Playing The Genocide Numbers Game In Armenia

When people tell me I look like a million, I don’t know who’s fooling whom. I don’t know whether they mean I feel like I just inherited a million bucks, or that I look like a million (years).

Either way, it turns into a numbers game that is far beyond my comprehension and yours. People with a $10 million lottery ticket are no better off than a $9 million winner. A million in this case doesn’t make a big difference either way.

While touring Armenia in April, I was “one in a million.” On April 24th, the 94th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, I joined a crowd estimated at 1 million making its annual pilgrimage to the memorial on the outskirts of Yerevan, the capital city.

Had you been there, you would not have seen a bigger crowd anywhere, no matter what the activity. It was incredulous three years ago during my first trip to Armenia that I was immersed in a crowd of 100,000 which turned out to celebrate Armenian Independence Day.

My Memorial Day encounter topped that figure tenfold. The entire city shut down in favor of this commemoration so mourners could gather with their families and place flowers by the eternal flame.

A 2-3 hour wait was typical, by the time you made your way from the park’s entrance to Tsitzernagapert (monument’s name). Along the route, you spent time getting acquainted, chatting with others, listening to liturgical music over loudspeakers, and just rekindling history.

Many like myself thought about what it must felt like back in 1915 when the Ottoman Turkish hordes invaded one village after another and put to death 1.5 million innocent victims while sending another million from their homeland.

It does a population good to recall those events annually and teach younger generations so that history will not repeat itself. Although it is a national day of mourning in Armenia, it is also a day of commemoration and gratitude in some ways that a country torn with strife was able to display its resilience and rise from the ashes.

I purposely planned my trip to coincide with the event, having been a part of such observances back home which display a great sense of apathy. In Armenia, history is laid before them. Here, it serves well to bury the past and look to the future.

With 4,500 Armenians in Merrimack Valley, three local commemorations drew less than 500. The population in all of Yerevan is listed around 1 million. Perhaps 80 percent of the entire settlement turned out, joined by another 20 percent from the outskirts, though many of those villages conducted their own observances.

I was also impressed by the heavy representation of youth at this memorial. The night before, members of the younger generation marched five miles in the rain to the monument, singing patriotic songs.

Many of those also repeated the gesture next day, hoisting signs of every country, which recognizes the genocide. Sad to say, my own America was not among them, even though 44 states have formally endorsed such legislation.

Those who know me recognize the fact I’m not very good in crowded situations and avoid them at all costs. I did attend a Celtics play-off game and that was bad enough with 17,000 in attendance, only to see my favorite Boston team lose.

You would think that 1 million folks would resemble a mob scene, jostling its way to irritation. On the contrary, security guards along the way kept the massive throng moving in coordinated stages.

A face in the crowd. A pine needle on an evergreen. An acorn in a forest. For one moment in my life, I was a pebble at the seashore. People were everywhere —as far as the naked eye could see.

Whether it was a rose or a lilac, they came equipped with enough flowers to build a 20-foot floral wall. Vendors did a brisk business keeping up with the trade. Men in military uniforms stood next to youngsters sporting neckties.

No fanfare or ritual. They arrived to pay homage, place a flower and off they went. It was easy to understand why businesses and schools were closed for the day. It took that long to work through the crowd.

One or two were seen draped in red, blue and orange — colors of the Armenian flag — while one demonstrator, an elderly woman, held a sign in memory of Hrant Dink, the slain Turkish-Armenian journalist. She held her ground from morning ëtil night.

“He gave his life for his country and his people,” she said. “Hrant Dink was a modern-day martyr whose memory will never be forgotten.”

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