue formal recognition from the American government. 100 years overdue.

It is now 2015, and there has been many attempts in the past to have this horrible event recognized. In just these latest months, the events following Pope Francis’ recognition of the Armenian Genocide, the European Parliament’s bill to recognize the genocide, and many influential people visiting Armenia, have shined a tremendous amount of light in the mainstream media for genocide recognition, which I am immensely grateful for.

Pope Francis honoring the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide at a mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, saying it was “the first genocide of the 20th century.”

Pope Francis honoring the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide at a mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, saying it was “the first genocide of the 20th century.”

The momentum must not desiccate. It is not enough to have only a Armenian majority fighting for the recognition of the genocide, but requires a collective effort of everyone from any race. April 24th marks the anniversary of the Armenian genocide, but it should not only be remembered on this day, but everyday, just like the many other tragic events that have made the pages of our history books.

It makes me proud to see my non-Armenian friends eager to know about my culture, the history of the genocide, the language, the food (which is delicious), the dance, the traditions, and more. It makes me even prouder to speak on and on about all of the things that makes Armenia and Armenians so strong and wonderful.

I have been blessed to be a part of a culture that will unite together through hardships and successes. A culture that will create a bond so strong that will never be broken. Recognize the Armenian Genocide.

 

The Forget-Me-Not-Flower. The official emblem of the 100th Year of Remembrance of the Armenian Genocide.

The Forget-Me-Not-Flower. The official emblem of the 100th Year of Remembrance of the Armenian Genocide.

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this “race,” this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia. See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.”

This is the village in Armenia where my grandmother was  born.

This is the village in Armenia where my grandmother was born.

A photo of my family which includes my grandmother (second row left), my mother (bottom left), and aunt (bottom right).

A photo of my family which includes my great-grandmother (second row, third from the right), grandmother (second row, very left), my mother (bottom row, very left), and aunt (bottom row, very right).

Caroline Mishelle

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