Although I do not post full articles written by other authors on my blog, the following was brought to my attention by the author and friend, Knarik Meneshian. I first met her in 2002 when she came to Armenia along with her husband as volunteers, and they worked in Gyumri for just over a year. Knarik also worked and lived in Meghri, if memory serves correctly, in the early 1990s. Her goals have been to foster self-sufficiency by Armenians who cannot let go of the fact that their government cannot care for all of their socioeconomic needs. In her own ways she helped some understand that their voices should be heard regarding how their society is run, and that changes can be brought about in their own lives under their own control. This article was written in April 2005 on the occasion of the 90th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.
April 24th and the Ruins of Ani
By Knarik O. Meneshian
A river separates the present from the past. And so I sit here, on a hilltop that overlooks Ani, the ancient, crumbling city of a thousand churches. I look at the ruins before me, so close and yet so far. Unable to touch its stones, I pick some wildflowers and toss them to the sky. It is April 24th--Day of Remembrance for Armenians everywhere. As they solemnly gather, men, women, and children, in churches, centers, and at monuments, with heads bowed in reverence, they pay homage to the 1.5 million Armenian men, women, and children--three-quarters of the entire Armenian nation--annihilated in 1915 by the Turkish government in Western or Turkish-occupied Armenia.
Today, here, under the sky of Eastern Armenia, I bow my head in reverence and silent prayer. All around me on this hilltop there is quiet except for the sound of the wind and the gurgling river below. Looking at the ruins and the vast open land before me that leads to Erzerum, Van, Bitlis, Sivas, Kharpert, Diarbekir, Adana and all the other towns and villages that were once Armenian, I think of our martyrs and the horrors they suffered.
I remember looking at reports in the Chicago Daily Tribune—April 29, 1915 - Armenians Flee For Safety ... Turk Soldiers Massacre 800 Christians ... Details From Urmia, Stating Some Were Crucified And Burned Alive ... May 1, 1915 - Recent Massacres In The Whole Region Of Lake Van ... May 6, 1915 - Turks Destroying Villages ... May 8, 1915 - Many Armenian Women Sold As Slaves ... May 18, 1915 - 6,000 In Armenia Slain By Turks—preserved on microfilm, one report after another, describing the slaying of a nation.
And then I remember the times I spoke with some of the survivors who, like my family and I, made Chicago their home: Aristakes of Sepastia, except for a brother, his entire family, including his young bride and unborn child, massacred. Margar of Kharpert, most of his family drowned in the river, like many of the villagers there. Manoushag of Dikranagert, most of her family massacred. Takouhi of Sepastia, her entire family massacred. Vartouhi of Divrig, except for a sister, her entire family massacred…. Even though they came from different towns and villages, they all had the same anguished look in their eyes when they described the atrocities and the brutality of man against man they had witnessed and survived. In rivers, they were drowned. In churches, they were burned. In towns and villages, they were hanged, beheaded, slaughtered, buried alive…. Girls and women were raped and dragged away, forced to worship another god. On parched and dusty roads, of thirst and starvation, they perished. But miraculously, some of them survived.
Today, because of our martyrs and survivors, we Armenians, no matter where we live or who we are, no longer live in fear because of who and what we are--Armenians and Christians. No longer do we hang our heads in servility. Their undying spirit taught us the meaning of courage, determination, perseverance; and the significance of helping one another. For it was in the helping of one another, that enabled those that survived to persevere, whether on the roads and rivers of death, or later in the orphanages.
Looking again at Ani and thinking of the problems here in Armenia and in the Diaspora Armenian communities, I wonder: Are these ancient ruins a symbol of the great culture that once was and can be again, or a harbinger of things to come if we do not take care and nurture what we now have, not only here in Armenia, but in Armenian communities everywhere?
Not far from where I sit, down a meandering, dirt road, a few old houses stand. It is quiet there today, but tomorrow the children will resume their play and the adults their work in this little place beyond the hill where time keeps beat to the rhythm of the land. And like their fathers before them, the people in this remote hamlet observe the old ways like the gyughatsees
or villagers before them. For they are the keepers of our traditions, dialects, cuisine, art, folk songs, and dances. They are the key to what makes our heart sing with longing. Their songs are the ones the great Gomidas—celibate priest, composer, vocalist, musicologist, and Genocide survivor—collected as he traveled from village to village.
In the cities and towns, however, the old ways are discarded and forgotten as the new are fervently and quickly embraced. Both are good and both are needed, just like grandparents and grandchildren. But in the cities, the people call the villager geghatsee,
an unkind way of saying gyughatsee
--forgetting that at one time many of them also came from villages, some even from beyond Ani, where there too time kept beat to the rhythm of the land and the people observed the old ways. And in the Diaspora, where time keeps beat to the rhythm of swift change, new ways and things, there too is a lack of kindness towards one.
This April 24th, whether we live in Armenia or the Diaspora, as we gather to honor our martyrs either through a church service, a moment of remembrance, a memorial program, a bouquet of flowers, a lit candle, or a solitary, silent prayer, let us honor them even more by treating each other with kindness. This year, on the occasion of the 90th Anniversary of the Genocide of the Armenians, let us begin to strengthen Armenia and the Armenian Diaspora, and let it begin with kindness, embraced with compassion, charity, and unity, so that we too can become the keepers of our traditions, forever merging the old with the new.
Labels: Social and Cultural, Thoughts and Musings