Never Forget

There are several versions of the story about my grandfather’s arrival in America.

Some of them have him hidden away aboard a steamer trunk and smuggled onto a ship bound for the west.

Others tell of him running away from his village and hiding out wherever he could until he was able to meet up with an aunt and uncle who spirited him away.

Most of the stories have him ending up in France for a while, before making his way to the United States and through the portals of Ellis Island.

Though I don’t know all the details, I do know the reason for his escape. Beginning in 1915, a radical sect called the Young Turks rose to power in Turkey and embarked upon a mission to eradicate Christianity from the region. As a result, more than 1.5 million Armenian people were systematically murdered, my grandfather’s family among them.

But one son survived, and found his way to the Promised Land. It certainly wasn’t milk and honey here. He married young and had six children to feed during the Depression plus a chronically ill wife to care for. He might have wondered sometimes about the meaning of it all. Probably more often he wished for the support of his own parents and siblings, whom he left behind when he fled and never saw or heard from again. It would be hard to be on your own in a foreign land, where no one speaks your language or knows much about where you came from.

It would be even harder if you knew your family had probably been brutally killed while you had been lucky enough to survive.

A woman holds a candle during a religious service marking the anniversary of mass killings of Armenians in Ottoman Empire in 1915 at an Armenian church in Tbilisi April 24 2012. Photo: REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili

April 24 is designated as  Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, and the usual news stories have surfaced about Turkey’s failure to acknowledge this episode in history as a true genocide, and the failure of other nations (our own included) to do so. I don’t pretend to understand the reasons for political palaver, but I do believe that any time a nation sanctions mass killings of innocent people they should be held accountable in some fashion – at the very least, they should suffer shame from the rest of the world.

Naturally I remember my grandfather and the members of our family who were victims of that horrible time, as well as all the other individuals who were persecuted because of their Christian beliefs. They are the very people politicians and religious leaders claim to care about, but who became the victims of misplaced ideology and rhetoric.

Any time a group of people with extremist views are allowed to gather power, innocent people are at risk of destruction.

Never forget.

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4 thoughts on “Never Forget

  1. Hi Rebecca, I had no idea that your ancestors were victims of the Armenian genocide. It’s definately one of the tragedies not fully recognised by our society.

    Have you ever read the book “Not even my name: a true story” from Thea Halo? It’s the story of Thea & her mother Sano going back to Turkey in search of the old village where Sano grew up before she was forced to leave on a death march. Sano tells the story of the exodus, the loss of her family members, …. Very moving

  2. I’m sorry to say I knew nothing of the genocide until reading this. What an experience for your grandfather, and what a tragedy for the country.

    One phrase did catch me – “The Young Turks”. I’ve been familiar with that my whole life. Ironically, I never thought of it in any negative sense. When I heard it used, it always seemed to designate nothing more than a group of young men who were up-and-comers. I guess they were, originally, but not in the positive way I’d assumed.

    Now that I know something of the history, perhaps I’ll be more aware of references to it. I certainly hope that our generations can deal with adversity as well as our parents and grandparents.

  3. Becca,
    One of the most moving experiences of my life was in Jerusalem in the Armenian quarter. Kevin & I went to St. James church, thinking we were just going to see the inside of the church, but it turned out to be a mass. Incredible. Fogs of incense, men wearing ornrate vestments and huge bejewelled crosses…I felt like we had been flashed back to the beginning of religion, the beginning of all ritual, the origins of awe.
    Then we went into the little museum to read about the genocide and the most haunting music I’ve ever heard was playing. I bought the cassette (it was 1998) of Armenian song and played it endlessly.
    I think of that experience often. It is always with a sense of the power of that beautiful sadness I heard in those voices.
    It is so wrong that this has not been acknowledged. It needs to be known.
    Lest we forget.

    • Armenian church services are quite impressive. I’ve been awestruck myself at some of the family weddings and funerals at the Armenian church here in Detroit.

      Most people don’t know that Armenia was the first nation to adopt Christianity as its national religion.

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