Armenians Are Not Defined By the Genocide

Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian and world leaders place flowers at the eternal flame at the Dzidzernagapert Armenian Genocide Memorial on the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide

Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian and world leaders place flowers at the eternal flame at the Dzidzernagapert Armenian Genocide Memorial on the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide


Silence is the enemy of truth. In the wake of Meline Toumani’s article, titled, “We Armenians Shouldn’t Let Genocide Define Us,” which appeared in the New York Times on April 17, 2015, I feel it is my responsibility, as an American of Armenian descent, my parents survivors of the Genocide of 1915, to raise my voice in opposition to the unwarranted criticism that spewed from Ms. Tomani’s pen, as she once again found it necessary and appropriate to publicly demean and castigate her fellow Armenians on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.

Just a week before her article was written, the whole world witnessed Pope Francis, graciously, honestly, and fearlessly recognize the Armenian Genocide. How sad and pathetic that at this significant hour in Armenian history, Ms. Toumani chose to condemn her fellow Armenians, rather than share in their joy. She unleashed a barrage of attacks, accusing us of being prudish, celebrity worshippers, racist against Turks, incapable of asking questions and pursuing ideas, unable to think independently, not open to change and new ideas, teaching children to hate the descendants of their ancestors, and believing that we are superior to others. Adding insult to injury, she further claimed, that when we Armenians proudly and spiritedly quote the inspiring words, “We exist, and we shall live on!” written by one of our revered poets, Baruyr Sevag, we do so only to prove that we have been victims of a Genocide. She concludes that the justification for her outrageous character bashing is that Armenians have allowed the Genocide to define us.

Ms. Toumani, your flawed judgments, offensive accusations, and pseudo-intellectual arguments have no basis in truth, fact, or reason. It appears that in your narrow, distorted and condescending viewpoint, everything related to Armenians, and our struggle for Genocide recognition and justice, is to be questioned, criticized, belittled, misrepresented, or cast in a veil of negativity.

Ms Toumani begins her article with a lengthy critique of Kim Kardashian’s recent visit to Armenia. She implies that Armenians will compromise their morals and values, and not question Kim Kardashian’s lifestyle, but will, instead, worship her celebrity status, because the Genocide Centennial commemoration is approaching, and “nothing else matters.” Kim Kardashian’s visit, and her status as “One of the 100 Most Influential Persons” (Time Magazine April/May 2015), serve to highlight the discussion of the Genocide, and in addition, help bring worldwide attention to Armenia, its people, culture, and history. Ms. Toumani, since when is a country’s morals and values judged by the way it welcomes a visitor? This visitor happens to be an Armenian American celebrity, whose ancestors perished at the hand of the Turk, just as yours and mine did.

Ms. Toumani bemoans and is surprised by the fact that she is getting criticism not from Turks, but by Armenians, writing in two of the largest Armenian diaspora newspapers, The Asbarez and the Armenian Weekly. Armenians do think for themselves, Ms. Toumani, and have the right to express their opinions, and disagree with your ideas. You refer to their criticism, as ‘hatchet jobs’. I call it freedom of speech.

Ms. Toumani continues her negative assessment, by stating that she learned hatred of the Turk, racism against Turks, and experienced loss of freedom to ask questions and pursue ideas that were not framed by the political project of Genocide recognition from her immersion in Armenian summer camps, youth groups, and other community activities. She goes on to lament that Armenians block out uncomfortable ideas and cling to simplistic symbols. She quotes a Russian Jewish writer who argues, that Armenians see themselves as ‘superior’ in every realm of creativity, be it architecture, science, or poetry. Really?

