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.
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.