Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Armenian Genocide: Lest we forget

Poster by Naeema Zarif

Ninety-seven years since, the Armenian Genocide is still a topic that hits a raw nerve with Armenians worldwide.
Today, April 24, commemorates the Armenian Genocide committed in 1915-1916 by the Ottoman Empire’s “Young Turk” government.
Roughly half the Ottoman Empire’s 2,500,000 Armenians were killed during the Armenian Genocide through wholesale massacres and deportations by dint of forced marches.
Armenians around the globe commemorate the tragedy on April 24, the day in 1915 when 250-300 Armenian leaders, writers, thinkers and professionals in Constantinople -- present-day Istanbul -- were rounded up, deported and killed. The Ottoman military at that time uprooted Armenians from their homes and forced them to march for hundreds of miles, without food or water, to the desert of what is now Syria.
Since then, the pomegranate was adopted as a symbol for Armenians. The narrative is that during the 1915 Genocide and exodus, pomegranate was the only food mothers could find to feed their offspring. Those marching could also count the days with the pomegranate seeds. It is that each fruit, however big or small, holds 365 seeds!
As I did last year, I asked two Armenian friends -- Shant Demirdjian and Sareen Akharjalian, who both live in Beirut, Lebanon -- to contribute their thoughts on the day for Mich Café:
Which Genocide?
By Shant Demirdjian*
Let me be a bit more precise, which Armenian Genocide? No, no… It’s not just one; it’s not two or even three or four!! Which one should I talk about?
Murdering an Armenian journalist who dares to be “Armenian”?
Or should I write about the uprooting of more than two million Armenians from their homeland and the massacre of some 1.5 million in the deserts of Syria?
Need I dwell on disallowing the placement of the Holy Cross on a “restored” Armenian church in Van? Or even worse, turning churches into caves, restaurants and farms?
Or what about the vandalism of Armenian architecture -- churches, tombstones, Khatchkars (cross stone) -- over and over again, everywhere in Occupied Armenia, Nakhchivan and in all places “their” hand could reach?
[The Armenian Khatchar cross, often made in obsidian, has two triple loops on each arm of the cross. It rarely has a crucifix but rather a rosette or a solar disc below it and the remainder is filled with patterns of leaves, grapes, pomegranates or abstracts. UNESCO last year declared the Armenian Khatchkar an intangible cultural heritage in need of urgent safeguarding.]
Which Genocide?
When people talk about the Armenian Genocide they usually consider the latter, the one that started on the night of April 24, 1915, with the capture, murder and deportation of the Armenian elite -- teachers, writers, revolutionaries, who where the first to “go.” The strategy was to make the Armenians “headless.”
But it didn’t stop there. It didn’t stop even after the vast majority of Armenians were moved from their homeland and driven to the deserts of Syria… just to let them perish there from hunger, starvation and Ottoman brutality.
The sad thing is that the outrage hasn’t stopped! The assassination of Armenian journalist Hrant Dink and not allowing a cross to be erected on an Armenian Church… only happened a few years ago.
The destruction of the Armenian Heritage is still continuing as you read this! For me, this is the “Armenian Genocide.”
Nonetheless, we survived. We survived and doomed that brutal appetite of mass murder.
We survived and made others talk about the “Armenian Genocide” in Turkey.
We survived and spread our Heritage around the globe.
We survived and turned April 24 into the Day of Survival.
*Shant Demirdjian (@ShantDotMe) is a web developer and teacher. He is a photographer in his spare time and his work can be viewed at his blog, – My Photo Blog.

Struggles and Triumphs
By Sareen Akharjalian*
When people ask me about the Armenian Genocide and what I know about it, I don't usually talk about the massacres of entire Armenian villages.
I don't usually talk about the starvation, the rape and the murder Armenians had to face when forcibly evicted and marched into the harsh deserts of Syria.
I don't talk about the massacres and brutal killings of prominent Armenian figures on April 24, 1915.
I tell the story of my grandfather, Arsen Akharjalian. 
My grandfather, God rest his soul, grew up in a village called Yozgat in Turkey. The sad thing is there isn't really much he could tell us about his family in Turkey. You see, his father and uncles were forced into battle and his mother was killed while he was still a very young child -- barely old enough to speak. 
Dédé Arsen
Arsen Akharjalian’s family at the time included 10 brothers and sisters. In the confusion and utter chaos, the family was split up. Some were sent to different parts of Turkey, others, including my grandfather, his sister and older brother were saved by European missionaries and sent to an orphanage in Syria. Their trip to Syria was long and harsh, with no water, no food, and only stories of Armenian killings that had taken place in Deir ez-Zor to go by. It's a wonder they survived. 
They finally reached their destination: an orphanage in Aleppo. But the orphanage was so overcrowded, the children had to be split up once more. His older brother remained in Syria, and my grandfather and his sister were sent to the famous Birds Nest Armenian Orphanage in Jbeil, Lebanon -- which still operates to this day. There, Dédé Arsen learned basic crafts. He became a shoe mender. And by some miracle, he was able to overcome his hideous past and have a family and children.
How do I commemorate the Armenian Genocide?
By remembering my grandfather's immense struggles and triumphs despite these dark times in history. 
*Sareen Akharjalian (@sareen_ak) is a programmer and software developer by day and a cartoonist by night. Her two-year-old webcomic, Ink on the Side, is awaited online every Monday morning to brighten up the week.

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