My experience, and those of my peers, as well as generations of young Armenians who follow, have a very different story to tell. Our story of immersion in the organizational life of the Armenian community is very positive: it is one that focuses on education, learning, character building, critical thinking, fraternalism, teamwork, and sportsmanship. Ours is a story of becoming proud Americans and proud Armenians, not ‘superior’ Armenians. We learned about our ancient culture and history. We sang the songs, and danced to the rhythms of the beautiful music of our ancestors. We recited poems, chanted in our church choirs, competed in Olympics, and camped in the woods. Robert’s Rules of Order defined the environment of our meetings. We were challenged to think, to discuss and debate ideas. We planned, organized, and implemented social activities and events. We learned the meaning of discipline, self-control, and respect. We developed morals and values. Where there was a need, we knew it was our responsibility to help. We made life-long friends, met our future husbands and wives, and raised wholesome families. We learned about the Genocide. We learned that freedom denied to one, is freedom denied to all. We realized the importance of preserving our language, culture, and religion, and, with perseverance, and personal sacrifice, we built, and continue to sustain, vibrant and thriving Armenian communities. Despite our weaknesses and flaws, occasional disputes and disagreements, most of us turned out to be what we were expected to be: productive, contributing members of society, both as Americans and Armenians. I’m truly sorry Ms. Tumani, that you did not enjoy a similar experience.

Contrary to your negative assessment of Armenians, Ms. Toumani, we are not defined by Genocide, or ‘clan commitment’, as you so foolishly claim. Surviving the Genocide has made us a stronger, wiser, resilient people. We understand, appreciate and defend the right of all people to be free. We are identified by our commitment to our ideals, principals, morals, and values. We are identified by our choices and decisions. We choose to fight for what is fair and just. We choose to defend what is right. We choose to remember and not forget.

On April 24, 2015, thousands of Armenian men, women and children, in every corner of the world, will proudly pay tribute to our 1.5 million martyred dead, and demand the recognition and justice our martyrs and their descendants deserve. We have chosen not to be the victims of a crime against humanity, but to be the torch bearers for the “love of humanity.”


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  1. Aram A said:

    Please be civil with your comments.
    One may give Toumani the benefit of the doubt. I personally have read her book and the NY Times article. While I find many of her conclusions misguided, and some downright disturbing, as the article by Barsamian eloquently notes, I would welcome additional critical appraisal of Toumani’s perspective. Are there aspects that she raises that resonate with some? Indeed, her being from an Iranian-Armenian family that presumably was less affected by the Genocide, does a direct loss of family (as those with family roots in Anatolia have) mediate how we look at the Genocide? It seems a legitimate line of inquiry– one that European Jews have studies vis a vis Middle Eastern Jews and the Holocaust. We are a very heterogeneous community, despite Toumani’s lazy, cartoonish caricatures.
    What is most bothersome to me personally is the assertion that the struggle for justice and restitution for the Genocide somehow is a disservice to the present Republic of Armenia. Quite the opposite is true: The fundamentals of the actions of today’s remnant Armenia, including Artsakh, are found precisely in today’s unrepentant Turkey. By definition, an unrepentant Turkey is an existential threat to Armenia (what’s to prevent another Genocide, if it’s so easy to get away with?), and as such Armenia (rightfully) feels obligated to focus disproportionate energy on her physical security. Many (rightfully) view Azerbaijan as an extension of Turkish unrepentance and threat. There’s nothing mysterious here. Until and unless Turkey can face its past, stop its aggressive policies on the Genocide, and make some sincere atonement, today’s Armenia will feel itself vulnerable, and completely understandably so. Artsakh is the same: Given the wounds of the Genocide, what Armenian community would ever voluntarily contemplate being a minority in a Turkic-controlled state? Is this even fathomable? What advice does the world think those Armenians slaughtered in the killing fields of Anatolia or Der Zor would give to today’s citizens of Artsakh? An interesting thought experiment, no?
    Sadly, for Toumani and others, their insistence that the Genocide lives on solely in the past is fundamentally mistaken. Its echos are alive today, in 2015, and affect millions not only in the Diaspora but in today’s Armenian and Artsakh. This will never sort itself out without Turkish repentance and atonement. It’s time the world, including Toumani and those of her ilk, realizes this.

    • Anonymous said:

      I would like to thank Aram for prompting a discussion that is much needed and yet rarely is allowed without an avalanche of personal attacks as the author of this article has definitively accomplished. First, I will say that when I read Toumani’s article, it resonated with me in such a way that it felt like a breath of fresh air. Now please bear with me.

