I was not alive during the Armenian Genocide. I am grappling with the fact that I am three generations removed, and the witnesses to the horrors of the Genocide in my family of survivors are dead or dying. The memories of slaughtered children, sisters and brothers, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, fetuses ripped from mothers’ wombs in a systematic effort to eliminate every trace of a people whose right to live are but a whisper in my ear. The whispered memories belong to them; and soon, it will no longer be possible to hear from elders or see in their eyes the irreplaceable losses suffered, and the guilt of sole survival through endless deportations, but it is my ethical imperative to incorporate their voices and tell their stories as testimony to those who continually try to deny the reality of the Armenian Genocide. It is also your imperative to tell the stories of collective recollection and shoulder the responsibility to the next generation.
The bitter truth is that 108 years later, there is still a war going on. Artsakh is under attack, and nobody seems to care. Armenians are still facing the threat of annihilation at the hands of Azerbaijan fueled by Turkey, and the world is complacent. Artsakh is part of Armenia, and its ancestral land has been part of Armenia since 180BC. Between 1914 and 1918, the Ottoman Empire took over Baku, creating the independent country of Azerbaijan with Baku as its capital. The first violence of the current conflict broke out in 1988. At the time, a quarter million Armenians living in Baku were being targeted in a pogrom that occurred prior to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Armenians were beaten, murdered, and expelled from the city. (Currently there are no Armenians living in Baku.) Artsakh voted to dissolve its autonomous status and join Armenia. Between 1992 and 1994, war over the territory claimed more than 30,000 lives and displaced hundreds of thousands of people. Since 1994, Artsakh has been occupied and run by a self-declared government of ethnic Armenians backed by Armenia all these years.
This tiny piece of land, this Armenia, which has been subjected to escalation of the attacks leading up to the most current blockade of the Lachin corridor is exasperated by the fact that Turkey is openly supporting Azerbaijan’s effort. Proof of which Erdogan broadcasted in reference to Armenia when he said, “We will continue to fulfill this mission which our grandfathers have carried out for centuries in the Caucasus region.” Azerbaijani president Aliyev has also echoed similar sentiments.
The ongoing blockade of the Lachin corridor (today in its 133rd day) is endangering the lives of 120,000 ethnic Armenian residents in Nagorno-Karabakh without access to essential goods and services, including food, life-saving medication, and health care. While countries tut-tut, call on Azeri and Turkish authorities to end this unfolding humanitarian crisis, there seems to be no end in sight. Is it true that we are in the words of William Saroyan, “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?” It cannot be. We are not “unimportant” people. This is me, this is you, this is us I am talking about. You know us. We work together, we build together, we share stories, we break bread and drink together. We share our homes and our hospitality with you. We are friends, we are loyal, we are peaceful, loving people. Yet there is a war we must win, structures to raise, memories to write and stories to be read, music to compose and dance to, voices to raise and prayers to be heard.
We cannot remain silent. We will not remain silent, and neither should you. We are the children and grandchildren of genocide survivors. Our collective recollection relies on telling our stories, not with a whisper but with a shout, to the next generation.
POST, INFORM, EDUCATE, DEMAND. Break the silence of the higher powers. It is ours to shoulder the responsibility.