David Rafael Gonzalez
LV Life Editor
The Armenian Genocide Rememberance Day event was commemorated with two presentations about the history and the impact of the genocide on April 22 in the Ludwick Center Sacred Space.
Zandra Wagoner, university chaplain, opened the event and said that it was a time to mourn the lives and silence of Armenian Genocide, which is known as the forgotten genocide.
“So we are here, bearing witness to an atrocity that took place 107 years ago. We are gathered to remember and to give voice to the 1,500,000 lives lost,” Wagoner said. “Our presence gives voice to a tragedy that often has been denied and made invisible, causing an even greater wound.”
Wagoner also thanked the Armenian student clubs in the College of Law and the main campus, who helped prepare the gathering.
Provost Kerop Janoyan gave one of the presentations about the history of the Armenian Genocide and how his family was affected by it.
“It’s called the forgotten genocide because people don’t talk about it,” Janoyan said.
Janoyan said that even though people do not dispute the fact that it happened, they dispute the long lasting effects of the genocide. He said that there are people who hold the sentiment of just letting go of the genocide.
“I think until there’s full recognition, it’s hard to figure out how to let it go,” Janoyan said.
He said that the genocide took many faces. Even though April 24 is the day remembered as the start, Janoyan said that even before then Armenians started to be rounded up.
“The Turkish government at that point basically told people to get out, it’s your choice to get killed or leave,” Janoyan said.
Janoyan had a slideshow presentation while he spoke where he showed pictures of people during the genocide, including those who died.
“As disturbing as the pictures are, these are very important to see because not recognizing, not seeing it, not being heard is causing even more pain,” Janoyan said.
Janoyan said his mother’s grandfather was buried in a mass grave in northern Iran, whose survival is the reason he is able to speak about it now.
“He was robbed – clothes and everything were taken – shot and then thrown into a mass grave,” Janoyan said. “The only reason he survived was because he was toward the top of the grave and some Kurds days later found him crying for help. They wouldn’t give him much other than clothing because they would have been killed as well.”
One of the pictures Janoyan showed was of a 15-year-old victim. Janoyan said this victim was not much older than his mother’s grandfather when he was thrown into the grave.
Garo Ghazarian, attorney and alumnus, gave the second presentation. Ghazarian said that talking about the 1,500,000 lives lost does not tell the full story because each of those lost had their own stories.
“But at least for me, and I think for a fair number of us, that number doesn’t tell the real story,” Ghazarian said. “It doesn’t hurt each time I say 1,500,000 because after all it’s just a number. But when I allow myself, or force myself, to go beyond the number, the hurt happens.”
Ghazarian said that when he thinks about the genocide, he sees a mother on the dusty plains of western Armenia holding the hands of her two young children.
“They’re frightened, they’re crying, and they’re confused,” Ghazarian said. “And then the Turkish forces the mother to make a decision that no human being should ever face: leave one of your children behind and march on with the other.”
“Imagine the pain, the complete and immediate destruction of family and life,” Ghazarian said. “That happened time and again. That is genocide.”
Ghazarian said to imagine the child’s hurt after being left behind by their own mother.
“Put the faces of your family on those poor souls you just saw,” Ghazarian said. “It could have been you. It was you. It was me. Yes, 1,500,00 is a very big number, but it doesn’t tell the story.”
Ghazarian said he was born in Beirut, Lebanon, in a village without Armenians. He said when was 5 years old, he wondered why his family spoke Armenian, but his neighbors spoke Arabic. He also wondered why his father’s side of the family was all born in a place called Western Armenia.
“Where was this western Armenia? I was told it was no longer, even though a few decades earlier it was nurtured and thriving with Armenians who were born and raised there for centuries,” Ghazarian said. “But it was now devoid of all Armenians.”
He said he takes this time to pay respects to all of the nameless families who died during the genocide.
He said he remembers the mothers and daughters who chose death and jumped into the Euphrates river. He remembers the people who did not have that choice, and were condemned to slavery, rape and mutilation.
Ghazarian said he also remembers his maternal grandmother, who was 4 years old in 1915, and his paternal grandmother, who did not know her own last name.
“My inheritance from each of them is to live and die as an Armenian,” Ghazarian said. “That is why, even though 107 years have passed since April 24, 1915, I’m always more interested in April 25, and April 26, and every day after April 24, because the fight, the quest for justice must continue until justice is realized.”
Seta Whitby, professor of computer science, who is Armenian, said the event brought back memories of the stories she was told from her parents and grandparents.
Whitby said that remembering the history of the Armenian Genocide is the reason she created the event at the University on the 100th anniversary of the genocide.
“The scare and the fear of my parents and grandparents was that we were going to lose language, our culture and each other,” Whitby said. “That was our mission – to not ever forget our language, our people, or where we came from.”
David Rafael Gonzalez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.