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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Armenian Genocide: Echoes of the dream

The Armenian Genocide Memorial in Yerevan, Armenia, and Bikfaya, Lebanon (inset) by Shant Demirdjian
Today -- April 24 -- commemorates the Armenian Genocide committed in 1915-1916 by the Ottoman Empire’s “Young Turk” government.
Mich Café commemorates the Genocide with testimony of what the day means to those who survived and their offspring.
This year, I chose to cede the Mich Café platform to the young generation of Armenian college students, allowing them to express in their own words what the day means to them.
They are in their late teens at Levon & Sophia Hagopian College.
The college was founded in 1964 in the heart of Bourj Hammoud in Beirut, Lebanon.  Its slogan is “work ennobles.”
It has 195 students under Principal Vicken Avakian and 35 teachers. The college follows the official Lebanese government curriculum, supplemented by the educational plan of the Armenian National Schools.
My friend Shant Demirdjian (@ShantDotMe), who featured in Mich Café’s commemoration last year, teaches computer science at Levon & Sophia and helped me get testimonies from four students.
Shant is also a web developer and a photographer in his spare time. His pictures of Armenia can  be viewed at his blog site, Shant.me – My Photo Blog.
Ninety-eight years on, the Armenian Genocide is still a subject matter that hits a raw nerve with Armenians worldwide.
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.

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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 – the 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 said that each fruit, however big or small, holds 365 seeds!  
So how does the young generation feel about the Genocide?
Gashavan in Dilijan, Hribsime Church and Noravank Monastary in Armenia. Photos by Liliane Assaf
J.H. – Technical Baccalaureate, 3rd year (12th grade technical or BT3)
The Armenian Genocide is not a simple issue that has preoccupied us. It is a collective Armenian feeling. Actually, it is the root of our existence. The grief will never disappear.
Put yourself in our ancestors’ shoes: your life is swept away, your loved ones are slaughtered in front of your eyes and all your dreams are crushed.
What is left is to pick up the pieces and create a new life -- one that is the reason of my existence.
Now, my duty is to honor the memory of those killed during the Genocide and be their voice, lost among the shadows of death.
Our ancestors had a dream, a hope to continue existing. We are the echoes of that dream.
Marita Bardakjian -- Technical Baccalaureate, 3rd year (BT3)
The Genocide was once a nightmare to those who had to suffer the monstrous tortures of the Ottoman Empire. Today, it separates us from all other nations.
We have been reborn from the sand and the darkness where our blood was shed.
A price has to be paid, and someday we will reclaim what was rightfully ours because those who have been in total darkness will not give up after seeing the light.
A pomegranate tree overlooking Lake Sevan, Armenia. Photo by Liliane Assaf
Hratch – Secondary 2nd class (11th grade or SEC II)
Silence behind the gates of destiny is louder than our scream.
It is said that every individual's destiny is written. Written by whom: By the man in the sky, or by the bearded one?
Was it our destiny to be slaughtered and killed? Or was it pure coincidence that 1.5 million people faced the same destiny?
We screamed, we prayed… but the prayers went unanswered.
We were thrown out from our lands; we saw our houses burnt to the ground. And still… there was no answer from heaven.
Where was the world when our children begged to see their mothers one last time?
Where was humanity when the evil Ottomans were burning our churches with our people inside praying for mercy, not from their persecutors, but from our Maker, who chose not to be on our side?
Nancy – Secondary 2nd class (11th grade or SEC II)
It is not merely the tradition, language, mentality, culture or lifestyle that makes us, Armenians, different. Yet our determination and consciousness of whom we are does put an analogy with the rest.
Years, decades and centuries will not be virtuous enough to wipe out our people’s will and a century is not enough to let our anguish fade away.
Ninety-eight years isn’t threatening; it won’t make us oblivious of the “inhumane deeds” meted on us. Instead, we will reconstruct our root and anchor.
No massacre or genocide can eradicate people like us.
We fight back through our mentality, not by butchery.

Related posts:
‘We are still the mountain’ – The Boston Globe, April 14, 2013
Traditional Armenian Dresses – Mher Krikorian’s Facebook