In April of 2015, I came across a statement Erdogan had made about Armenians “fixing” commemorative events to coincide with the Gallipoli ceremonies on purpose. I remember sitting in my freshman dorm on that very late night, frustrated and fed up with it all. I immediately took to pen and paper and began writing my “letter to Turkey,” while reminding myself that in that moment, the pen was mightier than the sword…
It seems I have this habit of writing when I feel anger.
Months ago, I came across a video of a teacher in Azerbaijan teaching her students about their enemy: Armenia. I was outraged, of course, but unfortunately not surprised. This video resurfaced on my Instagram feed a couple of days ago, and I was even more angry with myself for not doing anything about it when I had first seen it. I continued watching it, over and over again, becoming increasingly more angry, infuriated and anxious for what they are capable of. One of the worst things about social media is that once you are invested in something, you dig deeper and deeper for more information. So after watching this video, I wound up reading comment, after comment, after comment. The first few bothered me, I will admit, but I wish they hadn’t. I soon realized that these people, who claim themselves a nation, are so incredibly divided, misunderstood by one another and confused. One comment read, “Armenia is the attacker” while another read “we attacked you yesterday and we will do it again today and tomorrow.” And I realized, they’ve all learned the same lesson. They’ve all learned to hate.
I then thought back to my own childhood…to my eight years of attending St Stephen’s Armenian Elementary School, the following six years of Saturday School, to my AYF experience, to my upbringing. There was no instance, no memory, no explicit lesson taught in any way, shape or form to make me “hate” any race… any single human being. If anything, the word “hate” was banned, as I brought up in my 2015 article. I was left to make my own judgements, create my own feelings. We try our best to pass that on to today’s youth. To ensure that they don’t grow up feeling hate and instead are able to feel the pride of their people. To wear their flag, to keep their heads up high and to never stop fighting for their rights.
I believe in the power of education wholeheartedly. Nelson Mandela once explained it as “the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world.” As leaders and educators in our respective communities, let us never forget how much we influence what children learn and how easily they are able to interpret our emotions, feelings and judgments. Let us never stoop so low, to their level, to teach hate. If we do nothing else, let us promise that we will always, always teach our children to take the high road.
As Armenians, I hope we never change. I hope we continue to tell our timeless stories and share them through song and dance. I hope we continue to speak our beautiful language, to be proud of ourselves. Defend ourselves. I hope we stand up to and be there for others, just as we would expect from non-Armenians when we need them most. I hope we win again. And most importantly, I hope that we never lose hope.