Sunday, April 27, 2008

On Being Armenian

Throughout my life, I was reminded of the death and destruction that fell upon my family simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I am Armenian – 100% and this week as every week around this time of the year, there is always a remembrance of the genocide that took place April 24, 1915. On that day, the Turkish government carried out their plan to rid their country of the Armenian population in much the same way Hitler planned the systematic destruction of the Jewish people. All Armenians have a story of someone in their family that either lived or died during this massacre. Mine involved my father. His father, who because he was among the prominent citizens of town, was one of the first to be taken from his home and never seen again. My father, his mother, brother and sister were forced to walk across the desert in what was labeled “the death march”. They somehow made their way to America, except for his 3-year-old sister who died of starvation en route. I was named after her. Growing up in NJ, our social life was only with other Armenian families. We lived near Armenians, spoke Armenian in the house and participated in only Armenian functions. I could only have Armenian friends (think how many of those there were in public school) and my brother and I were not allowed to join after school activities that did not have anything to do with the Armenians. That pretty much limits ones social life to being home with parents and their friends and hopefully, someone who was among them that was of our age. That may sound unreasonable but it was not within my world. Most Armenian parents of the genocide generation practiced that same philosophy of child rearing. Things loosened up for me in high school, but my cousin, even at age 16, wasn’t allowed to leave the house without a grown-up. Many of us from that age can’t ride a bike or swim. These were considered dangerous sports and unnecessary. Keep the kids close and pray they will be safe. There are a lot of good things about being from an Armenian household. We always had company over, even during the week and the cuisine is the best. We always knew there would be a lot of people over when the night before, my mother, an excellent cook, worked most of the night to make our favorite foods.We hold family above everything. The remembrance of the massacre by my generation is once removed from the horrors of the massacre. We grew up hearing about it but never experienced it. We didn’t know it then, but we were held close more for them than for us. They needed to feel we wouldn’t be taken away or led on a march somewhere. Our lives are better now because of the struggles of our parents and grandparents and we respect and love them for it. Today to commemorate the massacre, there is a rally in Times Square. to bring attention to the genocide and how the Turkish government still refuses to acknowledge that this systematic killing took place. I won’t go. Today, I will remember my father, who now as a parent, understand him more and more. Azat & Thomas on their wedding day

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