Never Underestimate the Power of Words


 

By Harry N. Mazadoorian

As the solemn commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide approaches, we witness a torrent of powerful and thoughtful rhetoric about the importance of recognizing and commemorating this shameful event. Newspaper articles, public commemoration programs and communications with elected officials permeate the Armenian-American community: thousands of words are expended in pursuit of the elusive recognition of one of the darkest chapters in human history and to gain support for the Armenian cause.

But some question the effectiveness of so much effort to achieve this quest. What good do all these words do, they ask. We talk ourselves blue in the face and yet does anyone listen? Are any of our words heard? Do they have any impact? After all, the Genocide was in 1915 and the denial continues. Turkey refuses to acknowledge the atrocities and even the President of the United States adroitly side-steps any reference to the word Genocide.

Have the thousands of words expended lost all their power? Can anything be accomplished with more words? Mere words?

Those committed to keeping the memory of the Genocide burning brightly — in order to honor the martyred victims, to achieve justice and to insure that such atrocities will be averted in the future — should never lose sight of what can be achieved by continuing to rely on the spoken or written word. Indeed, the story must be told and retold, especially as the 100th Commemoration draws near, for surely the significance of the Genocide will be heard at that critical moment and by that one person who will adopt the cause and make all the difference. And make no mistake — one single person who might be moved into action by the Genocide story can have a major impact.

One inspiring example of the power of the word in assisting and advancing the Armenian cause involves the case of a young Danish humanitarian — with no apparent previous connections with Armenians- who once heard the word of brutality suffered by Armenians, was transformed by it and then devoted her lifetime to serving Armenian victims.

Early in the 20th century, a remarkable young Danish woman, Karen Jeppe, was moved by writings about the plight and suffering of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as well as by a lecture she attended in Copenhagen. The lecture, given by an intellectual and humanitarian, stressed the inhumanities suffered by Armenians in Urfa years before the Genocide.

Jeppe was 26 at the time, in the prime of her life. She was extremely troubled by the accounts of the atrocities described in the words she had heard and read. But even more importantly, she was moved and inspired by these words. They had a profound impact on her, and subsequently on the lives of countless Armenian victims of the Genocide.

A poignant Danish television documentary on Karen Jeppe titled “A Call So Loud” describes her conversations with a clergyman about whether she should go to Turkey to provide humanitarian assistance. What she was reportedly told was that there was no reason for her to get involved — unless the call to her was “so loud” that she could not resist.

Indeed, the call of the words she had heard and read were so loud that she left her homeland in 1903 to provide assistance.

Years later, following the Genocide, she continued her humanitarian efforts and ultimately established a children’s home and orphanage in Aleppo where so many of the survivors of the Genocide had found their way. Her work touched thousands and thousands of lives, including that of my late father, Nigoghos, a young boy to whom she provided refuge and personally offered support.

The countless good deeds accomplished by Karen Jeppe would exceed the space of this entire newspaper and cannot be told in this small article. Suffice it to say that she learned the Armenian language, considered the plight of the Armenians to be her plight and then went on to serve as a, teacher, vocational trainer and ultimately founder of a critically needed orphanage and training school where countless Armenian children were sheltered, protected, fed and trained, preparing them for a new life.

But what must be remembered is that she was inspired by the words which she had heard and read, words which were so poignant and compelling — and which called to her so loudly — that they propelled her into a heroic life of action. She was someone with no previous exposure to Armenian issues but whose life was transformed by the words she read and heard.

Jeppe’s story is but one example of why we must never forget the potential and persuasive power of words. Her life and heroic actions remind us that the story in this charred chapter of history cannot be told too often. The words of our history — this call so loud — must be sown widely, to Armenians and non Armenians alike, to statesmen, legislators, even to Presidents.

We must never underestimate the power of words which speak the truth and call for action.

Jeppe’s example demonstrates that we can never imagine when or where or how the seeds spread by the telling of our story may take root in the hearts and minds of good people who will make our cause their cause. If just one such person is touched, the positive consequences can be enormous.

Words can be powerful. And they can achieve powerful results.

Karen Jeppe’s selfless commitment to Armenians certainly proved that.

( Harry N. Mazadoorian of Kensington, Connecticut is the son of survivors of the Armenian Genocide, both of whom were relocated to orphanages in the Near East, before coming to America. He is an attorney and a mediator and is the Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Quinnipiac University Law School Center on Dispute Resolution.)