By Jivan Meguerditchian
On a rainy night last April, I remember going down to the garage and seeing my grandparents sitting on the edge of brown leather chairs watching the Armenian news channels in front of the extra television my family set up as entertainment.
“It’s about time!” Dada shouted.
After asking him what was wrong, he told me to look at the bottom of the screen which listed the names of multiple countries. He explained to me that these were some of the new countries which had recently recognized the Armenian Genocide. Looking back at my dada, I noticed his increasingly sad expression. After a few moments of silence, my grandmother became a little emotional as well.
A hundred years ago, violence destroyed the unity of Armenian families, and caused the tears of many children, parents, and grandparents. A hundred years ago my family was affected by events that are still remembered by Armenians scattered worldwide. A hundred years ago my ancestors were victims of what is known today as the Armenian Genocide.
As a boy I came to understand that this period in our culture’s history was not easy to talk about with family members because of how the genocide affected them. Growing up, I generally knew the types of gruesome actions most Armenians faced at the time, but I did not know the extent of suffering experienced by my immediate ancestors.
“Those bastards,” Dada whispered to himself.
I tried comforting the two of them by hugging them and trying to get their minds off of the topic as they sat there before me in the dimly lit, warm garage. Sensing my concern, dada decided to tell me the story of his grandfather. He recalled the brutal memory of his grandfather having his head severed by Ottoman officials for housing and protecting other Armenians. My nana then described how eight out of twelve members of her mother’s family were massacred. Their stories sparked both anger and pride within me. Why were these sick, twisted actions committed? Hearing about these violent actions done to my family, to my ancestors, to my own blood also ignited a feeling that was unexplainable, and one I have never felt before. Then when my father, or baba, walked in seeing the mood in the room, sat down with us. Though my baba was not directly part of these past events, he talked about a time when he went to Chicago to take part in a rally that spread awareness of genocides past and present. He mentioned the sense of pride he felt during this rally, and how he hoped that someday I could take part in such an event.
“Well, can we go this year?” I immediately responded.
He thought about it for a few moments, and asked me if I would consider missing school to attend the rally. At this point I did not care what I missed. The deep and overwhelming feelings I was experiencing made me not want to do anything else except to go to this rally.
A few weeks later, my father, two sisters and I traveled to Chicago on the weekend of April 24 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the initiation of the Armenian Genocide.
Upon our arrival, we saw Armenian flags being raised on a couple of Chicago street corners, and masses of people holding signs and posters. As we get out of the car, my sisters and I immediately rushed over to where all of the flags were being raised, and saw a podium with a microphone attached to it. My sister asked my baba why they had this whole setup, and he replied that it was for all the governors and mayors that were going to be speaking about the matter before they actually joined us on the march. This symbolized that even people with authority in the state and in the government recognized and were willing to spread awareness of this event.
One speaker after another approached the stage to speak. Each spoke about the horrors our ancestors had experienced and how the twenty-fourth was a day to remember and honor those who had lost their lives. After looking to the people around me, I saw a certain heaviness on the faces of those protesters, but this was soon replaced with an intense sense of pride. Once the last speaker had said his final words, the gathered rose and started picking up their signs, posters and flags and began to flood the blocked-off streets of Chicago.
About five minutes into the rally, I saw a young man pull a bullhorn from his bag and turn it on. He then pulled out a piece of paper covered in chants that he used to provoke the crowd.
“Nineteen-fifteen never again!” he shouted. “Nineteen-fifteen never again!” the protesters repeated. As we continued our rally, the loud chants gained the attention of more and more people that were not participating in the rally. A few waved to us, some were giving a thumbs-up, and others actually shouting some of the chants with us. It was good to see that some outsiders were becoming more aware and even showing support towards our cause. But as we kept marching through the cold April morning, the chants began to quiet down.
“Nayer!” (which means “look” in Armenian) said a man next to me. As I tried moving more towards the front of the group, people came to a stop behind a fence that blocked us off. We arrived at the Turkish Embassy, and in front of it was a small group of men and women of Turkish descent holding up their own signs and posters denying the existence of the Armenian Genocide. This was the same genocide they were responsible for, the same genocide that would not be forgotten by future generations, and the same genocide that has left the blood of 1.5 million Christian Armenians on their hands.
“Nineteen-fifteen never again. Nineteen-fifteen never again!” The chants started back up, but louder and filled with more passion.
“Turkey run, Turkey hide, Turkey is guilty of genocide!” we said, our volume increasing. “Turkey is guilty, Turkey is guilty!”
At this point, nobody could hear the other side and what they were chanting. As I was chanting I felt a poke in my back, and I turned to see what it was. It was my baba handing me a large Armenian flag to wave, since I was in the front of everyone else. Feeling the cloth and seeing the red, blue, and orange in my hands gave me a chill that went through my entire body. As I was waving the flag, I looked to my left and saw a woman in between the two sides holding up a sign. The sign mentioned that she was of Turkish descent, but not only this, it said that she was sorry for the gruesome atrocities her ancestors had committed. Since the woman was of Turkish descent, the Turkish men and woman on the other side had no response, and cold looks grew on their faces. As more time went on, small groups of Turks left from the other side until there were none left to chant their lies.
Even a hundred years after the Armenian Genocide our wounds are still open. A hundred years later we still remember this horrible encroachment on human rights. A hundred years later we still continue to sing, dance, and prosper even though the Ottoman Turks had a systematic plan, over an eight-year period, to strip everything away from us. Seeing my little sisters to my sides shouting all of the chants, seeing the passion and fire in my father’s eyes during the rally, and seeing the Armenian community in Chicago embracing our culture’s history and fighting for what we believed in, gave me a great sense of unity with the Armenian community that was deeper than I previously had felt before. This event ignited a continuous fire of justice to prevail the truthfulness of what actually happened to my ancestors. And on that day my family, the entire Armenian community in Chicago, and I honored, remembered, and spread awareness of what happened 100 years ago to the victims of the Armenian Genocide.
(Jivan Aram Meguerditchian is a 15-year-old student at Saint Ignatius High School in Cleveland, Ohio, and plans to attend a Big Ten or Ivy League school as an undergraduate and to the National Polytechnic University of Armenia as a postgraduate in the future. )