Never Give In, Never Give Up!

By Vicken Gulvartian, Los Angeles, 4 November 2009

Until a month ago, I was living as I thought every conscientious Armenian in the spiurk should: By volunteering to Armenian organizations and projects; educating my children towards an awareness of the language, culture and heritage; donating regularly to as many causes that appeal to my (Armenian) senses; and not forgetting that there’s an Armenia out there- weak and fragile- that needs help and support.

Then 10/10 occurred, and we were all thrown into a new reality. Here’s what happened:

By Vicken Gulvartian, Los Angeles, 4 November 2009

Until a month ago, I was living as I thought every conscientious Armenian in the spiurk should: By volunteering to Armenian organizations and projects; educating my children towards an awareness of the language, culture and heritage; donating regularly to as many causes that appeal to my (Armenian) senses; and not forgetting that there’s an Armenia out there- weak and fragile- that needs help and support.

Then 10/10 occurred, and we were all thrown into a new reality. Here’s what happened:

1-Turkey now has a signature on a document that indicates Armenia’s acceptance to a revision of the Genocide by a commission of Armenian, and Turkish historians. Imagine, the perpetrator of the crime is now a judge in the case of mass murder and Genocide. Pfft, a tragic-comedy of immense proportions.

2-Turkey will continue to distort (and deny) the Genocide, because admission is an indication of the falsehood of the Turkish nation, and its modern history.

3-Armenians must, hereon, resign from all demands of return of lands and property that we were forced to abandon during the years of the deportations and massacres, 1915-1921.

4-The government of Armenian has, in effect, told the Diaspora that they are going in alone on this one. That the Diaspora will not feature in the developments of the so called Armenia-Turkey reconciliation process.

Three distinct remarks by Serzh Sargsyan made the case. First, “I am the President of Armenia, not the Diaspora Armenians”. We were naïve to believe that we must entrust the safeguard of the Genocide, as a sacred Armenian reality, to the president of Armenia. Two,”If the price we will have to pay for signing the Protocols is alienating a stubborn Diaspora, then it’s a price I’m willing to pay”. Quite arrogant from a man who will need all the help he can get in the months and years ahead. Finally, three,” I went on a tour of the Diaspora communities to tell them about my plan, and not to ask them for their opinions”. In other words, we were told that we are not wanted at this -the most critical – stage in the story of Armenia.

What’s done is done. It is now time to assess the situation, and devise a plan of action, now that Yerevan has excluded the Diaspora as a party to any Armenia-Turkey dealings that mention the Genocide.

Listen: If you want us out, then leave the Genocide out! Any reference to the Genocide will put Armenians of the Diaspora in the fray, and we shall organize, energize, and revitalize. Here’s my reason why, and I’m certain that this story repeats 1.5 million times over, in every Armenian family that exists today because of one (or two) family member who has survived the Genocide:

I am the son of a survivor, and my grandfather was a victim of the Genocide. Hajin is the land of my ancestors, a Cilician city of 20,000 Armenian inhabitants, resting amidst the Taurus Mountains, dating back to the times of the Crusades. The city of Hajin was ransacked twice- First, by the sick design of the Ottomans in 1915. But when the French occupied Cilicia, 6000 survivors of the massacres returned to their homes, only to be massacred again in 1920, this time by the orders of Mustafa Kemal himself (the Kemalists continued where the Ottomans left off). Of the remaining survivors only 300 escaped the siege and carnage that ensued. Today, the Armenian city of Hajin bears the name of the leader of the Turkish armies that stormed the city: Siambeyli. A peaceful people were abruptly sent off into a new Diaspora of a million orphans -my father was one of them.

It must be noted that the Armenian Diaspora did not originate because of the Genocide. It had already been a historic reality, dating back to the fall of the great city of Ani in the 11th century. Therefore, the Armenian Diaspora is what it is, because of what the land of the Armenians has always been throughout history- an inhospitable place, in the path of marauders and land-grabbers: “The armpit of the world” as my high school Armenian history teacher Ardashes Der Khachatourian used to say. It occupies a unique place in the history of world cultures and civilizations, in the sense that, it has amazingly seeped into all corners of the world- but first to Cilicia- by the exodus of peaceful homesteaders (not by conquest). In time, it has evolved into a resilient entity that has adapted to shifting conditions for the sake of that brilliant human characteristic- survival. It has endured, not by luck, but because it has toiled to exist as one entity (not much different than the story of future immigrants to America, who have taken similar measures to exist collectively). We are, until today, a malleable group of people who have inherited the skills of our immigrating ancestors. We were once in India, Poland and Rumania- but are now in the US, Canada, Argentina, France, Lebanon and Russia. We will as easily return to India or anywhere where resilient, hard-working and creative people are yet to go. We are on the “right path” (shidag jampoo vra) headed towards Armenia, but seem to be moving in the “wrong direction” (sekhal oughootian vra) to get there, the other way around the globe. We shall get there someday or maybe not. Doesn’t matter!
While today’s Republic of Armenia is yet to find ways to survive, the Diaspora has already acquired that skill. It is in its nature to endure, lose numbers, and continue again with renewed comebacks. We spurkahyes like it the way we are, as we are. And we are no less Armenian then say… a Karabaghtzi (to make a point that can resonate with the current leaders in Yerevan).

