Another April. Another swirl of genocide-related events, commemorations, and exhibits. Yet another year of denial. And alongside the political speeches and keynote speakers, every year the almost hundred-year-old black and white archival images resurface. I watch these grainy photo stills and jumpy film reels, amazed by the historical and ethnographical value they contain. I realize that I have come to memorize the scenes of emaciated children lost in barren landscapes, the destitute stare of head scarf-clad women, angled frames of overflowing train wagons, human caravans, and piles of withered corpses, which I wish to confuse with piles of autumn leaves. Having memorized, if not internalized, such scenes, I am becoming increasingly detached from these images.
Archival imagery is and will remain a direct and timeless witness to genocide. But what I find exasperating when watching the macabre black and white slideshows year after year is how these atrocities can remain denied, despite historical veracity. If words can easily be countered, the strength of visual proof is impossible to disregard and neglect.
In addition to photographic evidence provided by archived images are the survivors’ testimonies. In flesh and bone, they provide vivid recollections and personal narratives of survival, vital not only to Armenian history but to world history, as well. Each memento from them must be cherished. Every word uttered, every story, each life trajectory recorded and preserved, as the last of the survivors wither away.
My grandfather was a genocide survivor. I would often look in his peaceful blue-green eyes, knowing that there would come a day when I no longer could. Searching in his eyes, I would try to understand where and how he hid the unfathomable loss and pain he suffered as a five-year-old orphan. I would look in his eyes through my camera lens when interviewing him on how he was deported, how he fled the orphanage, and how he finally managed to find refuge. All I could think of was how cruel humanity can be. The same thought invaded me at his deathbed when I realized how his blue-green eyes—which once witnessed utter dispossession and mass murder—would never witness justice. I remain in awe at how he preserved his dignity, his composure, and lucidity until he drew his last breath, having gone through deportation and the loss of his entire family, surviving against all odds.
Now he, too, is all but photographic and oral proof, like the black and white images documenting atrocity.
For 98 years, Khatcher Menakian was living proof of what has been and continues to be denied.
Every Armenian shares similar recollections of their grandfathers, grandmothers, mothers, and fathers. Such narratives not only feed our collective memory as Armenians, but also keep the survivors’ memory alive. Most importantly, as generations to come are further and further removed from the genocide survivors, there is a sense of urgency in keeping their memory—and the commitment towards recognition—more alive than ever.
On the eve of the 95th anniversary, I see an encouraging scene amid the black and white images of genocide. I see the Armenian community in Montreal, just as in other cities with Armenian populations, coming together regardless of political or religious affiliation, to commemorate the anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.
As scattered beads with various textures and colors, we come to embellish and make the necklace—once violently snatched off—stronger and brighter, more solid than ever.
After all, throughout the diaspora and Armenia, collective strength is generated from our collective memory.
How inspirational when scattered beads become united from time to time…
Great article, Lalai.
You put into words what I experienced with and felt for my grandfather. He went to all events regarding the genocide. Up until a year before his death, at the age of 105, he went to march in Ottawa.
How lucky we were to have known our grandfathers.
How Can We Forget Our Genocide?
My dears, tell us how we sufferers can,
How anyone can forget walk on any blood run?
That became stuck on enormous lands.
Innocent virgins’ blood flooded the rivers:
Euphrates and Tigris until they reached
The desert of Der Zor (Mesopotamian sands).
The small branches of the rivers (Khabour)
Changed lanes as corpses blocked its swift route.
Spring limped streams colored red;
That was our blood, stained,
Bedouins describe the scene and say,
“The view can change minds of sane . . . insane!”
Syrian people cannot forget what they saw.
They enlighten their grandchildren till now to know.
“Armenians were massacred savagely here.
Corpses thrown away in our land; in bare.”
Thrown in our deserts, under the sun-burned sand,
We saw them with our eyes and cried!
We saved some; we could not save all of around.
We were with Ottomans in the same bloodbath, in fight.
They hanged our thirty-two
Cleverest nationalists in town—
Syrian, Lebanese, Palestinians;
Committed by Jamal Pasha**, the inhuman.
Savagely, heartlessly done,
A well-known killer had brutal hands.
Arabs called him Jamal Alsaffah
As much as cruelty, he did under God’s sunlight.
