Armenians are a feisty people.
We are fiercely proud of our culture. We take pride in our contributions to society, such as the MRI, flexi-straws, the ATM, and color televisions. We show off our culinary and artistic abilities and support those who have become famous as if they are a brother or cousin (Alexis Ohanian, Cher, Joe Manganiello and Geoffrey Zakarian, to name a few), always looking for that “ian” as the credits roll.
And if you’ve ever been to an Armenian wedding, you know that we like to have a good time.
But underneath the smiles, the pride, the talents and strong work ethic, is a very deep pain. Our hearts are heavy because our history is marred. And it’s something that every single Armenian carries with them. It is intrinsic to our identity. It is the Armenian Genocide.
On April 24, 1915 the Young Turk government of the Ottoman Empire gathered hundreds of Armenian intellectuals and leaders in Turkey (historic Armenia) and executed them, marking the beginning of a systematic and premeditated extermination of Armenian Christians from their ancestral lands
Men were killed, children were stolen, women were raped. There was a forced death march across the Der Zor desert into Syria. More than 1.5 million souls were lost in this first holocaust of the 20th century. In fact, Raphael Lemkin created the word “genocide” in 1944 based on what happened to the Armenians.
The genocide scattered Armenians all over the world. Like a packet of seeds strewn across a garden, we took root. We grew, we blossomed and we thrived. And yet, we suffer.
We suffer because, to this day, Turkey denies the genocide ever happened. Unlike Germany, which recognized the Holocaust and made reparations, Turkey continues to deny the truth. And through a very powerful lobby, Turkey spreads its lies to its own children and to the world.
For 102 years, Armenians have been fighting. My great-grandfather fought for his life by lying among a pile of dead bodies for hours until he could escape. My parents fought for a better life and greater opportunities when they emigrated to the United States. And all Armenians continue to fight for recognition and justice and simply for the truth to be told.
But there is another way. And it’s a much less popular and more difficult way. There is a way to finally find the peace that we are looking for – and that is to forgive.
Armenians are quick to note that we were the first nation to accept Christianity in 301 A.D. We are quick to tell others that Noah’s Ark landed on our Mount Ararat. But we’re not so quick to filter the genocide through our faith. It is because of our faith that we were targeted and it is because of our faith that we have survived.
Our faith must continue to be a salve to our wounds. We can still fight. We can march. We can push for legislation to teach the Armenian Genocide in our history books. We can urge our president to call this “tragedy” by its actual name: genocide (something no sitting U.S. President has ever done). But we must forgive.
I had the privilege of meeting a Christian Turkish pastor a couple of years ago. “Christian Turkish” sounds like an oxymoron but it was true. There are many Turks who are finding Jesus and proclaiming the truth of our history. This pastor, through tears, stood in front of our church and apologized for the wrongs of his ancestors to our ancestors a century before.
Never in my lifetime did I expect to hear “I’m sorry” from a Turk.
Never in my lifetime did I expect to hear prayers in the Turkish language.
Never in my lifetime did I expect my heart to soften.
There is so much evil in this world. But if we let it harden our hearts, then it wins. We must do the much harder thing, as the Christians we claim to be, and forgive. We will never forget our past; we will never forget the atrocities our grandparents and great-grandparents suffered. They suffered for their faith, and that faith is what will set us free from the chains of our past.
The Armenian Genocide will always be a part of our identity – but it should not define us. Let us forgive to rise above the hatred, to begin to genuinely heal, and to represent our true identity in Christ Jesus.
Silva Emerian is from Boston but has been a California girl since 2001. With a long and varied background in fashion, she is a freelance writer and editor, wife and mother to two active boys. She lives in Clovis, where shoes and chocolate make her world go ’round. Connect with her at her blog On My Shoebox, on Facebook and Instagram @onmyshoebox.
Armenian Genocide commemoration
Events at Armenian Genocide Monument at Fresno State, 5241 N. Maple Ave.:
▪ Noon, speakers and performances by students from the Charlie Keyan Armenian Community School and Fresno State.
▪ 6 p.m., Fresno Mayor Lee Brand will be the keynote speaker during evening events that begin at 6 p.m. with the laying of flowers and include a religious service. Other speakers include University President Joseph Castro and Honorary Consul of Armenia in Fresno Berj Apkarian. The Armenian Dance Group of Fresno will perform.
▪ 7:30 p.m., book reading of “Echo of Silence” by author Fethiye Cetin, St. Paul Armenian Church, 3767 N. First Street
▪ 1:30 p.m., film showing of “Women of 1915” by Bared Maronian, Leon S. and Pete P. Peters Educational Auditorium, 5010 W. Woodrow Ave.