One cannot begin to understand today’s Armenian Diaspora without addressing the Armenian massacres and genocide that took place towards the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. While an Armenian Diaspora existed well before the genocide of 1915, a considerable number of Armenians scattered across the world today are descendents of genocide survivors. In this sense, we can say that the current diaspora exists in large part as a direct result of the genocide. If we were to brand the Armenian Diaspora with a general definition, the one offered by Brent Edwards Hayes is fairly accurate. He writes: “An origin in the scattering and uprooting of communities, a history of traumatic and forced departure, and also the sense of a real or imagined relationship to a ‘homeland,’ mediated through dynamics of collective memory and politics of return.”
The genocide is why I am here in Canada, via the Middle East; it is why I carry a traumatic reality in my veins; it is why I dream of current-day Armenia, but also of the village in present-day Turkey where my grandfather was born and then forcefully displaced; and lastly, it is why I will not accept anything short of a proper apology and just restitution.
While the days of Armenians being stuck in a state of victimhood are long gone, their proactive stance and the political winds are becoming favourable for change—for humanity to realize and recognize that an orchestrated annihilation executed almost a century ago cannot simply vanish in the annals of world history. And there is no doubt that the Armenian Diaspora is the important force that always has and will continue to bring the issue to the forefront until just restitution is achieved.
With spring comes change and renewal, and things are on the move these days on the global political front. The United States of America has an African-American president who embodies change, and somewhere in the playground of world politics there is a so-called “diplomacy dialogue” taking place between Turkey and Armenians.
Yes, I emphasize Armenians and not Armenia alone, because Armenia and the diaspora are a package deal. We should not dissociate what comes together, even though they differ in more ways than one. When the diaspora is mobilized around genocide recognition and advocates for justice for all of humanity in the effort to put an end to the cycle of genocides with such ardour and selflessness, we cannot imagine that Armenia will take diplomatic steps that could potentially disregard or dismiss this work, this individual and collective sacrifice diasporans have made in pushing for genocide recognition and fighting against the powerful Turkish denial machine.
Perhaps it is easy for me to say so in the cushiness of North America, while Armenia is located next to Turkey and suffers direct consequences of a closed border with both its eastern and western neighbours. I wonder, will Armenia consult and collaborate with the diaspora, which is being actively countered by millions of “denial dollars”?
Politics is a game that does not always take matters of principle and basic human dignity into account. What if questions of human justice and dignity were sidelined in the name of what appears to be another “clever” round of realpolitik, stripped of moral considerations that survivors and their descendents deserve and expect? Justice and coercion cannot go hand in hand. I am not a politician, nor a political scientist. And to those individuals who are quick to dismiss emotional testimonies and accounts as non-rational or as having no place in the Armenian Genocide debate, I am the granddaughter of a survivor, a scattered bead among thousands; I am considered a “bad” bead, and rightfully so, because Armenians in the diaspora denounce Turkey’s persistent denial.
Looking a genocide survivor in the eyes is a painful experience; for you know that not only has an official apology yet to be made for the hell he went through, but that this hell is still vehemently denied.
I carry my grandfather’s blood in me. Today, his bones that once absorbed the Anatolian sun now freeze in one of Montreal’s snowy cemeteries (via Tomarza, Kayseri, Turkey, to Allepo, to Beirut, to Marseille, to Pasadena, and finally to Montreal). I carry the angst he astonishingly never showed nor expressed, though he lived with it and endured genocide on his skin as a lone survivor from his family.
Politicians, diplomats, and army generals will do what they want, but I can only hope that at this important juncture, Armenia, which is the primary player engaged in diplomatic talks, will not let the Armenians of Armenia down—nor, by the same token, the diaspora, humanity at large, and most of all, those who perished by the hands of the Young Turk government. Genocide cannot be negotiated.
And the struggle goes on and so does the desire to heal…