by Rosa Lia
A few days before Holocaust Memorial Day, Armenians and members of the social movement Dror Israel commemorated the Armenian Genocide.
Between 1915 and 1923, 2 million Armenians were victims of genocide. The Ottoman government killed them through forced labor, massacre and death marches to the Syrian desert. This genocide is not recognized by either Israel or Turkey.
Armenian suffering was renewed in late March, 2014. In Kessab - an Armenian populated town in Syria close to the border with Turkey – several thousand residents have been forced from their homes by rebel soldiers thought to be supported by the Turkish government.
A memorial event which took place on April 24th in Jerusalem aimed at changing this path. The day started with prayers, was followed by a memorial, then a protest outside the Turkish embassy before they left to march in Tel Aviv.
The focus was on hope rather than blame. Hoppie Jordan, an Armenian at the event said:
“We will never forget…and want to live peacefully with our neighbours”
“I'm here today to show the whole world that there was a massacre and today Turkey denies that. We would like to ask Erdogan [Prime Minister of Turkey] why he's not saying the truth. We will never forget the genocide. Even the new generation which is coming and growing up – they will never forget it. We are a peaceful people. We want to live peacefully with our neighbours, whoever they are. Muslims, Jews, Christians, even Turks. They are welcome. Peacefully, everything will be solved.”
Apo Sahagian, a younger Armenian activist, said:
“We took […Erdogan’s comments] as an advanced form of denial”.
“For me it’s about protesting for some truth from the Turkish side. I’m not going to accept their denial about the history. Foreign media was impressed that the Turkish Prime Minister, Erdogan, said that he shared the pain of the events of 1915. Most foreign media took that as an apology, but we took that as an advanced form of denial because they were not simply events. It was a [he stammers the word] genocide, an act of systematic extermination of a people. For me that triggered even more value for me to be at the protest that day and to demand the truth.”
The two had different relationships to the event. Hoppie talked about her personal family losses:
“From my mother's side they marched. 40 men were killed. Do you know what that means? If they were alive, how much bigger my family would be... Why? It's a big question. The answer we will get very soon. We pray to God.”
“It’s about history, truth and compensation”
For the younger Apo, it was about Armenian independence and the history of his people:
“I was born in 1990 so I grew up with an independent state of Armenia and that has always been something I can trust. So, for me personally, the genocide is more about history, about truth and compensation. And I don’t personally think I’ll go back. There are 14 million Kurds living on those lands. But I guess the generational difference, sometimes it shines and sometimes it doesn’t.”
The day was marked by music - from the prayers in the church through to the demonstration outside the Turkish embassy. Apo, who came to the event with his guitar, said:
“We’re a musical people, we the Armenians. We have a lot of songs. Some protests are more about speeches and slogans. Ours are more about songs. A lot of songs were lost during the genocide. A lot of songs. The things we were singing folk songs, but they’re more about the land. They’re the revolutionary folk songs. You can say it’s more for display – we haven’t lost all of our culture. We still maintain it.”
Hoppie said: “The message is like this: We have to work hand in hand. Peacefully. We've got to do it together. That's it.”
“If we know enough about genocides, maybe we can stop them”
Gal Issac, a member of Dror Israel and a youth educator said:
“I came to participate in the sorrow of the Armenian people. I think it's really important for Israel to acknowledge the Armenian Holocaust because we're Jewish and because we've been through something similar. I think that if we know enough about genocides, then maybe we can stop them.”
Apo was less willing to compare the story of the Armenian people to that of the Israelis:
“You want me to compare? [laughs then pauses] For people that have been through a cosmic tragedy such as a genocide, a holocaust…the ideas of sovereignty, security, independence serve a pillar, it becomes a pillar of their identity. You can relate it to Israel by saying that even in Armenia we always need that sense of security. The army, independence…we value our independence more than we value anything else probably. Independence is the most important thing for us. And a strong Armenia, a strong army to defend the country…I guess a genocide does have something to do with that. That sense of vulnerability is intimidating for us and we don’t want to feel that.”