Yes! We are a shifting lot, and we dissolve a lot, but that is not to be mistaken with a doomed fate-Because, “Spiurke haverj e” (is eternal). Now, that’s a proven conclusion that my college Armenian Literature and Culture professor, Vahe Oshagan, used to teach effectively- A cycle of displacement, assimilation, and replenishment by an ever-changing and ever-shifting Armenian existence in another corner of the world is the epic story of the Armenian Diaspora. Then Genocide happened, and everything changed. It took away our innate ability for self-preservation, and threw a resilient, creative people into destitution, and suffering. By one estimate, conducted in 2005, the 1.5 million would have grown to 29 million lives, had the Genocide never been perpetrated.

Some claim that today the Diaspora is fragmented, and lacks leadership. True, but I would also like to remind those of similar opinions that the call to preservation has always overshadowed the fragmentation and the lack of cohesive leadership in the Diaspora. It was not the burden of ideology, nor the interpretation of party politics, that rallied all of us around the landmark events of our times- including the independence and reconstruction of Armenia. It is that same adherence to charity towards our own that makes the Diaspora the provider of 25% of the Republic of Armenia’s GDP today. In the end, it was not the Diaspora that failed; the leaders of Armenia did. They have no one to blame but themselves for their obliterated leadership. I’m convinced that more of us would have participated and repatriated- if they had their act together from the beginning- certainly more than the mere 1,050 spiurkahyes who ended up returning after the independence of Armenia in 1991.

Worst yet, 10/10 changed the rules of engagement following unilateral actions taken by the leadership in Yerevan. It is time for the Diaspora to reorganize its sophisticated leadership- that we willingly replaced with all things Hayasdanian after independence- of thinkers, intellectuals, artists, political activists, academicians. We have work to do.

While Turkey courts the world- we will bring up their hidden history, and dark past.

While Armenia compromises- we will, again and again, make the case for losses and reparations.

While the EU contemplates its next membership- we will remind them of the killing fields across eastern Turkey.

While the US leverages Turkey against regional powers- we will talk about border disputes, abandoned treaties, and the cover-up of state-sponsored mass-murders.

While Turkey lies- we will hold them liable.

While Turkey attempts to rewrite history- we will respond with more facts.

While Turkey claims victory- we shall scream, “Hoghere”.

And if the government of Armenia abandons its responsibility- then we shall seek regime change until Armenia attains a leadership that inspires and rallies all Armenians of the world around one cause, one destiny.

The work continues- to establish and document more facts, to spread the news, to tear down the wall of denial, and to safeguard the safety, security and prosperity of the hye azk (the Armenian nation). This is what defines the Diaspora. We are neither a remnant of the Armenian nation, nor exclusion.

So, what next?

The pursuit of Genocide recognition has been and will continue to be the work of Armenian individuals and organizations operating out of the civilized world- the work must continue.

The clarification of the legal ramifications of forceful deportations of people, and the confiscation of their private property is a crime best understood by civilized nations- the work must continue.

The case of Genocide denial is a matter of pretentious Turkish amnesia that requires close monitoring and eventual rehabilitation- the work must continue.

The responsibility for the bad deeds of Turkey’s ancestors is a matter of the rule of law- the work must continue.

History is overlooked by illiterate politicians to the detriment of the people they govern- the work must continue.

We, the solitary inhabitants of the Diaspora, as dispersed and disoriented as we may seem to be today, will never give in, never give up. Genocide, displacement, Soviet totalitarianism, and Turkish nationalism did not destroy us, neither will eleventh-hour self-proclaimed democratized Turkish politicians. We will not forget, we will not waiver, and we will not quit.

To you all, I scream and shout- organize. Support any individual or entity, organization, Armenian political party, scholar, historian, entrepreneur, journalist or activist that stands up for the facts of the Genocide. Donate funds, volunteer time, write, explain, protest, make speeches, and go to a rally. Talk to revisionists, debate deniers, and engage skeptics in discussions.

There’s work to be done for years to come. Are we going to be relevant?

The answer came to me last week, from one of the local Armenian schools in Los Angeles, where the Armenian department had organized a student debate on the issue of Genocide recognition and land claims. At the end of the debate, the entire high school student body voted 75% against the premises of the 10/10 Protocols. The youth voted for the recognition of the Genocide, and reparations for the damages incurred by Turkey upon the Armenian people.

The cause is alive. The work continues.

Father, rest assured!

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