“Why do you keep harping on the Armenian Genocide? You want money from the Turks?” asked Archie Measles. “That’s what most people want. They want to get paid for their silence.” Archie, somewhat new at the coffee club, pointed to a poster with words from William Saroyan. I’ll tell you about the poster.
First of all, beginning on April 24, 1915, somewhere between 1.25 and 1.5 million Armenians were killed in the Ottoman Empire—modern Turkey. My family lived in Western Armenia, then part of the Ottoman Empire. I’m here, which means that some of my family managed to escape. Not so for my father’s two older brothers. They were under the age of ten and they died as a result of the genocide. Not so for other family members.
What do I want? I don’t want money. I don’t want the return of the family house. My father’s family was so overcome by what happened in the genocide that they, like many other survivors, could not talk about life in the Old Country. My mother’s family came from the city of Aintab, a city now called Gaziantep by the Turks. That city goes back to the Hittite era. I don’t know about any property there. I don’t want any sort of material payment. Can money or property return the family? Can money return whatever gifts might have been among those people killed?
I’m somewhat unrealistic. I want the government of Turkey to stop denying that the genocide happened. I want the government of Turkey to stop making ambiguous statements such as Prime Minister Erdogan’s latest pronouncement that “lots of people died during World War I” and calling that a statement of condolence. I want the government of Turkey to admit that its predecessors attempted to eliminate the Armenian people and the Armenian culture from its borders. Then, like the alcoholic family that admits to the disease of alcoholism, we Armenians and Turks can receive healing and forgiveness.
I want what may be the most difficult gift of all to come from the governments of Turkey now and for all time: the end of the genocide denial. To do this would mean that Turkey would give its respect to Armenia and Armenians.
Then Turkey could teach the truth of what happened within its boundaries.
And so we remember and strive for recognition. The words of William Saroyan on the poster speak well for me and for many Armenians.
I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race; this small tribe of unimportant people whose history is ended, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled,whose literature is unread, whose music is unheard, whose prayers are no longer uttered.
Go ahead, destroy this race.
Let us say that it is again 1915 there is war in the world. Destroy Armenia.
See if you can do it. Send them from their homes into the desert.
Let them have neither bread nor water.
Burn their houses and their churches.
Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.