Rev. Andrea Ayvazian: Armenian genocide: the truth that won’t stay told



Last modified: Friday, April 10, 2015

NORTHAMPTON — As soon as the calendar turned from 2014 to 2015, I knew that my April column would be devoted to the 100th anniversary of the start of the genocide of the Armenian people — and I began to dread what that would involve. I knew I would be forced, once again, to look deeply into the horrors that were inflicted on my ancestors and I knew this would again prove traumatic.

I imagined that I would spread my files and clippings on the genocide across the living room floor in order to choose facts and quotes to include in this piece, and that is exactly what I have done. I imagined that I would sit on the thick Oriental rug that covers our living room floor and weep, and that is exactly what has happened.

With my face in my hands, I have cried because every article, essay, poem, family account and photograph is so painful that it is impossible to approach this task with anything but the heaviest heart and deepest sorrow.

It was on April 24, 1915, while the world’s attention was focused on World War I (then in its second year), that the massacre of the Armenian people by the Young Turks began. That evening, armed men rounded up 300 Armenian political leaders, educators, writers, clergy and dignitaries in Constantinople (present day Istanbul) and took them from their homes to be tortured and then hung or shot on the edge of the city.

Shortly thereafter, Armenian men throughout the country were arrested, tied together with ropes in small groups, taken to the outskirts of their towns and shot or bayoneted by death squads.

Armenian women, children and the elderly were ordered to pack their belongings and leave their homes under the pretext that they were being relocated to a non-military zone for their own safety. In reality, they were being marched toward the Syrian desert to die. Along the way, woman and girls were abused and raped. Most dropped dead by the roadside from exhaustion and starvation. In the end, 1.5 million of the Ottoman Empire’s 2.1 million Armenians were killed or died on death marches to the desert.

The Turkish government has never acknowledged its role in the slaughter.

Eyewitnesses, including German liaison officers, American missionaries and U.S. diplomats, attested to the atrocities. The U.S. ambassador to Turkey, Henry Morgenthau, reported to Washington: “When the Turkish authorities gave the order for these deportations, they were 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.”

The killing of the Armenian people has been called the 20th century’s first calculated effort to destroy an entire ethnic group. Scholars agree that it was the massacre of the Armenian people that led academics to coin and utilize the term “genocide.” Growing up, I heard the stories of the massacres from my father, who was a survivor. My father’s maternal grandfather was fatally shot at his pulpit while delivering a sermon. My father’s mother and her sisters, in hiding, watched from an attic window as a pogrom devastated their village. Eventually, in 1921, my paternal grandparents, my father and his brother escaped in the night, fled to Paris and boarded a trans-Atlantic ship bound for Ellis Island in America.

Throughout his life, my father wrote about, gave interviews and drew attention to the genocide in every way he possibly could. My father was tireless in his efforts. His hope was that during this lifetime, he would witness the Turkish government stop denying and admit to the atrocities of the Armenian genocide. This was his greatest hope.

My father faithfully recounted his family’s history, crying as he told the stories, wrote op-ed pieces, served on panels, gave speeches and spoke out publicly year after year. He died at age 90, crushed that the genocide was still consistently and forcefully denied by the Turkish government.

In a guest editorial in this paper before his death, my father wrote, “For over four generations, the voices of Armenian survivors have asked for recognition of their genocide, for acknowledgement of their martyrs, and for correction of their history under the rule of Ottoman Turkey.” For my father, for my grandparents, for Armenians all over the world, I will not stop writing about and weeping about the genocide.

Like countless other Armenians who retell the stories, lift the names of those who were lost, correct the historical record and insist that the truth be known, we give voice to those who suffered and were killed. We feel it is our calling and our responsibility to remember, recount, recall and honor the dead.

April 24 is called “Armenian Martyrs’ Day.” It is a sad and sacred day in the Armenian community. Just as we have done locally for 15 years, Armenians and their supporters will gather to mark this day together. You are invited to stand with us to witness to the truth of the genocide on Martyrs’ Day in front of Memorial Hall in downtown Northampton at 5 p.m. It is a painful day for the Armenian community, our hearts are broken and our tears flow. We need our allies to join us, to be part of the truth-telling, to witness to our struggle and pain, and to lift the proud Armenian flag in sorrow and in memory.

The Rev. Andrea Ayvazian, pastor of the Haydenville Congregational Church, writes a monthly column on faith, culture and politics. She can be reached at opinion@gazettenet.com.


 


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