Coming to Terms with Genocide

Every April comes with promises of creme-filled easter eggs, the winding down of another school year, and excessively pollinated weather. However, for a white-washed Armenian girl living in North America, April not only bears the burden of digesting one of the most horrid crimes against humanity but also calls for me to analyze my involvement with my Armenian identity.

April 24th marks the anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. If you didn’t know that, don’t worry — most people don’t, or at least didn’t until the premiere of the Kardashians. Growing up in Canada, I soon realized that my cultural heritage was unknown to the masses, as most people didn’t know how to place me. While other kids’ cultures came from easily recognizable countries, I had to pull out a map to explain where my ancestral homeland was situated. Suffice to say, because I wanted so desperately to fit in, my cultural background was something I seldom brought up.

Because of my upbringing, I feel very removed from the effects of the killings, as I grew up in a well-to-do home with two parents who established their lives long before I came along. Even though I was familiar with the Genocide and learned that my family was part of the quarter of the entire population that survived, I decided it was time to do my own independent study and analyze why this event ever occurred. I was curious to learn of my ancestors’ firsthand experiences, so I Googled my late grandfather whom I never had the chance to meet, and found that his published books were still being sold on Amazon. It was a surreal experience to not only order his book, but also to have him, posthumously, teach me about my history.

It was only when I started watching documentaries, cracking history books, and attending Q&A sessions that I truly learned about the systematic killings perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire. After the Turkish government launched a premeditated campaign to exterminate the two million Armenians living in present-day Turkey, a majority of the population was wiped out and the events were kept quiet. The demolition can be attributed to the difference of religion, the need for more land, purist ideology and political influence. In which case, the death marches started and millions were taken from their homes, dragged out into the Syrian desert and left for dead. Interestingly enough, historians have attributed these killings as a precursor to WWII, as Hitler was famously quoted in saying, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

Reading these accounts, I was flabbergasted. How did I not comprehend the gravity of this situation? How did this happen only a hundred years ago? And most importantly, why does no one speak of this?

I couldn’t help but feel that my history was conveniently shoved aside from mainstream textbooks, school lesson plans, and every US Presidential statement to date.

Of course, no one can change the past or make up for what happened. But this specific Genocide, aside from my cultural bias, holds a very peculiar place in recent human history. It’s an important case to examine, not only for the atrocities that occurred, but also for society’s disregard and lack of acknowledgment. Aside from Los Angelenos, why did my North American friends have no familiarity with this? Were America’s political ties to Turkey a reason why Senator Obama expressed his condolence of the Genocide, but President Obama was forbidden from saying the “G” word in public?

It’s bad enough collectively experiencing a Genocide, but having it consistently denied even in 2018 is unfathomable. Every April, I’m reminded that my history is a debatable footnote.

Last year, as May rolled around, I thought to myself, why is April the only month of the year that I aim to connect further to my people, my history, and wrap my head around what happened? 11 months out of the year I’m at fault for feeling unconcerned, as I, embarrassingly, have never participated in a justice march, or even once involved myself in cultural organizations to raise awareness. So am I part of the problem?

I thought, if even a direct descendant of survivors can’t be bothered to devote oneself fully to this cause, what hope is there for the rest of the world to care?

Positively enough, I was happy to find an encouraging pattern in the last several years of a growing widespread acknowledgment and acceptance (I can thank the Kardashians for that, too). Various countries, such as France and Cyprus have taken the stance to recognize the Genocide and make denial illegal. Likewise, Germany and Holland’s recent statements made the Armenian community feel incredibly validated and heard.

Even though it took over a century to allow Armenia’s voice on the world stage, it’s important to remember that, to this day, we all have a tendency to disregard events that aren’t in our direct line of vision. How can I accuse the world of brushing aside my ethnic baggage when I was guilty of the same indifference towards other cultures?

During the 90’s, we watched but didn’t intervene to help the Tutsi suffer their own mass killing in Rwanda, so, I wondered, are there any similar atrocities happening today? After making a quick Google search, to my surprise, I found that several nations are currently undergoing their own excruciating circumstances. Though I may not be the most well versed in foreign affairs, I still found it saddening that our mainstream media could have done more to bring the Rohingya’s current genocide in Myanmar to light. And although my newfound familiarity with Sudan’s political climate may not incite much change right away, I know that if we all spared several minutes out of our day to at least become aware of these crises, we’d make a remarkable, collective difference.

If there’s one thing the Armenian Genocide can teach us, it’s that indifference is humanity’s deadliest weapon. If the only solution to apathy is allowing ourselves to invite in other people’s difficulties, we owe it to our fellow man and woman to do so.

Sonia Gumuchian is a writer based in Los Angeles. Originally from Vancouver, Canada, she received her film degree from the USC School of Cinematic Arts and has been working in the TV industry for several years. Sonia recently worked at ABC Studios and HBO, where she learned the ropes of creative development. Additionally, her work has been showcased at film festivals in the UK, the US and Canada. Earlier this year, one of Sonia’s original pilots won an award at the London Filmmaker Festival. Her entertainment articles have also been featured in USC Annenberg Media and Neon Tommy.

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