Playing the Genocide Numbers Game in Armenia

When people tell me I look like a million, I don’t know who’s fooling whom. I don’t know whether they mean I feel like I just inherited a million bucks, or that I look like a million (years).

Either way, it turns into a numbers game that is far beyond my comprehension and yours. People with a $10 million lottery ticket are no better off than a $9 million winner. A million in this case doesn’t make a big difference either way.

The crowd, estimated at 1 million, pays its respects at the Armenian Genocide Memorial in Yerevan on April 24.
The crowd, estimated at 1 million, pays its respects at the Armenian Genocide Memorial in Yerevan on April 24. (Photo: Tom Vartabedian)

While touring Armenia in April, I was “one in a million.” On April 24, the 94th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, I joined a crowd estimated at 1 million making its annual pilgrimage to the memorial—Tsitsernakabert—on the outskirts of Yerevan, the capital city.

Had you been there, you would not have seen a bigger crowd anywhere, no matter what the activity. It was incredulous three years ago during my first trip to Armenia that I was immersed in a crowd of 100,000 that had turned out to celebrate Armenian Independence Day.

My Memorial Day encounter topped that figure tenfold. The entire city shut down in favor of this commemoration so mourners could gather with their families and place flowers by the eternal flame.

A two to three-hour wait was typical by the time you made your way from the park’s entrance to Tsitsernakabert. Along the route, you spent time getting acquainted, chatting with others, listening to liturgical music over loudspeakers, and just rekindling history.

A youngster places a flower by the eternal flame. (Photo: Tom Vartabedian)
A youngster places a flower by the eternal flame. (Photo: Tom Vartabedian)

Many like myself thought about what it must have felt like back in 1915 when the Ottoman Turkish hordes invaded one village after another and put to death 1.5 million innocent victims while sending another million from their homeland.

It does a population good to recall those events annually and teach younger generations so that history will not repeat itself. Although it is a national day of mourning in Armenia, it is also a day of commemoration and gratitude in some ways that a country torn with strife was able to display its resilience and rise from the ashes.

I purposely planned my trip to coincide with the event, having been a part of observances back home that display a great sense of apathy. In Armenia, history is laid before them. Here, it serves well to bury the past and look to the future.

With 4,500 Armenians in Merrimack Valley, Mass., three local commemorations drew less than 500. The population in all of Yerevan is listed around 1 million. Perhaps 80 percent of the entire settlement turned out, joined by another 20 percent from the outskirts, though many of those villages conducted their own observances.

I was also impressed by the heavy representation of youth at this memorial. The night before, members of the younger generation marched five miles in the rain to the monument, singing patriotic songs.

Many of those also repeated the gesture the next day, hoisting signs of every country that recognizes the genocide. Sad to say, my own America was not among them, even though 44 U.S. states have formally endorsed such legislation.

Those who know me recognize the fact that I’m not very good in crowded situations and avoid them at all costs. I did attend a Celtics play-off game and that was bad enough with 17,000 in attendance, only to see my favorite Boston team lose.

You would think that 1 million folks would resemble a mob scene, jostling its way to irritation. On the contrary, security guards along the way kept the massive throng moving in coordinated stages.

A face in the crowd. A pine needle on an evergreen. An acorn in a forest. For one moment in my life, I was a pebble at the seashore. People were everywhere—as far as the naked eye could see.

Whether it was a rose or a lilac, they came equipped with enough flowers to build a 20-foot floral wall. Vendors did a brisk business keeping up with the trade. Men in military uniforms stood next to youngsters sporting neckties.

No fanfare or ritual. They arrived to pay homage, place a flower, and off they went. It was easy to understand why businesses and schools were closed for the day. It took that long to work through the crowd.

One or two were seen draped in red, blue, and orange—the colors of the Armenian flag—while one demonstrator, an elderly woman, held a sign in memory of Hrant Dink, the slain Turkish-Armenian journalist. She held her ground from morning ‘til night.

“He gave his life for his country and his people,” she said. “Hrant Dink was a modern-day martyr whose memory will never be forgotten.”

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Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian is a retired journalist with the Haverhill Gazette, where he spent 40 years as an award-winning writer and photographer. He has volunteered his services for the past 46 years as a columnist and correspondent with the Armenian Weekly, where his pet project was the publication of a special issue of the AYF Olympics each September.
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2 Comments

  1. I would like to get in touch with families who lost their great grandpartents during the genocide in Tekirdag.  Few members of my family survived and I am trying to put some pieces together and find their houses and visit the city.

  2. It is better to say that you are a “ONE POINT FIVEr.” Sir Arthur C. Clarke wrote a whole book about us in his 2007 novel called “The Last Theorem.”

    It is your job now to put the “soul” in the machine through Wipedia. However, I would caution you to be weary of CIA/FBI agents monitoring the edits regarding Monte Melkonian and having their edits coming in ways to diminish his contributions and capabilities and those of Armenian Americans who served in WWI, WWII and the Korean conflict. There job, in propaganda, is to make you feel as though you are a newly arrived immigrant while the Turks get a free ride on your backs. Read “The Armenian American in WWII” [Tashjian Publishing, 1952] to understand what I am talking about. Since when did it become unwholesome or UN-American to be a Dashnak, AYF or ARF? Read up on the Derian brothers and Harry Kizirian and you may be able to get a “Pulitzer Prize” for reporting on this topic and how the United States allows terrorist organizations to interfere with our military honors in the United States. 

    These same CIA/FBI and Marine Corps personel are really traitors to all Americans and especially Americans of Armenian heritage.

    The reason I believe they are traitors is because they collaborated and continue to collaberate with “Ergenekon” [a Turkish state sponsored terrorist organization closely affiliated with Al Queada and the Taliban].

    If you are ever approached by them, recognize that they are the enemy. A good solid jab with a sharp K-BAR should get the point across, figuratively speaking of course.  Do it so it makes O.J. Simpson blush with envy.

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