BY HAZEL BARSAMIAN
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.”