[TW: genocide, murder, rape]
I have never wanted to think about this, let alone have I ever talked about this. I deny it every year on the 24th of April. I try my best to block it out. My mother told me a story eight years ago today when I was ten, when she decided I was old enough to know the truth. I wasn’t old enough. I’m still not. I don’t think I ever will be. But this April 24th I decided to instead share the story that my mother told me and the impression it left on me. It might be long. I’m writing this out in one shot.
She asked me if a tree falls in the woods and no one’s there to hear it, does it make a sound? I was ten. I laughed and said no. She then changed the question and asked me if the tree fell in the woods and there were people in earshot, but they choose to cover their ears as it dropped, did I still think it didn’t make a sound? I didn’t know what she meant, but I’m starting to understand.
For the last 97 years that tree hasn’t made a sound to anyone not from these woods. My mother told me it’s my generation’s job to share with the world what sound it makes. Here it goes:
97 years ago today my great great grandparents were murdered. Not one news station is talking about it. 97 years ago my great grandparents had to run from their country. My great grandfather was three years old. Three. A three year old survived 97 years ago. They gathered the children in his area and set them on fire. My great grandfather, three years old, set on fire. Three years old and watching a mass of children burnt alive around him. Three years old. No one could expect a three year old to survive, but he did. No one checked for the living. If he wasn’t taken in by another woman who found him half dead, hiding behind the burnt bodies of his playmates, the children who should have one day become his friends, his classmates, his colleges, his girlfriends. Children instead reduced to ash and bone and the smell of burning hair. If he didn’t live, if he wasn’t rescued, I wouldn’t be alive. A three year old escaped a genocide but no one is willing to hear him. That’s why I’m here.
97 years ago my great grandfather watched his parents die. Three years old, watching blood rush out of his parents. Three years old, witnessing murder and then herded outside and set on fire like cattle, and for only one reason: they were Armenian. My great great grandparents and 1.5 million more Armenians were massacred by the Turkish 97 years ago today, solely for living in Armenia, for speaking Armenian.
But my country, the USA, will not call it a genocide. My great great grandparents murdered in front of their child for being Armenian. But they will not call it genocide. Children were gathered into school buildings and killed with toxic gases. Families were forced into cattle barns and burnt alive. Hundreds of thousands of people marched into the desert, denied food or water or shelter, repeatedly raped and beaten until they were ultimately left for dead, all because they were Armenian. But no one will call it a genocide. No one will listen to the stories, to the sounds a genocide makes. For 97 years the screams, the pleas, the crackling of fire, have all been put on mute. There aren’t any more living survivors, none that can fight back. 97 years of silence. America never sent help. America still stands in the woods has cotton in their ears, just watching every tree in the woods falling, rotting. Over 97 years we’ve become a forest reduced to shrubs, that is how they see us.
I’ve always called myself an American first and foremost. I was born in this country and I love it. I supported our current president and continue to, even today. But I’ve realized I can’t be an American when I am also Armenian. I am also one of the hundreds of thousands our current (and past) president lied to when he promised to recognize the Armenian genocide. And until things start to change, until the first words I would speak to my great grandfather if I had the chance aren’t “I’m sorry”, until then I can’t call myself an Armenian-American. I have to be one or the other.
And as for how I will make my choice and why it is so simple to me, let me remind you:
The USA would not think twice if my great grandfather didn’t survive. They would not care about yet another Armenian child that was brutally murdered. And they still would not care if that meant I would not be alive, either. I am a US citizen, but they would let me die. I am a US citizen, but my existence is nothing to this country. How am I supposed to feel as an Armenian-American knowing that this country has no problem watching my people die out, watching them waste away, watching my culture be reduced into ash and bone, like school children on fire, like cattle, like rotting fallen trees? The US has made it very clear that they don’t care about recognizing our existence, our survival. Why? Because we’re Armenian. We’re people reduced to ash, to bone, to nothing of importance.
The sound of a tree falling in the woods is painful to hear, painful to accept. It’s the sound of the end of something great, something that can never be replaced or repaired. But it is not the only sound in the woods. My great grandfather lived a full, happy life. He grew old, fell in love, got married, and had children. The sound of his daughter (my grandmother) blowing out the candles on her third birthday, and his knowledge that should would be a safe and happy child and one day grow old and thrive- that is also the sound you deny when you deny our pain. By ignoring the horrors of the Armenian genocide, you trivialize the fact that we survived and continue to. We deserve to be celebrated, not silenced. I never met him but if he was still around today, I would tell him I’m sorry. I would tell him I’m sorry that his struggles and his courage still have yet to be celebrated but I would promise him I am going to do everything I can until that changes.
My great grandfather’s name was Joesph. We don’t know his original last name. But Joseph, I swear on my life, I will make them hear us and I won’t let us burn.