A horrifying scene. A man rides his bicycle along the al-Rashid coast in Gaza. He cries out in grief and horror – ya Allah – as his phone records a moving image of dead women and children, in pools of blood, left lying amongst their few earthly possessions in suitcases, broken and littered along the road like their bodies. As the Israeli government told residents of Northern Gaza to relocate to the South, some heeded the call in hopes that they might find safety there. They did not make it, killed by Israeli forces on the road.
I watched this scene on X, formerly Twitter, on the evening of November 3. I couldn’t breathe. I felt like I couldn’t quite exist. The world broke; it was not possible to be a human in a reality of such profound inhumanity. I sat crying, sobbing, the image continuously replaying. I did not want to watch it anymore. I could no longer bear it, hearing the cry ya Allah, but I felt paralyzed, unable to turn it off.
My reaction was only partially attributable to the video’s own objective display of horror. This could not entirely be the explanation, because since October 7, I have seen images of dead children pulled out of rubble and placed in a line waiting for burial; children who were alive and yet looked somewhere closer to death, whitened with the dust of their home that had just been bombed by Israel all around them; children in shock, unable to cry, unable to speak; children running after the caskets of their fathers, begging them not to leave; children wanting their mothers, but whose mothers could not be found or who had been found dead; mothers burying their children; mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles and grandparents wailing at the loss – their personal loss, their collective loss. While I have cried, while I have sobbed, while I have lived in rage for the last month that such an atrocity is taking place, something else happened to me in that moment.
The scene – bodies strewn, a cry of shock and disbelief, the display of humans outside of the space of humanity, as if there is no such thing as a humanity any longer – pulled out of me, out of my unconscious perhaps, scenes I never witnessed but read about. Scenes that I have only read in words and that have produced pictures in my head. I realized at that moment that the video – the documentation of this unfolding reality – was exactly how I had produced moving images of scenes of horror of the Armenian aghed, the catastrophe. Amid the daily images we are seeing of the horror caused by Israel in Gaza as well as in the West Bank and Jerusalem, that scene was what philosopher Roland Barthes called “the punctum,” that one part of the whole image that stings, that takes you somewhere else, that touches you in particular. The history of the aghed was no longer history, no longer in the past. It was happening right now, and I was witness to it.
What has been unfolding in Gaza is the ansahmaneli (infinite, limitless) suffering that Zabel Yessayan wrote about in Among the Ruins. Let us revisit Yessayan’s writing.
“The destroyed city stretches out under the generous and dazzling sun like an endless cemetery. Nothing but ruins on every side…Nothing has been spared. All the churches, all the schools and all the dwellings have been trans-formed into heaps of charred and deformed stones, among which rises here and there the carcass of an apartment building. From the west to the east, from the north to the south, all the way to the distant Turkish quarters, cruel and implacable hatred has burnt everything, devastated everything.”
In these words, how can one not see the rubble, the ruins of churches, hospitals, schools, homes and refugee camps, that Israel has made of Gaza in just a few weeks? In these words, how can one not see the red skies of constant explosions as bombs are dropped all across the land? In these words, how can one not see the skeletal remains of apartment buildings collapsed, sometimes on their sides, sometimes as if inside out, sometimes in the midst of scenes of people desperately digging to find the dead and, by summoning up all superhuman hope, the surviving? “Are you taking me to the cemetery?” asks a young girl as she is pulled out of rubble. “No, my darling, you are living and beautiful like the moon,” responds a man carrying her out. While there is celebration of having saved one, all those involved know quite well that there is no safety anywhere, for any of them.
Every Armenian who has been watching the mass deportation – the ethnic cleansing – of Armenians from Artsakh in devastation, in horror and in rage should be called to this cause as their own cause. The genocide – the senseless catastrophe – that Israel is doing to Palestinians today is a part of the Armenian cause.
More words from Yessayan:
“When I saw for the first time these pale orphans with their haggard appearances, gathered together by the hundreds, I was unable – despite superhuman efforts – to grasp the totality of their misfortune, and still today I cannot. Particular details and images come to mind, certainly, but never have I been able to take account of the infinite (ansahmaneli), bloody history that each of these children represents. For a long time I was incapable of attending to any one of them in particular. I heard a confused, uncertain, indefinite (ansahmaneli) tragic ululation, expressed by the totality of these still childish, still distracted gazes that had not yet understood what had happened. This bloodbath, this stream of spilled blood, this despair of a humanity driven mad, caught between fire and blade, all this remained beyond my imagination, and I believe this was the case for everyone involved.”
In these words, how can we not see the ungraspable, a violence without any sense or possibility of sense, a violence without mourning and possibility of mourning, that is unfolding right now, every day? Surely, we can see the reality beyond imagination that Yessayan writes about in the fact that 825 families from Gaza have now been erased from the civil registry. That doctors now have a new acronym, one that became necessary in the practical work they have been trying to do in Gaza: WCNSF – Wounded Child No Surviving Family.
I write this not to navel-gaze, not as an exercise in exploring my own feelings. I write this as a plea. Every Armenian, whose sense of history and identity has been shaped in one way or another by the mass slaughter that took place in the hands of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, should be called to this cause as their own cause. Every Armenian who has been watching the mass deportation – the ethnic cleansing – of Armenians from Artsakh in devastation, in horror and in rage should be called to this cause as their own cause. The genocide – the senseless catastrophe – that Israel is doing to Palestinians today is a part of the Armenian cause. To speak about this and to act against this in any way we can is our responsibility as survivors.