Valley Voices

Learning to forgive, but never forget, the Armenian Genocide

School kids from the St. Paul Saturday Armenian School of Fresno sing during the annual Armenian Flag raising ceremony to commemorate the victims and survivors of the Armenian Genocide, outside Fresno City Hall on Saturday, April 21, 2018.
School kids from the St. Paul Saturday Armenian School of Fresno sing during the annual Armenian Flag raising ceremony to commemorate the victims and survivors of the Armenian Genocide, outside Fresno City Hall on Saturday, April 21, 2018. Fresno Bee file

My teenage son snapped at me during dinner recently.

In a move that surprised even myself, I kept my cool and didn’t say a word. Soon after, he came to me, head hanging in shame, and apologized for his rudeness. I instantly forgave him, but of course there were consequences as a result of his disrespect.

When someone has wronged you, realizes their error, comes to you and apologizes — especially when it’s someone you love — it’s fairly easy to accept that apology and offer forgiveness.

When an authoritarian regime carries out an evil and murderous scheme to annihilate the entirety of your people, it’s a little bit harder to forgive.

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Silva Emerian Contributed

On April 24, 1915 the leaders of the Ottoman Empire in Turkey began the systematic murder and deportation of all the Christian Armenians living in their (historically Armenian) land. This Armenian Genocide became the first holocaust of the 20th century, a crime against humanity resulting in the death of 1.5 million Armenians (including my great-grandparents) and the deportation of hundreds of thousands more.

To this day, 104 years later, the Turkish government denies the Armenian Genocide occurred. This, despite eyewitness accounts, including that of Henry Morgenthau, U.S. Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire from 1913-16. This, despite photographic evidence, mass graves and first-person testimony from survivors. This, despite physical proof and tangible documents making denial unfounded and implausible, the denial continues.

And, therefore, so does the suffering of the Armenian people. Have we not suffered enough?

As the first Christian nation, Armenia has clung to her faith since 301 AD. While we have been persecuted for it, our faith is what has ensured our survival.

Our faith is the key to our future. It is due to our faith that we can — and should — forgive Turkey for the genocide and its subsequent denial.

I want to cringe as I say that out loud. The genocide has become an identifying factor for Armenians. As a result, we have developed a collective hatred for Turkey that, while understandable, is also a cause for shame. This hatred continues to be passed on through the generations and stands in direct opposition to our faith.

While our struggle and ongoing fight for recognition should continue, we should also pursue something else: healing. The deep, lasting, soul-cleansing healing that we need as a people can only come from forgiveness.

Forgiveness is so difficult, can be painful, and is a process that takes time. But the alternative is a continuous gnawing of our hearts that prolongs the grief and suffering we’ve already endured for the past 104 years.

Can we forgive someone who is not remorseful? Can we forgive someone who does not care? Can we forgive someone who admits no wrongdoing and instead accuses us of lying about it? Can we forgive someone who spits on the memory of our forefathers and mocks the agony of our ancestors?

Yes, yes, yes and yes.

We can do it by faith. We can do it by the strength of our Savior Jesus Christ, who on Easter reminds us of His ultimate sacrifice on the cross and the glorious resurrection that guarantees eternal salvation for all who believe. If we, as Christians, believe in the power of Jesus’ resurrection, then we believe in the power of His Holy Spirit that lives in us. It is by this Holy Spirit that we can forgive and claim healing for our people.

Our children deserve a better future than a legacy of pain and hatred. Let us continue the fight for recognition of the Armenian Genocide and set the historical record straight. But let’s do it with dignity and be a faithful example to the international community.

Let us summon the deep faith and courage of our ancestors to forgive their offenders in spite of ongoing offense. Our passion for truth can fuel an exciting and productive future as we remember our past without letting its burdens keep us buried there.

Silva Emerian of Clovis is a freelance writer and editor, wife and mother to two sons. Contact her by email silva@onmyshoebox.com, her blog OnMyShoebox.com, and on Facebook and Instagram @onmyshoebox.

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