The weight of remembering: Being a descendant of Armenian genocide survivors in the 21st century

April 20, 2023

I am a descendant of an Armenian genocide survivor. My ancestors fled the Armenian village of Mush, which is now under Turkish occupation, to seek refuge in modern-day Armenia. Each year, as Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day approaches, the anguish and sorrow that already weigh heavily on my heart seem to deepen. Numerous Armenian lives and a rich cultural heritage were lost, yet to this day the magnitude of this tragedy remains overlooked and insufficiently acknowledged by the world.

However, two years ago, Los Angeles Unified School District voted to close schools on April 24 “to honor those lost in the first modern genocide” and this is the first year that it is going into effect. This is a momentous occasion toward acknowledging the importance of this day and the largely unknown deep wounds that still persist from the tragic history of the Armenian people.

On April 24, 1915, the Ottoman government detained and deported hundreds of Armenian intellectuals and leaders from Constantinople. Talaat Pasha, a high-ranking Turkish official, ordered the forced marches of around 1.2 million Armenians, which resulted in their deaths in the Syrian Desert between 1915 and 1917. The deportees were accompanied by paramilitary escorts, who subjected them to atrocities such as theft, rape and massacres, while depriving them of basic necessities like food and water. In the following months, the Ottomans extended their deportations to nearly all regions, regardless of their proximity to war zones.

Every April 24, I participate in marches and commemorations alongside hundreds of thousands of Armenians in the greater Los Angeles area. I make it a point to attend the Commemorative Rally for Justice, which is hosted by the non-profit organization Unified Young Armenians. Additionally, I visit the Armenian Genocide Martyrs Memorial Monument in Montebello to pay my respects and light incense in honor of those who lost their lives. 

The Armenian genocide was the systematic destruction of the Armenian people and their cultural heritage by the Ottoman Empire. This atrocity resulted in the elimination of over two thousand years of Armenian civilization in eastern Anatolia. The genocide facilitated the creation of the Republic of Turkey, which is an ethno-nationalist Turkish state that denies the Armenian genocide. Since then, Armenians have faced many more atrocities like the Baku pogrom in 1990 and the Artsakh war of 2020

It is very upsetting to see the constant denial of the genocide in the media. When countries and parliaments openly deny that the genocide happened, they diminish the growth and effort that the Armenian population has put into rebuilding our successful and prosperous community. On the other hand, sometimes the genocide is the only thing people know about my community, which makes me feel like I have to excel at everything to prove myself and Armenians as more than just a tragedy. I often feel myself trying to be twice as successful, twice as loud, twice as Armenian. 

Although the pain that weighs heavily on my heart is great, the weight of the responsibility I have as a descendant of an Armenian genocide survivor in the 21st century is greater.

I feel anger. It is my defense mechanism against the lingering pain my people have endured up to today from the genocide and similar massacres. Armenians have wallowed in pain for so long but that has gotten us nowhere. Rage can be a fuel for growth, while sadness conveys submission to pain. I have had enough of that. 

The reason why I wake up from my bed every day and try so hard to push myself in a society far away from “home” is because I want to see my people grow. Empowered by this motive, I am unwaveringly committed to pushing myself beyond my limits and achieving nothing short of greatness. Every success I achieve is a testament to the resilience and strength of my people. Every obstacle I overcome is a step toward a brighter future for all of us. 

Although the pain that weighs heavily on my heart is great, the weight of the responsibility I have as a descendant of an Armenian genocide survivor in the 21st century is greater. 

I feel like I have an obligation to be successful in life. I owe it to the 1.2 million Armenians who were not able to. 

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