This essay originally aired on April 26, 2018.
I believe we must remember the past so it doesn’t repeat itself.
My father was a survivor of the first genocide in the 20th century: the Armenian genocide. He died at 96, having come to this country at the age of 10 as a refugee. He was traumatized from sleeping in the trees with his eyes open, hiding from the soldiers. Even late in life, he continued to sleep with his eyes open. He, his grandmother, and a cousin eventually escaped to America. But he never spoke of his childhood until the last years of his life. When he did, he would howl in pain at the memory. How I pitied him. How fortunate we are to be born in this country.
For the survivors and their families, the scars run deep and it is impossible to forget the Armenian genocide. But today, many deny its occurrence. I wonder if the world’s recognition would have eased my father’s pain.
During the Armenian genocide, the Turks massacred 1-3 million Armenians. My maternal grandmother was one of 56 survivors from the town of Kerope. She and her friends would whisper about the Armenian genocide, assuming I couldn’t understand because I was a child. When I was older, I began asking questions and she realized I had understood much of what they said. One day, as they spoke of the rapes and the death marches, I became very angry. I said, “The only good Turk is a dead Turk.” I thought my grandmother was going to break the wooden spoon on me. She was horrified! She told me, “No one has the right to hate.” This from a woman who escaped twice from the death marches in Der Zor, had her whole family murdered and saw her child die of starvation.
A hundred years later, in the same section of Syria where many Armenians were slaughtered, people are losing their lives to yet another genocide. I have come to believe that we will never stop genocide as long as past atrocities -- like the Armenian Genocide -- continue to be ignored and denied. Hitler used the denial surrounding the Armenian genocide as justification for the Holocaust. As he signed the document to begin exterminating the Jews, he laughed and asked, “Who now remembers the Armenians?”
In 2016, the movie “The Promise,” told a story of the Armenian genocide. When I watched it, I cried: for humanity; for my country, America; for those who died; for those who survived; for those who forgot; for those who refuse to know; and above all for those who perpetrated the genocide and the Turkish people who have to live with the guilt.
I remember the Armenian Genocide and all the genocides since then, and I wonder if there will ever be a day when genocide is no longer a stain upon humanity. I believe humankind will not survive unless we learn to respect the lives of all human beings. I believe the Armenian genocide must be acknowledged so those who died may finally rest in peace.
Pamela Apkarian-Russell is the owner and curator of the Castle Halloween museum in Altoona.