Every April 24, Armenians around the world gather to commemorate the 1.5 million men, women and children murdered by the Ottoman Turks during the Armenian Genocide. The event, which lasted from 1915-1923, followed upon previous large-scale massacres of Armenians as well as Greek and Assyrian Christians in Anatolia in 1894 and in Cilicia/ Adana in 1909. At this year’ s New York commemoration in Times Square, star attorney Mark Geragos joined the usual suspects—politicians such as Chuck Schumer and Frank Pallone—in denouncing the present Turkish government’s denial. What do Armenians want? Geragos asked the assembled crowd, several-thousand strong: “an apology, our lands, our money” was the repeated refrain.
After that, you might as well have started to sing the old Gloria Gaynor hit “I will survive.” As an anthem for both this particular commemoration and Armenian culture in general—it’s 3,000 years old and not about to go away anytime soon—it’s not a bad anthem. But Armenians have done more than merely survive—they have prospered in almost every profession and walk of life. This was evident as well in the somewhat hackneyed but emotional song “1915” sung by Armenian-America rapper “Marc2Ray.” The singer has something of a Frank Zappa or Serj Tankian air about him: thin, with long dark hair and a goatee, he cuts a handsome figure: “1915 a year that will live in infamy/Countless people murdered by hostile infantry/Children still in their infancy/Killed instantly. “ Marc2Ray rapped in soft but confident tones with a beautiful back-up singer to his left. In a sense he is the Turkish government’s worst nightmare: an eloquent young Armenian who raps about the truth of what happened during the Armenian Genocide, proof that this PR nightmare is not in any way ready to disappear, even three generations later. If anything, the Armenians’ resolve is only getting stronger: “The Turks are bullies, they have always been” Alina M. stated at the rally, perhaps conflating Turkish citizens with their unfortunately authoritarian successive governments: “But that’s ok, we have the truth on our side. And evil empires always end up falling. Just look at the Soviet Union. No one thought that was ever going to collapse.” Well, maybe Ronald Reagan…
The young in fact were out in force in Times Square , from members of the Homenetmen (Armenian Boy Scouts) to students from the well-regarded Hovnanian Armenian School, a bilingual K-8 institution in New Milford, New Jersey.
But Marc2ray and his progressive generation—perhaps the first generation of Armenian-Americans that is truly part of the American mainstream—did not magically get to where they are today. They sit instead on the shoulders of older organizations such as the Knights of Vartan, a somewhat old fashioned “compatriotic union” that each year organizes the Times Square protest, now in its 30th iteration.
Organization such as the Knights (and Daughters) of Vartan were formed in the wake of the tragic events of 1915 by Armenian immigrants to the United States seeking to help rebuild their culture after the genocidal attack unleashed against them by their Turkish neighbors during the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923. Other organizations or lodges are named after towns from which Armenian families originated: Van, Malatya, Amasya, Adiyaman, Kars etc...Similar organizations exist among the Irish and Italians in America as well.
After 1915, half of what remained of the Armenian nation was absorbed into the Soviet Union: the other half fled to Middle Eastern countries such as Lebanon and Syria and to the West. And so while Soviet Armenians and diasporan Armenians speak different versions of their language and have had very different historical experiences since 1915, they are now bonding over their shared history: “In the Soviet Union,” one older woman explained, “it was frowned upon to discuss the Armenian Genocide too much because of our border with Turkey and because of Turkey and Russia being a historical adversaries…but now it is more normal there as well.”
With Syria and Turkey currently waging wars on their own minorities (including the Yazidis and Kurds), it is a sobering thought to remember that much of the conflict in the Middle East today is the result of unresolved past conflicts—nations who have not known how to properly acknowledge the past and heal the wounds that still exist in the hearts and souls of many: “Let Turkey do the right thing,” one protester in attendance yesterday asserted: “Let them admit to what they did and stop brainwashing their own people. Let them pay reparations like Germany did to the Jews. Then we can sit at the same table. Then we can begin to forgive and build our future together, like good neighbors. Not before.”
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