GazetteNET, NH
April 10 2015

Rev. Andrea Ayvazian: Armenian genocide: the truth that won't stay told

Friday, April 10, 2015

NORTHAMPTON -- As soon as the calendar turned from 2014 to 2015, I knew
that my April column would be devoted to the 100th anniversary of the
start of the genocide of the Armenian people -- and I began to dread
what that would involve. I knew I would be forced, once again, to look
deeply into the horrors that were inflicted on my ancestors and I knew
this would again prove traumatic.

I imagined that I would spread my files and clippings on the genocide
across the living room floor in order to choose facts and quotes to
include in this piece, and that is exactly what I have done. I
imagined that I would sit on the thick Oriental rug that covers our
living room floor and weep, and that is exactly what has happened.

With my face in my hands, I have cried because every article, essay,
poem, family account and photograph is so painful that it is
impossible to approach this task with anything but the heaviest heart
and deepest sorrow.

It was on April 24, 1915, while the world's attention was focused on
World War I (then in its second year), that the massacre of the
Armenian people by the Young Turks began. That evening, armed men
rounded up 300 Armenian political leaders, educators, writers, clergy
and dignitaries in Constantinople (present day Istanbul) and took them
from their homes to be tortured and then hung or shot on the edge of
the city.

Shortly thereafter, Armenian men throughout the country were arrested,
tied together with ropes in small groups, taken to the outskirts of
their towns and shot or bayoneted by death squads.

Armenian women, children and the elderly were ordered to pack their
belongings and leave their homes under the pretext that they were
being relocated to a non-military zone for their own safety. In
reality, they were being marched toward the Syrian desert to die.
Along the way, woman and girls were abused and raped. Most dropped
dead by the roadside from exhaustion and starvation. In the end, 1.5
million of the Ottoman Empire's 2.1 million Armenians were killed or
died on death marches to the desert.

The Turkish government has never acknowledged its role in the slaughter.

Eyewitnesses, including German liaison officers, American missionaries
and U.S. diplomats, attested to the atrocities. The U.S. ambassador to
Turkey, Henry Morgenthau, reported to Washington: "When the Turkish
authorities gave the order for these deportations, they were giving
the death warrant to a whole race; they understood this well, and in
their conversations with me, they made no particular attempt to
conceal the fact."

The killing of the Armenian people has been called the 20th century's
first calculated effort to destroy an entire ethnic group. Scholars
agree that it was the massacre of the Armenian people that led
academics to coin and utilize the term "genocide." Growing up, I heard
the stories of the massacres from my father, who was a survivor. My
father's maternal grandfather was fatally shot at his pulpit while
delivering a sermon. My father's mother and her sisters, in hiding,
watched from an attic window as a pogrom devastated their village.
Eventually, in 1921, my paternal grandparents, my father and his
brother escaped in the night, fled to Paris and boarded a
trans-Atlantic ship bound for Ellis Island in America.

Throughout his life, my father wrote about, gave interviews and drew
attention to the genocide in every way he possibly could. My father
was tireless in his efforts. His hope was that during this lifetime,
he would witness the Turkish government stop denying and admit to the
atrocities of the Armenian genocide. This was his greatest hope.

My father faithfully recounted his family's history, crying as he told
the stories, wrote op-ed pieces, served on panels, gave speeches and
spoke out publicly year after year. He died at age 90, crushed that
the genocide was still consistently and forcefully denied by the
Turkish government.

In a guest editorial in this paper before his death, my father wrote,
"For over four generations, the voices of Armenian survivors have
asked for recognition of their genocide, for acknowledgement of their
martyrs, and for correction of their history under the rule of Ottoman
Turkey." For my father, for my grandparents, for Armenians all over
the world, I will not stop writing about and weeping about the

Like countless other Armenians who retell the stories, lift the names
of those who were lost, correct the historical record and insist that
the truth be known, we give voice to those who suffered and were
killed. We feel it is our calling and our responsibility to remember,
recount, recall and honor the dead.

April 24 is called "Armenian Martyrs' Day." It is a sad and sacred day
in the Armenian community. Just as we have done locally for 15 years,
Armenians and their supporters will gather to mark this day together.
You are invited to stand with us to witness to the truth of the
genocide on Martyrs' Day in front of Memorial Hall in downtown
Northampton at 5 p.m. It is a painful day for the Armenian community,
our hearts are broken and our tears flow. We need our allies to join
us, to be part of the truth-telling, to witness to our struggle and
pain, and to lift the proud Armenian flag in sorrow and in memory.

The Rev. Andrea Ayvazian, pastor of the Haydenville Congregational
Church, writes a monthly column on faith, culture and politics. She
can be reached at [email protected]