April 24th, 1915: My great-great grandfather is taken from his home, dragged into his backyard and beheaded. My young ten-year-old great grandmother watches, then with her sister goes to the backyard and buries her father’s head. This is the day that started it all, then genocide of the Armenians has started by taking all intellectuals and killing them, leaving the women, children and disabled to fend for themselves.
I am a little girl in the sixth grade, standing in a crowd of nearly 8,000 people in the middle of Times Square, NYC; many of them strangers from major cities around the U.S. We are all here for the same cause, recognition and reparations of the Armenian Genocide. A man is speaking; he is different from other speakers. He isn’t screaming into the microphone that the Turks are ignorant and they are all awful people; he is telling a story. It is the story of a little girl who stood up to her sixth grade history teacher when he denied the Armenian Genocide. As he closes his story of how the situation played out, I realize something; I had the same encounter with my sixth grade teacher. All of the sudden as people are applauding him—I make the connection—the little girl the speaker is talking about is me.
1.5 million Armenians are killed from 1915 to 1923. They were beheaded, hung, shot, and exiled through the Syrian Desert without food and water.
In Mr. Smith’s sixth grade history class we were asked to write an essay about an event in history. I knew what the Armenian Genocide was, but though learning about it at camp, at seminars and through my dad, I wanted to learn more. After researching it, I wrote about the Armenian Genocide. After class, Mr. Smith pulled me aside and said he couldn’t grade my essay. He said, “The Armenian Genocide never occurred.” Though he was a history teacher, I looked at him and said, “Mr. Smith, the Armenian Genocide did occur, you can grade it.” He looked at me and said that he would try to do so, but he didn’t know how much truth there was to the essay. Though discouraged I knew that there was proof that the genocide occurred and even though my teacher couldn’t recognize that, I could.
The Young Turks deceived the Armenians. All they provided the Armenians with was nothing but false hope. They killed the men, raped the women, and tortured the others, and sooner or later, they were being separated from family members and killed. Some people in my family who once had a father or a mother, after the genocide…NEVER SAW THEM AGAIN. This is one of the sad and harsh realities that many Armenians went through.
The qualities those experiences instilled in me have allowed me to advocate to non-Armenians at my school who may not be aware of not only the Armenian Genocide, but also other genocides, particularly Darfur. I’ve created multimedia presentations that have been used for educational purposes for the Armenian Youth Federation around the U.S. and in several public high schools. This recently occurred in June, in my history class’ final assessment. Our task was to choose a historical issue or event and examine how it relates to the United States. I chose the Armenian Genocide. I examined America’s recognition of it in the past and contrasted how America’s position today has become a political debate, not an issue of historical fact, due to our geopolitical relationship with Turkey. It was important that I did not focus on just the Armenian Genocide, but how unpunished genocides lead to other genocides and what factors led to the United States’ action or inaction.
The Armenians never let spirits low; they made sure the world knew who they were after surviving the Genocide. The diaspora flourished and today continues to spread the word of our ancestors. We are proud of who we are and we will not be silenced by the Turkish government. The United States has felt pressure to not recognize the Genocide from the Turkish government and the Armenian-Americans will not continue to lobby and protest for recognition, reparations and restitution.
Growing up and Armenian-American has taught me lessons that I carry, and will continue to carry with me throughout my life and is one of the things who made me who I am today. Working hard, expanding my horizons and relationships, and having passion for something are a few of those lessons among many others. Within the Armenian-American community I’ve had a range of experiences that have shaped me into the unique individual I am. Although I may not be fluent in the language, I’ve spent a lot of time growing up deeply involved in my heritage and learning about it. Every summer since I was nine years old, I’ve attended Camp Haiastan, an Armenian youth camp in Franklin, Massachusetts. There I’ve learned conversational Armenian and expanded my knowledge in the history of Armenia and the Armenian Genocide. There I’ve also made life-long friendships with the amazing and different people that I’ve had the privilege to meet. Because of this camp I now have friends who live in not just the United States, but expanding all the way to countries such as England, Italy and Egypt. This hasn’t just given me fun new friends that live all over the world; it has also shown me all of the various places the Armenian Diaspora has spread to. Not only did I develop these qualities at camp, but also by being involved as a member of the Armenian Youth Federation. From being an active member in this youth group, I’ve attended AYF Junior Seminar, which is where youth from around the country come together for a weekend filled with multiple lectures by noted Armenian individuals specializing in all aspects of the world in relation to the Genocide. Usually this weekend is themed and one night each chapter puts on a skit on how that year’s theme ties together with the Armenian Genocide. Within this group, I have become an advocate for the Armenian Genocide and how thegenocide is still a current issue for Armenian-Americans to fight for. This group is something I am proud to be in and it also helps me be in a community that some of my friends from school don’t get to partake in. It’s really nice to have friends from both communities in my life and having friends in both has helped me expand my life in various ways.
I’ve traveled to multiple cities nationwide for various protests, demonstrations and events. I’ve learned to voice my opinion on the current issues and had the opportunity to speak for my generation to the press and political representatives. Standing in these crowds, feelings of pride and passion rush through me. When I’m standing in Times Square, just one ant in the middle of an anthill’s colony, I am a part of something that is bigger than myself. It’s an exhilarating rush of togetherness, just like a basketball team has on the court after a play to win the championship game. Experiences like these make me feel like I am making a difference with my life.
Now that I’m a freshman in college, being knowledgeable in issues most people my age don’t know much about, I look back on that little girl who stood up to her teacher in the sixth grade and I applaud and thank her. I do this because if it weren’t for the little girl I was and the path that little girl followed; I probably wouldn’t have gained all the valuable experiences and lessons that I learned from being an Armenian-American. That little girl’s voice was the foundation in shaping me into the person of who I am now.
*Freshman Rycenga Award Winner