Friday, April 24, 2015

Armenian Genocide at 100: Forget-me-not

Obama reneges again on 2008 campaign promise to "recognize the Armenian Genocide" as president

Today, April 24, commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide carried out by the “Young Turk” government of the Ottoman Empire in 1915-1916. One to one-and-a-half million Armenians were killed during the Armenian Genocide -- through wholesale massacres and deportations consisting of forced marches -- out of two-and-a-half million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.

Over the past few years, I have commemorated the Armenian Genocide at Mich Café with testimonials by Armenian friends sharing what it means to them. I was about to do the same this year too when I fell across two illustrations that give hope and decided to share those instead.

The first is the beautiful forget-me-not, the official emblem of the 100th Year of Remembrance of the Genocide issued by the Republic of Armenia. The second is an illustration by my friend cartoonist Sareen Akharjalian on her webcomic, Ink on the Side.

The forget-me-not, illustrating the worldwide observance of the centennial, as explained by the Armenian Church, expresses the theme of eternal remembrance. It is also meant to symbolically evoke the past, present and future experiences of the Armenian people.

The past: The black center represents the sufferings of 1915, and the dark aftermath of the Armenian Genocide.

The present: The light purple petals represent the unity of Armenian communities across the world -- all of whom stand together in this 100th year of remembrance.

The future: The five petals represent the five continents where survivors of the Armenian Genocide found a new home. The dark purple color is meant to recall the priestly vestments of the Armenian Church -- which has been, is, and will remain at the heart of the Armenian Christian identity.

Eternity: The 12 trapezoids represent the twelve pillars of the Dzidzernagapert Armenian Genocide memorial in Yerevan, Armenia. Yellow represents light, creativity, and hope.

Today, Armenians can be found in every corner of the globe, creating a Diaspora population of about three million. All over the world, they 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 then uprooted Armenians from their homes and forced them to march for hundreds of miles, depriving them of food and 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!

The second illustration is by Sareen Akharjalian on her webcomic Ink on the Side, which is awaited online every Monday morning to brighten up the week.

With Mount Ararat in the distance, Sareen wrote:  “I pray that we’ll have our day for a fair trial.”

Sareen (@sareen_ak) who is a programmer and software developer by day and a cartoonist by night also quotes the great Armenian-American writer William Saroyan: “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.”

And yet, 100 years on, U.S. President Barack Obama, wary of damaging relations with Turkey amid growing unrest in the Middle East, won't use the centennial of the massacre to declare the brutal episode genocide.

Despite his campaign promise in 2008 to "recognize the Armenian Genocide" as president, the White House on April 21 issued a carefully worded statement on a high-level administration meeting with Armenian groups that avoided using the term "genocide."

An administration official said Obama, who will mark the centennial today, would similarly avoid using the word. "We know and respect that there are some who are hoping to hear different language this year," the official said. "We understand their perspective, even as we believe that the approach we have taken in previous years remains the right one -- both for acknowledging the past, and for our ability to work with regional partners to save lives in the present."

"President Obama's surrender to Turkey represents a national disgrace. It is, very simply, a betrayal of truth, a betrayal of trust," said Ken Hachikian, the chairman of the Armenian National Committee of America.

Even some of Obama's allies decried the decision. California Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democratic leader of the House Intelligence Committee, said he was "deeply disappointed" by the decision to avoid the word genocide.

"How long must the victims and their families wait before our nation has the courage to confront Turkey with the truth about the murderous past of the Ottoman Empire?" Schiff wrote in a statement. "If not this President, who spoke so eloquently and passionately about recognition in the past, whom? If not after 100 years, when?"

When, indeed!

At a service in Rome on April 12, Pope Francis used "genocide" to describe what happened a century ago. In response, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu recalled the ambassador to the Holy See for "consultations."

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