After my workout, I was waiting for the eggs to boil so I could have breakfast. In the few minutes I had that morning before work, I decided to check social media to see what interesting things happened overnight.
One headline caught my attention.
A gentleman from Milwaukee, B. Artin Haig, had just passed away at age 104. I never met Mr. Haig, but he was a survivor of the Armenian Genocide, and so I was interested in his story.
I wondered if he or his family came across my great-grandparents or grandparents while on that horrid march from their homes into the desert. A line in the news article (http://www.milwaukeeindependent.com/articles/b-artin-haig-armenian-genocide-survivor-and-milwaukee-photographer-dies-at-104/) from the Milwaukee Independent touched my heart.
It read, “He saw his mother dragged away by Turkish soldiers and his father, a math professor, disappeared.”
Although I can’t confirm, I bet Mr. Haig was one of the last Armenian Genocide survivors.
What he saw was similar to the stories of many families. My grandfather left an audiotape of what he witnessed during the genocide and in it, he also saw families torn apart due to the orders of the Ottoman Turkish leadership, and the handpicking of women and children by Ottoman Turkish soldiers.
These thoughts saddened me. Before I could finish the story, my son came into the room.
“Baba, hold me,” he said. He had just woken up because of a dream. Perhaps it was the noise I made in finding a pot to boil the eggs in.
I held him tight for about a minute. What my 4 year old didn’t realize was I needed a hug at that moment more than he did.
Wanting to see the names of other Armenian Genocide survivors, I decided to drive through the Ararat and Masis cemeteries on Belmont Avenue.
The story of the cemeteries go that K.P. Peters, M. Marcarian, and S. Keshishyan purchased a small portion of land in 1885 from a local businessman, and that was the beginning stages of the area where many of Fresno’s Armenian Americans have been laid for their final resting place.
Today the land is approximately 16 acres.
As I drove by the many gravestones, one line on a stone caught my attention. It read, “Native of Dikranagerd.” Dikranagerd, known now as Diyarbekir, is located in Turkey along the Tigris River. In the late 1800s tens of thousands of Armenians and Assyrians were massacred there. In 1915, the city was completely cleansed of its Christian population.
An Armenian church damaged during the genocide was renovated as a sign of reconciliation. However, in 2016, the Turkish government confiscated the church during the clashes with the area’s Kurdish population.
As April 24th approaches, Armenian Genocide commemoration activities begin to take form. As much as we want to say that we should be thankful that we survived, words won’t take away or quantify the loss suffered by Armenians in Ottoman Turkey. Many of the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the survivors are still wounded by the pain from the stories of those who survived.
Three commemorative Fresno events will take place on April 24th:
▪ City Hall, 10 a.m.: The longstanding tradition of raising the United States and Armenian flags in front of Fresno City Hall will occur, sponsored by the Armenian National Committee of America–Central California and the Armenian Cultural Foundation.
▪ Fresno State, noon: The Armenian Students Organization will have its event at the Armenian Genocide monument. The students have led a commemoration for many years.
▪ Fresno State, 6 p.m.: The Armenian Genocide Commemorative Committee of Fresno will have a civic and religious service at the Armenian Genocide monument. This year, student written essays will be presented and read out loud.
That day my drive ended at the graves of my grandparents. This year is the first without my grandpa. He always shared stories of his family’s horrific survival of the genocide.
I’ll look out at the audiences at the various commemorative events and remind myself that I am there for him, and the others who are no longer with us. Our wounds are a reminder of human resilience.