Five years ago, my husband and I moved out of our tiny one-bedroom apartment in Philadelphia to a single-family home in the suburbs. We had nothing but an old couch, a bed, a set of IKEA MALM dressers, and a dilapidated dining room table to take with us. The table was basically a pile of firewood sitting in my parents’ basement, but my mom had the idea of refinishing it so I could use it in my new home. There was something about it. Maybe it was the intricate woodwork on the legs or the fact that it was one of a kind. It was my great grandmother, Arax’s, and with a little TLC it could be mine.
I could’ve just as easily bought something for the price it took to refinish it. Something new and more my style. But to me, it felt like I had a piece of my past right there in my home. I wondered if other people my age would’ve done the same. Or was it because that as a descendant of Armenian Genocide survivors, I have a strong connection — more like an attachment — to my ancestors and our heartbreaking history?
Growing up, I considered myself “very Armenian.” Even though I was third generation, I was 100% Armenian, which to me was a big deal. I even had a gold necklace to prove it and I wore it with pride. And while my grasp of the language was limited to pleasantries and a collection of random words, in my heart, I felt Armenian. My family ate Armenian food and listened to Armenian music. I went to Holy Trinity Armenian Church on Sundays and spent weeks at St. Vartan camp in the summer. I was an active member of the ACYOA and Armenian dance group as a teen and the Armenian Students’ Association during my college years at Boston University. I held internships through the Armenian Assembly in Washington, D.C. and AGBU in New York. As you can see, there is no shortage of ways to bring Armenians together. But even with what I thought was a pretty packed cultural résumé, it wasn’t until my early 20s that I learned the importance of Armenian activism and advocacy.
I had just graduated from college and moved back home. I joined the AYF at the encouragement of some cousins, where I eventually met my future husband and gained a new set of friends. Whereas most of my family came to the States shortly after the Armenian Genocide in 1915, most of these friends’ families had moved to other parts of the world — Syria, Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon — before coming to the U.S. Their food was a little different, their dialects were a little different, but we were all proud Armenian Americans who shared a rich culture and history.
I always knew the basics of the Armenian Genocide: a systematic mass murder and expulsion of over 1.5 million Christian Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire during the height of World War I — when the rest of the world wasn’t watching. And as a result, Armenians fled to all corners of the Earth in search of safety, creating what is now one of the strongest and most engaged diasporas in the world. I vacillated between feeling immense sadness and anger about what my great-grandparents suffered and feeling like, “It happened. It’s in the past. Let’s move on.” But through my new friendships, I realized that you can’t move on from something that continues to be denied and isn’t recognized for what it was — genocide. You can’t move on when Armenian land continues to be a source of contention — and which, at this very moment, is being used as a guise to carry out a second genocide against the Armenians. So, I came to appreciate the fight for Armenian Genocide recognition. And I became inspired to advocate for the protection and prosperity of Armenians everywhere.
Most Armenians are probably aware that Artsakh, also known as Nagorno-Karabakh, is currently under attack by Azerbaijan. Artsakh is a small, independent republic that has been part of Armenia since the 9th century. In 1921, Stalin wanted Turkey to join the USSR, so he redrew the map and gave Artsakh to Azerbaijan to appease Turkey. In 1988, Armenians in Artsakh demanded to be united with Armenia or become independent, and in 1991, they declared independence from the Soviet Union and formed the Republic of Artsakh. In response, Azerbaijan attacked Artsakh and a war broke out between Azerbaijan and Armenia. By 1994, a ceasefire was signed by Armenia, Artsakh, and Azerbaijan.
So when Azerbaijan violated this ceasefire on September 27, 2020 by launching an invasion along the Artsakh-Azeri border and shelling Artsakh’s capital Stepanakert, it was my instinct to go into fight mode. Over the past few weeks, the entire Armenian Diaspora has made it its mission to bring light to what is happening in our homeland, to ensure that Azerbaijan’s acts of aggression — acts of war — with the support of the Turkish government do not escalate into full-blown genocide. Men and women everywhere are signing up to join their Armenian brothers and sisters on the front lines. We’re calling, emailing and using social media to educate our lawmakers and asking them to condemn Azeri and Turkish aggression on civilians in Artsakh and Armenia. We’re donating and raising tens of millions of dollars through ArmeniaFund.org to protect and provide support and supplies to our people. We’re spreading awareness, combating false propaganda and correcting inaccurate reporting through peaceful protests and outreach. We’re doing whatever we can to educate non-Armenians that this isn’t just an insignificant squabble, but rather a global crisis that impacts everyone. Armenians all around the world are crying out for help.
You may think, “How can a third generation Armenian American be so rocked by something happening so far away?” Arax. Vahan. Mari. Ardashes. Arshalouys. Krikor. Thomas. Badaskhan. These are the names of my great grandparents who survived the Armenian Genocide. It’s that simple. For over 100 years, Armenians across the globe have marched every April 24 in remembrance of those who perished and those who lived through the atrocities of the Armenian Genocide. Pleading with international leaders for recognition and chanting “NEVER AGAIN!” And now history is repeating itself. Armenia and Artsakh don’t want war. They want peace. The Armenians in Artsakh want to live under the successful democracy that they created. So when Azerbaijan is committing war crimes by targeting civilians, using banned cluster bombs and starting a war in the middle of a global pandemic with Turkey’s help, you better believe that Armenians everywhere are going to step up. We all have a duty to our ancestors to protect our land, our people and our legacy. We made a promise to them and to ourselves that never again, means never again.