Monday, April 27, 2015

Our Century

The earth shifted ever so slightly this month. An irreversible tide that was a hundred years coming crashed on the shores of seas we no longer have ownership of. But it doesn't matter because right now we are the world.

After a century of demanding justice, recognition and restitution, after a century of pain, desolation and despair, after a century of tortured memories passing from one generation to the next, on the one hundredth anniversary of that catastrophic event, we are indeed the world.

Torchlight March, Yerevan
The epic events of the past several weeks - a papal mass that should shame the perpetrator and all those who bend to its will, a massive rock concert on the eve of the Armenian Genocide that rocked Yerevan's Republic Square and our hearts, an unprecedented sea of descendants marching for justice in Los Angeles - have changed the course of our future.

We were able to release ourselves from being perpetual victims. We were able to stand together, united, unbreakable and unshakeable. We told the world that we are here, we may be a few, we may be dispersed, we may have different ideologies but we are steadfast, for you cannot discount millions of people who refuse to surrender, who refuse to be silenced, who refuse injustice. We reached a tipping point.

What we do with this capital, depends on us. 

March to Justice, LA
The continued strength and resilience of our communities, their lobbying efforts in power centers around the world, not only for Armenian Genocide recognition but for the security and empowerment of the Republic of Armenia and the recognition of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic and a deepening engagement with Armenia's civil society initiatives must become part of the equation in the Diaspora's activities.

Simultaneously, assisting and, if need be, pressuring the current government of the Republic of Armenia to institutionalize democratic values, the protection of human rights, social justice, to conduct free and fair elections, implement sound economic policies, ensure political plurality and eradicate impunity must become a priority for the citizens of Armenia. 

These two strands do not have to be mutually exclusive. On the contrary, accomplishing one without the other will not propel us forward.

Armenians in the Diaspora, who have been struggling for Genocide recognition are now seeing the result of their decades-long work. The activists and lobbyists who courted politicians in the corridors of power, the community leaders, who tried to mobilize their members despite divisions, the scholars, whose invaluable academic work laid the foundation and proved without a reasonable doubt, that the atrocities committed against the Armenian nation by Ottoman Turkey had all the elements of genocide, have all played an important role. This is power.

System of a Down concert, Yerevan
Certain segments in Armenia have been making strides in new technologies, education, social entrepreneurship and in elevating social consciousness despite the inadequacy and incompetence of the authorities. While it has a long way to go, citizens are slowly recoiling from the traditional model of servitude which successive governments have banked on to maintain power. And this past month, Armenians in Armenia finally realized that they are not an isolated island, closed off from the world both figuratively and literally, but they were indeed part of the human family, part of the world. This too, is power.

Events, circumstances and experiences such as we witnessed this past month instilled hope, both in the Diaspora and in Armenia. The next century is ours to define and navigate. Now, let's not lose the momentum. 

Armenia is Rising. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Crossroads, Connections and Unexpected Reunions

April 21

My alarm clock goes off at 7:15. I drag myself out of bed to start my day. It is April 21, and the countdown to the 24th is in full swing. I know that a busy day is ahead, but by the time I drag myself home at 11:30 pm, the word "busy" no longer applies.

I have an early morning meeting scheduled with a journalist from the Irish Times, who is in town to report on the commemoration ceremonies planned for the centenary of the Armenian Genocide. About 45 minutes into the interview, I look up and see two of my dear friends from Australia, Varant and Houry, walking toward my office. They have decided to pay me an unexpected visit. They have come to Yerevan because they couldn't not be here. It is a joyful reunion. We say goodbye to our now Irish friend, sit down for a quick chat until I get called away to a meeting.

Hrayr Jebejian, the General Secretary of the Bible Society of the Arabian Gulf comes in later in the day for a scheduled interview. Just as we are going to walk to the studio, a couple from Montreal comes to CivilNet. Dr. Rita Soulahian Kuyumjian, a psychiatrist and her husband Dr. Jirair Kuyumjian are loyal viewers of CivilNet and have decided to stop by our office. There are handshakes and many kind words exchanged. In the middle of the conversation, I find out that Rita is here because a book she had written was translated in Armenian and she is here for the launch that is going to take place at the Genocide Museum-Institute the following day. I had read her book, "Archeology of Madness, Komitas, Portrait of an Armenian Icon" years ago and I am thrilled that I am getting the chance to meet the author. We agree for her to come in the next day for an interview.

