April 24, 2012 was the 97th year since the Armenian Genocide. Under the Ottoman Empire (present-day Turkey) 1.5 million men, women and children were shot, beaten, raped, drugged and drowned. This massacre predates the Holocaust and marks the beginning of modern genocide. And yet, there are some who claim that the piles of severed heads and images of starved, rib-caged corpses were merely byproducts of a civil war. Such denial has bludgeoned the Armenian Genocide into obscurity for nearly a century, but there has been and continues to be resistance.
As I walked along Ring Road, just past Aldrich Hall and atop the stairs which lead down to the flagpoles were a group of students with red tape glued to their mouths. They were huddled together in a circle blocking the road. I walked from student to student reading their posters, “Remember April 24, 1915” and “Some Wounds Time Never Heals.”
A few days later I met with the students from the Armenian Student Association (ASA), who organized the silent protest. To my right was Narek Mktrchyan, fourth-year cognitive psychology and Cultural Chair of ASA; beside him was Ani Aslani, a third-year philosophy and European studies major; we were later joined by Hapkop Aladzhadzhyan, fourth-year biology and president of ASA.
I previously met Narek while rushing to class, late as usual. He was standing at a booth across from the ATMs near the food court. The ASA along with the fraternity Alpha Gama Alpha had surrounded their booths with black-and-white photos of mass graves and corpses. Their purpose, Narek said, was to raise “awareness among the non-Armenian population.”
Ani Aslani, one of the silent protestors with red tape pressed against her lips, detailed the importance of remembering genocides. With an unwavering stare she emphasized, “The reason we (ASA) press the Armenian Genocide is that it is unrecognized.”
Presently, the United States doesn’t officially recognize the Armenian Genocide, despite affirmation by 42 states, past presidents and Obama, plus major news networks like CNN. In short, Turkey, who continues to deny the atrocity, will prevent the U.S. from using Turkish airspace if the U.S. acknowledges the genocide. Hence, resolutions brought before Congress aimed at recognizing the Armenian Genocide are routinely shot down.
I asked Narek if it was upsetting to know that politics was preventing the national recognition and awareness. He simply lowered his head and gave a resigned nod, “As long as there is a war in the Middle East there will be no resolution. There is no benefit for the U.S.”
Anguish is being forcibly silenced for reasons known only to the deniers. We can speculate that denial is motivated by extreme nationalism, racism or just ignorance. But the deniers are of little significance, we reveal a more bitter side to the story.
We are a populous shrouded in ambiguous truth yet it is an ignorance we wear both consciously and mindlessly. During the silent protest on Ring Road there was a fair amount of students who paused and took notice. But there were a handful of students who simply faded by or lingered past with little less than a gaze.
We are not being thrown into piles of books and papers to uncover a forgotten truth. In some sense, we are the jurors in the trial of verity, the jurors who vaguely understand the weight of their own vote. Since our memory alone has the power to validate the existence and death of thousands.
But ours is truly the lightest cross to bear. While the lives of 1.5 million victims seep into oblivion and their deaths denounced, students like Ani, Narek and Hapkop continue to set up booths, print out flyers and spend their hours informing an ignorant crowd. Whereas, we the student populous are bestowed with the simplest task: choice.
Should we remain the silent or indifferent accomplices in the denial of genocide or do we stand and demand recognition for a past that is ours to remember?
Nidia Sandoval is a third-year history major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.