What we are experiencing now with the surrender of Artsakh and the ongoing Azerbaijani persecution of Armenians is nothing new. We felt it with the loss of the horrible 2020 Artsakh War and the fall of Shushi. We felt it in February 1988 with the Sumgait pogrom that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Armenians and the exodus of most of the Armenians of Baku to Europe and the U.S. Back in 1988, it was shocking to witness this kind aggression against Armenians, which had not been seen since the Genocide and earlier. It was nothing we ever expected to occur in our lifetime. How naïve we were.
I lived in Detroit in 1988. Following the pogrom, we gathered at St. Sarkis Church for prayers and speeches in the church hall. Everyone in the community came out. The church was completely full, as was the hall. Our Der Hayr (priest), Goriun Shirikian, gave the most impassioned sermon I ever heard from him. He started on the verge of tears but soon turned to fiery indignation.
I recited a poem from Hovhaness Toumanian that conveyed what we all felt. That very same poem captures our grief today, as we process what is happening in Artsakh.
“The Armenians’ Grief”
The Armenian grief is a boundless sea,
An immense dark sea,
In pain, in that black water,
My soul swims aimlessly.
Now it rises up with fury
Toward the clear sky above,
And tired now, it plunges
To the endless depths.
Wine is not unendingly deep
Nor can it raise me as far as the sky…
In the vast sea of Armenian sorrow
My tired soul moves, always in grief.
Translation by Aram Tolegian
Our great poet tapped into something that Armenians have felt for too long throughout our history.
We have to be together, to grieve together, because we are alone in this.
In the mainstream news, stories about Artsakh refer to “Armenian Separatists” and almost never refer to the Republic of Artsakh, just Nagorno-Karabakh. On Wednesday, September 21, the story of the Azerbaijani offensive was on page A8 of the Wall Street Journal. A day later, the story of the Armenian surrender was on page A18. The front page stories were certainly worthy, but it is sad to recognize that we are a minor story at best.
We must grieve, but we must also unite with fiery indignation and fierce determination.
It is natural and necessary for us to grieve. We should feel anger at the present injustice and that no one is going to stand up for us. Yet we need to rise from our grief with righteous indignation and do whatever we can do to aid the refugees leaving Artsakh. We cannot tolerate any corruption from the Republic of Armenia in delivering aid to the Armenians of Artsakh. Armenia needs to forge a strong defense, because we have to believe Aliyev’s statements referring to Armenia as Western Azerbaijan and Erdogan’s calls that Turkey must finish the work of Enver Pasha. Azerbaijan and Turkey want Syunik. Who will stop them? No one is going to do it for us.
We must grieve, but we must also unite with fiery indignation and fierce determination. During his prayer service in Antelias on September 21, Catholicos Aram said, “The strength of our nation lies in its collective faith, determination and unity. We have no other way before us. Let’s walk together on this road, strengthened by renewed faith and luminous hope.”
This is the same message of Yeghishe Charents on the Hairenik Building in Watertown: “Oh Armenian people, your only salvation lies in the power of your unity.”
We are at a critical point in our history.