Then I interview Tatevik Revazian from Copenhagen, a young woman who was instrumental in having the city agree to erect a sculpture for the Armenian Genocide, which is being protested by the Turks of Denmark. Afterward, Pierre Akkelian, the President of Canadian Gem and founder of the Armenian Jewelers Association is scheduled to come in for an interview about an exhibition that will take place in St. Petersburg called the Treasures of Western Armenia. But before he arrives, Kourken Sarkissian, the founder and president of Zoryan Institute arrives with Professor Roger Smith and a few of the students who have taken part in the Institute's Genocide studies course. 

As we sit around the conference table, Pierre arrives. The discussion is about Genocide recognition and where we go from here. I interview Pierre, and then I have another interview with an Argentinian-Armenian human rights lawyer. Just as they leave, my former colleague Paul Chaderjian, who now works for Al Jazeera stops by. After he leaves, I go to Derian Kebab to meet up with my Australian friends for a late dinner. It's 8:30, and I'm really really tired.

I walk into Derian Kebab and there I see a large Norwegian delegation. Tim Straight, the honorary consul of Norway, Jussi Flemming Bioern, the grandson of Bodil Biorn, a Norwegian missionary who saved thousands of Armenian lives during the Genocide are there. Hugs, introductions follow. The mayor of Kragero, Norway is there, historian Bard Larsen is there. Toasts are made, food is ordered and after a couple of glasses of wine, all is good.

Just as the evening is winding down, a young man walks in, he looks familiar, but hey, everyone looks familiar at this point. He walks up to Jussi and says, "Don't you remember me? I went to Der Zor with you in 2004." Jussi, at this point, is absolutely stunned, he can't believe it. He holds the young man's face with his hands and I think he's crying. I look at the young man and realize it's Kevork Hagopjian, whom I had met in London a few years ago. Kevork is from Aleppo and he was doing his masters in London. I stand up and say, "Kevork?" As I do, my chair tips over, I bend down to pick it up, hug Kevork, turn around and see two other friends, Annette and Armine from London. More hugs, more hugs, more hugs....Armenia is the most bizarre, yet most beautiful place on earth at this moment.

As Tim says, "This Is Armenia."

Saturday, April 4, 2015

April 25

The Tatev Canyon. Photo by Suren Manvelyan.
April 25 will come. I promise. 

It will come a day after April 24, the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. It will be the day after hundreds of thousands have made the pilgrimage to Tsitsernakaberd, the Genocide memorial that sits atop a lonely hill in Yerevan.

Official delegations that had flown in for a few hours, will have left. The millions of flowers surrounding the eternal flame at the memorial will remain there for a few days more and then they too will be taken away and recycled. Armenians from the Diaspora, who had come to be part of the centenary in the homeland, will stay on for a few more days and then they too will leave.

News organizations who had sent crews to cover the commemoration ceremonies will write their articles, file their reports, pack up their gear and go back to cover more pressing events around the world. Hotel rooms will be empty.

The billboards calling for justice and recognition of the Armenian Genocide in cities around the world will be taken down. Exhibitions that had been held at some of the most prestigious museums and institutions will be dismantled and packed away. Conferences that had been organized, televised, and live streamed will conclude, their proceedings published and uploaded.

The academics, panelists, experts who had delivered their speeches will leave the podiums, the audience will go back to their lives and the conference halls will be empty.

The demonstrations, candlelight vigils and marches will come to an end. The articles that were written will be read and then deleted from computer screens. The purple forget-me-not, the symbol designed to mark the centenary that had been made into pins, posters, t-shirts, bumper stickers, mugs, bracelets, necklaces, phone covers, umbrellas, and hats will be discarded.

Books about the Genocide by descendants of survivors will be published, poems will be written, feature films will be screened, plays will be performed, as will rock concerts and symphonies in the heart of Yerevan.

The millions, if not billions of dollars earmarked and raised for the commemoration on every continent of the globe will be spent.

April 25 will come. I promise.

And 100 is just a number. It is not an end, it must be a beginning to something… You see, the 1.5 million will still be dead, towns and villages in historic Armenia will still be missing their native children, wealth and prosperity will still be lost, justice will continue to be elusive, Turkey will still continue to deny and we will still need to fight the good fight.

And after the marches end, after the conferences are over, after the signs are taken down, after the world who had come to Yerevan has packed up and gone, we will be here. The land and its people. Armenia and Artsakh, the two fragile Armenian states will still be here. And the Diaspora, born from that crime 100 years ago, today, with its limitless possibilities and potential will still be here.

As a century of pain, sorrow and loss comes to an end, a new century will begin. Let us make it our century. A century of purpose. Let us start that new century, finally on April 25.