In November 2019 Michelle Obama published her book, “Becoming: A Guided Journal for Discovering Your Voice.” The book (a journal) contains over 150 questions designed to help you the reader capture your own voice by reflecting on your personal and family history, your goals, etc. Questions like:
1. What major historical events affected your family, whether in the distant past or more recently?
2. Where did your ancestors come from and what challenges did they face?
3. What kind of childhood did your parents or grandparents have? How was it different from or similar to your own?
4. If you could rewrite history books, what would you add that was left out?
See, the story of my grandparents and parents is so tragic and sad that it hurts to even remember.
When I was a little girl growing up in Lebanon, the stories I was told by my elders were not of Cinderella and Prince Charming. Rather, they were stories of survival told by my parents and grandparents. I did not fully comprehend them at the time. All I knew was that my grandparents had fought the Turks and eventually left their homes in Musa Dagh, and upon reaching Lebanon as refugees (when both my parents were very young, aged 7 and 10), had lived in unbearable conditions under tents in a place where no one had lived before, in a place where they didn’t even speak the language. Through much suffering and hard work, they turned it into the paradise it is today, Ainjar.
My parents and grandparents come from Musa Dagh, where they put up a resistance and for forty days, fought against the Turks. “The Forty Days of Musa Dagh” by Franz Werfel is their story, our story. As Chris Bohjalian writes:
“If anyone knows bits and pieces of this story, it is likely through German writer Franz Werfel’s magisterial 1933 novel, “The Forty Days of Musa Dagh.” The novel was an international bestseller when it was published, though it was loathed early on by the Nazis. When the Germans were mercilessly putting down the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in 1944, the soldiers were surprised by how many copies of the novel they found among the dead Jewish fighters.”
So my childhood was anything but normal as I grew up on these survival stories. I grew up attending vigils alongside my parents and grandparents in memory of all those Armenians who perished at the hands of the enemy. I grew up remembering our dead. Because:
“To forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.” Elie Wiesel
Today is the 24th of April. Had it been during normal times, with no COVID-19, Armenians all over the world would have gathered and marched the streets of cities all over the world, in memory of the 1.5 million who died at the hands of the Turks one hundred and five years ago. That’s what we do every year on this day. We hold vigils and march in different parts of the world, honoring our dead and demanding justice from the world.
In an article by Robert Fisk in the Independent, “The Forgotten Holocaust,” I read:
“On 24 April 1915, Turkish troops rounded up and killed hundreds of Armenian intellectuals. Weeks later, three million Armenians were marched from their homes – the majority towards Syria and modern-day Iraq – via an estimated 25 concentration camps.
In 1915, The New York Times reported that “the roads and the Euphrates are strewn with corpses of exiles… It is a plan to exterminate the whole Armenian people.” Winston Churchill would later call the forced exodus an “administrative holocaust”.
Yet Turkey, while acknowledging that many Armenians died, disputes the 1.5 million toll and insists that the acts of 1915-17 did not constitute what is now termed genocide – defined by the UN as a state-sponsored attempt to “destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group”. Instead, Ankara claims the deaths were part of the wider war, and that massacres were committed by both sides.
Adolf Hitler, in a 1939 speech in which he ordered the killing, “mercilessly and without compassion”, of Polish men, women and children, concluded: “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of, the Armenians?””
The atrocities committed against Armenians by the Turks are so terrorizing and vicious and the survivors’ stories so sad and tragic. Every living Armenian has a story he/she carries in his/her heart, passed on by generations of survivors. I know that my great grandfather (maternal) was taken from his home and killed by the Turks. On this day and every day, we owe our lives to all those who lost theirs.
I don’t know much about my grandparents’ childhood. Their life was overshadowed by their fight against the Turks, by their displacement, by their struggle to survive when everything they had was taken away from them, their homes, their lands. All I can remember is that they got teary-eyed talking about their home.
I have never seen the houses my parents grew up in, nor the lands in the province of Musa Dagh, now in present-day Turkey. They were very young when they lost everything, my father was ten and my mother seven at the time. As refugees in a foreign land, my parents didn’t have a childhood. My father had to work at the age of thirteen to support his family and so did my mother. Deprived of their childhood and proper education, they did their best to give us the best childhood and send us to the best schools and universities.
So no, Mrs. Obama, I cannot answer your question without getting hurt and offended, because our story is one of a kind. It’s the story of genocide, the first in the 20th century. Had the tyrants and murderers been punished, perhaps the holocaust and other genocides could have been prevented. To quote Robert Fisk,
“Encouraged by their victory over the Allies, the Turks fell upon the Armenians with the same fury as the Nazis were to turn upon the Jews of Europe two decades later.”
And if I ever had the chance to rewrite history books, I would try and portray the events as they really were and get the truth out to the world. To quote Martin Luther King, Jr.:
“History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”