Genocide – the deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular ethnic group or nation.
April 24 is always the most difficult day of the year for me. April 24 is the day recognized by Armenians as Armenian genocide remembrance day. It’s the day we stay home and hear our grandmothers silently weep and our grandfathers tremble as they share what was shared to them by their fathers and uncles. It’s the day Armenians fill into the streets of their countries and protest ignorance. They walk until their feet are numb and their tears have long dried on their cheeks. Except, they’re not crying anymore.
As someone from Armenian descent, this day has a lot of weight in my heart. The Armenian genocide was the Ottoman government’s systematic extermination of 1.5 million Armenians. From 1915 to 1923, Armenians were deported from their homes, split from families, deprived of food and water, led on death marches, raped, drowned, sent to concentration camps, and slaughtered. You may have never heard of this event. 1.5 million people were massacred in the most brutal of ways and a crime against all of mankind was committed. So, why?
During his first presidential campaign in 2008, President Barack Obama said “Two years ago, I criticized the secretary of state for the firing of U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, John Evans, after he properly used the term ‘genocide’ to describe Turkey’s slaughter of thousands of Armenians starting in 1915… As president I will recognize the Armenian Genocide.”
The Armenian community in America celebrated for, finally! Our country will recognize us! We won’t be ignored anymore! Except, Obama failed us all.
That was the last time he used the word “genocide” in reference to well, the genocide. Both major political parties have long avoided the use of the word to prevent upsetting Turkey, a major geopolitical ally of the U.S. and a key member of the NATO military alliance. Turkey still imprisons any journalist, intellect, publisher, etc. that calls the actions of the Ottoman empire a genocide.
So how do I, an Armenian-American feel? I’m tired. I’m tired and frustrated and angry and upset. I feel betrayed and let down by my own country. The only country I’ve ever known and my home. Why won’t they recognize what happened? Why doesn’t every single history teacher talk about this? Why does my mother cry as she holds me close and trembles on this day? Where is the rest of my family tree? What happened to 1.5 million people? Did they just vanish? Who am I? Where did I come from? I don’t know any of this. I can’t look any of this up on Ancestry dot com.
Over 600,000 people in Los Angeles marched for 1.5 miles in 2015 for the 100th anniversary. This year marks the 102nd anniversary of a day that should have never happened. One hundred and two years of spit-in-your-face denial.
I stand here today as someone who got away. As a survivor of a crime against humanity. As living proof that we are strong and united. We all live with the pain of having an invalidated brutality committed against mankind. But I also stand here as a living, breathing person. I stand here as a refugee. I stand as someone who will fight for this for as long as I live. I’m still here, and so are all 11 million of us.