By Ted AYALA
They found themselves isolated, unwelcome, cast out virtually overnight from the empire they had called home for centuries. Their leaders were rounded up, incarcerated, and eventually executed. Hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens met their demise at the end of a bayonet, the blade of a sword, a rifle shot; their bodies heaped over countless others in fetid ditches. Entire families and communities were torn apart.
Many who escaped the pogroms and firing squads wandered desperately into the desert, only to find a protracted death resulting from thirst, malnutrition, blistering heat or sheer exhaustion. A lucky few managed to board trains and ships headed to Russia, France and the United States, among other destinations, forming thriving communities there that endure to this day.
Nearly a century has passed since these atrocities, now recognized by many as the Armenian Genocide. But for many Armenian people, the wounds they collectively suffered at the hands of the Ottoman Turks remains fresh and largely unhealed.
Modern-day Turkey’s denials of the genocide, as well as its refusal to apologize for the actions of its former imperial government, have stoked the flames of resentment of Armenians worldwide. Compounding their outrage is the failure of many of the most powerful nations in the world – including the United States – to denounce the Turkish acts.
Yet, if that pain served to sever the links of the Armenian community from its ancestral homeland and to disperse its people across the world, it also brings the community together ever more tightly today. Not only have Armenians managed to transcend the horrors that were visited upon them, but they have also emerged even stronger and more united.
No better indication of this could be found than at the 13th Annual Genocide Commemoration held at Glendale High School John Wayne Performing Arts Center on Monday night. It was an evening that was by turns solemn, raucous, joyful and reflective. It was also streaked with defiance – the defiance of a people who refuse to be cowed, refuse to forget the injustices of the past.
“For [Armenians],” said Congressman Adam Schiff, “the genocide is all too real.”
Schiff read aloud from an open letter he sent to the Turkish press, demanding that they muster the “courage” to face up to the facts of the genocide for the sake of not only helping to heal the past, but for the sake of future generations of Armenians and Turks.
“Interwoven with all of Turkey’s great achievements is a dark chapter in history [their young people] know little or nothing about,” he read. “Do you ever wonder what happened to the Armenians? Do you ever ask your parents and grandparents how such a large [community] could just vanish? Do you know why your government goes to such lengths to conceal this history? As a young man in Turkey, you may ask, ‘What does this have to do with me?’ Yours is the moral responsibility to acknowledge the truth and seek the reconciliation with the Armenian people that your parents or grandparents could not or would not do.” [To read the full letter, go to Viewpoints, page 10.]
Students from across the Glendale Unified School District (GUSD), including Crescenta Valley and Clark Magnet high schools, contributed to the event with music, dances, poem recitations and the screening of short films.
Among the evening’s most memorable moments was when one student performed a brief piano piece by Vardapet Komitas, one of the first Armenian intellectuals to be arrested in the wake of the genocide. The piece’s fragile, plaintive beauty was made all the more poignant by the knowledge of its composer’s fate. He was one of the first Armenian intellectuals imprisoned by the Turks. When confronted with the vastness of the horror, he fell into a steep mental collapse from which he would never emerge.
“It’s great to see all of our students come together in song, dance and poetry,” said GUSD Board of Education Vice President Greg Krikorian. “It’s important to [present] the students’ voices.”
It was also a moment to show that the tragedy of the Armenian Genocide is suffered not only by the Armenian people but, as board of education President Mary Boger said, a tragedy borne by all of humanity.
“We are all Armenians,” she said.