      I’ll start by saying that I too am from an Iranian-Armenian family. I was born in the United States. My parents were born and raised in Iran. I went to Armenian classes throughout my childhood, was in Armenian dance teams, participated in AYF camp and having lived in Glendale throughout my childhood would have it, I have a lot of Armenian friends. These memories and friendships are some of my most cherished – rooted in camaraderie, respect, pride, and loyalty. All qualities that I admire and still raise my fist for when it comes to the Armenian cause. However, I too question why we, as a strong and vibrant community, expend so many resources on something we already know insisting we know it happened. Now, I feel the need at this point to say that I completely support and expend my own resources to further the recognition of the Armenian Genocide. But why is this issue the only issue the ANCA ever emails about? Why does the Armenian community rally on this specific issue in such amazing masses and no other? I’m not saying it shouldn’t. But it’s now May 11th, a few weeks since the centennial. And the question I have is, now what? Are we as a Diaspora going to ever start talking about the problems within Armenia and then do something about it to defend our own against the willful negligence of its government? We know the Armenian Genocide happened and so does the rest of the world. Those who don’t recognize it only embarrass themselves and will eventually regret being on the wrong side of history. But what about anti-poverty efforts in Armenia, government corruption and increased transparency, women’s rights, domestic violence, the spikes in prenatal sex selection in Armenia? How come these issues are never brought to the Diaspora? After all, we do turnout strongly for rallies on the Armenian Genocide and have strong loyalties that prompt frequent trips to the homeland, investments, and protection of each other. So why not garner this energy for even more meaningful change? Unfortunately, Barsamian’s character bashing of Toumani only hinders a more robust Armenia from being realized sooner and prevents an honest conversation about where we are. It’s ok to disagree with Toumani, but to characterize her ideas as “pseudo-intellectual” having “no basis in truth, fact, or reason” and “foolish” is to silence our own and is, from where I stand, disrespectful. These kinds of attacks on new ideas and perspectives are only a disservice to our entire cause, including the recognition of a genocide 100 years ago that was propagated by those who were similarly skilled at belittling people. I don’t think Toumani is trying to deny or diminish the importance of the recognition of the genocide. Rather, she was saying we may need to zoom out a little bit and take a good look in the mirror and ask ourselves, how do we best move forward to ensure not only our survival, but our prosperity as well.

  2. Armen said:


    I am an Iranian Armenian and don’t have a single ancestor who was a genocide victim. That is true for many (but far from all) Iranian Armenians. Toumani’s views are NOT shaped by the fact that her family is from Iran. I was out there with 160,000 of my brothers and sisters as was my wife, daughter and father as well as countless other Armenians from Iran. I think Toumani’s issue is that she is a kumbaya leftist who would just rather “we all get along.” In her naive world, we disapprove of her choice to play down her Armenian heritage (which is indeed true) and we attack her solely for that reason. What she fails to appreciate is that she is being attacked for her caricatures of us as ignorant and hateful when it is she who has the ax to grind. While not an active member of our community, she feels her “oppression” at Camp Hayastan makes her an expert on all things Armenian. Please.

  3. Garen Yegparian said:

    No issue people, or even one person, wants to address should be ignored. It should be robustly debated, resolved or temporarily shelved for future review if no consensus can be achieved.

    The problem with Toumani is NOT that she raises issues.

    The problem with Toumani IS that she presumes to be a voice in the wilderness trying to speak of reason and wisdom to an unhearing cohort.

    The problem with Toumani IS where she raises her issues, in forums that are not primarily Armenian, but rather forums that will gain her notice in the broader American context.

    The problem with Toumani IS the timing of her pronouncements. Really? A NYT OpEd and an NPR interview slamming Genocide literature posted in Yerevan’s airport, both on April 24th?

    The problem with Toumani IS that none of the questions she poses is new, yet she seems to think they are and somehow wants recognition fore inventing them.

    I have been convinced that she as a pathetic creature who is stuck in a pubescent mindset who wants fame, and is resorting to artificially induced martyrdom to get it.