Jamal, the butcher, not only ordered endless massacres.
He also followed the Armenian orphans outside Turkish towns,
Saved by others, ordered to kill them all by any means they can;
Make them unable to seek revenge in the future from criminals’ fan.
Younger than eight years, took them as servants
Raising them in homes, changing their religion,
Forgetting their name origin, calling them Hamshen.
Said are thousands of them still living in the Turk’s land!
Many Turkish writers were too young
To see the events—the ‘killing plague’.
Nevertheless, they seems affected by sore stories,
Their mothers incessantly narrated from deep hark.
Thus, they published the unwritten events
Sparking their honest sense of the deep dark—
To say Armenians were killed in their living park.
That was their land, before invaders—their own race:
The Mongols, the Seljuk’s, finally the Ottomans sharks.
Intelligent Turks admit and repeat,
“We killed them and we deny.
What tragedy is this? Why stay senseless.
Why can’t we confess past proven savageness?”
They wanted only to keep one Armenian,
To put in a museum, there to memorialize!
That was a proof that they killed all, none left to cry.
Proud to keep only one man mutilated, not to die.
To give lessons for minorities to see and sigh!
This was their main aim, known by historians,
News transmitted from East to West by fans.
But no one saved us, till most of us grew up orphans.
New generation of Turks who constantly shout,
Throw stones on the French’s houses with crowds.
Those and their ancestors committed confirmed crimes,
Slaughtered, raped, and robbed our hearts most kinds.
At one time, they were describing in pride,
Saying, “We killed
We threw them out of our ways.
In deserts, in rivers, in wells, in hays,
Burning them in churches; in their praying place.”
Many heard stories of their pride in killing Arab scholars’, race.
Now their grandchildren want to paint old ceilings to raze!
Refuting to recognize their criminals’ intrinsic chase.
They shout and organize denial strikes to haze, brace;
To say, “We’re innocent of spilling gawer’s bloods’ on our face.”
In their sinful conscious, they know what they did,
What they are, they carry genes of criminals indeed.
They never will change. Needed to sentence the scavengers
By those who heartily act, protect humans’ identity.
Yet recognize our genocide seeding law, stating reality.
I like this phrase it actualy stanzates.
Will stay soulfully great and forever…!
“As scattered beads with various textures and colors,
We come to embellish and make the necklace—
Once violently snatched off—
Stronger and brighter,
More solid than ever.”
Just want to commend the writer Lalai Manjikian for a beautiful, lyrical essay. Loved the imagery.
I’m thinking about my grandparents today, too, and my memories of them. How did they manage to know how to love after all they went through and struggled with? Somehow they seemed to know better than others who didn’t.
Thanks for the commentary and poetry.
I do also remember my mothers anguish , she was brought to jerusalem by the british army she was a child and put into an orphanage …….enough said
Hye, never to have known my grandparents, most of their children, uncles, aunts, cousins… all to have been Genocided! As with others, we grew up without families we shall have had to share our lives. Lost to us in the most vile methods.
In school when the assignment was to create my own family tree – I could not since the Turks, beginning 1915 had slaughered, raped, kidnapped, set afire in their churches, and tortured – unique to the Turkish mentality – and more…
My family tree, too, ended in 1915.
But the phoenix has arisen – in all the lands the surviviors sougfht for safety, together with their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren we honor those lost to the hordes from out of the Asian mountains. Together, we pursue the justice denied. Denial of justice to our victims of Genocides – still – until today 2010 – denied , as a Genocide by Sudan, in a Darfur!
Until, justice is served to those lost to Genocides, we pursue our covenant to all our families we never knew… to our Survivors whose memories of the Genocides was with them all the days of their lives… who shared their pains and horrors borne of the unforgettable – humans demeaning humans… Turkish style.
Thanks Lalai. I agree. It is that time of the year when all Armenians put their differences aside and unite. On a day of mourning, it somehow feels wonderful. And our brothers and sisters in our fatherland do the same. Here’s some footage from Yerevan I shot last year:
Nice article Lalai jan,
True, we sensed the unity throughout all the events during these past two weeks, from seniors all the way down to the Youths.
I just hope that whenever necessary, all armenians in the community will unite again for common causes, and it won’t be contingent upon who the administrators are during the upcoming years.