BY MARIA TITIZIAN
It is that time of year again when Armenians around the globe commemorate the Armenian Genocide of 1915.
I am not going to recount stories about my grandparents, survivors from Musa Ler, Urfa and Marash. As Armenians, we all have similar stories although the overwhelming majority of us, with a few notable exceptions, have not recorded them or presented them to the world.
I suspect one day when I have the time or the nerve or the audacity, I will want and perhaps need to write about my grandparents and parents, how their lives were torn apart, how their victimization continues generations on because of a horrific crime that took place almost a century ago. I will want to write about the unseen ghosts that lingered stubbornly in their lives, of how their homes and villages were obliterated and how they became wandering migrants, moving from country to country in search of a home they never found, only to die and be buried in lands that contained no memories except pain and exile.
I donít want to talk about Yerkir, the Korustyal Hayrenik (The Lost Homeland) although I made the impossible pilgrimage there eight years ago by traveling with great trepidation and zero expectation to Kars, Van, Mush, Erzerum… I am still trying to process what I saw and experienced and felt, and as such I am not ready yet to write about it or give justice to the monumental imprint that it has left on my existence and identity. In time, I hope I will be able to.
I donít want to discuss the ongoing denialist policy by the government of Turkey regarding its role in the annihilation of 1.5 million Armenians living on their historic homelands. It is a phenomenon that is detrimental to both the Turkish people and an insult to our historical memory and present-day historical rights as Armenians.
I don’t want to file a report about Genocide commemoration events that are going to be taking place in Armenia, including the annual torch march on the eve of April 24th through the streets of Yerevan leading to the Genocide Memorial, perched on a lonely hill in the city that can make your heart explode with pride as a new generation literally and symbolically continues to carry the torch of remembrance a hundred years on.
I donít want to forget that period in my people’s history; I couldn’t even if I wanted to. It is a wound that will not heal, a scar that will not fade, a memory that is so engrained that we can’t let go of it.
I do applaud all those who do these things, who recount, write, publish, visit, lobby, demonstrate and demand and keep the fire burning for recognition and reparation for the victims of the Genocide. I am humbled by your dedication and perseverance, truly.
However, I am done with being a victim, I am done with the psychological impact it has had on us as Armenians. I am done with lobbying foreign governments, from the President of the United States to the newly elected Pope Francis I because my personal history, my very existence is living proof that it did happen.
I am not advocating that we stop demanding justice, recognition, restitution, reparations–but as we near the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, I want us to shift the collective victimization of an entire people to a collective narrative of survival and victory. Frankly, I am tired of the burden of Genocide and all its connotations.
In my work and travels I have met countless foreigners who have always posed the same question, “Why can’t the Armenians forget something that happened a century ago? Where will all this energy spent on recognition get you?” As I have grown and matured, my answers have varied but the main thrust has always been the same–because the perpetrator hasn’t recognized it, because my birthright was stolen, because I was born on lands that are not of my blood and sweat, because I have moved three countries to get back to where I should have started in the first place.
Anything I can write or express about the Genocide will simply be a repetition of all that we know. What I want this year and henceforth is for us to change the way we see ourselves in the world and in the convoluted currents of history. I want us to celebrate our survival, I want us to stop living in the past, I want us to remember that our generation liberated Artsakh and the blood of all those who perished are forever submerged in that soil, I want us to envision many more victories ahead. I don’t want my identity as an Armenian to be solely wrapped around Genocide. I want people to know about our culture, our rich language, our vitality, our indelible imprint on civilization, I want to scream from the mountain tops that I am not a victim but a survivor, a victor and the descendent of a proud nation.
As an Armenian, therefore I am more than the Genocide. Today, our actions are being recorded and will be the stuff of future history books. I want to make a history today that future generations a hundred years from now will look back on with pride and honor. I want a strong, vibrant, present Diaspora, one that is engaged and connected with what it means to be an Armenian and one whose heart and soul is anchored in the homeland. I want a strong, stable country where each and every Armenian is safe, secure, and protected, where there is justice and equality. When my grandchildren and great-grandchildren learn about Armenian history, I want them to be proud of the victories we achieved instead of victimized because of all that we lost.
I don’t want to perpetuate the objective of the perpetrators of the Genocide, I will not allow my history to break me. Yes, we must forge ahead with diligence and with resolve to ensure the recognition of the Genocide by Turkey, but let us at the same time live and breathe a new narrative to ensure that we never again fall prey to oppression, hatred and attempted annihilation. We must be the directors of our destiny and we can only do that if we define a new narrative, if we place these critical factors on our national discourse and agenda. As we commemorate the 98th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, I want to pay hommage to Kevork, Mariam, Hagop and Makruhi, my grandparents, survivors of the Genocide, who vanquished the evil thrust upon them by surviving, living, raising families and creating the conditions and sentiments which guided my journey back to the homeland. It is because of them that I am here.