April 1915, the sun rose over the mountains of Armenia just like any other day, warming up the fields and inviting the people of the villages to wake up from their sleep and to start their daily tasks. No one knew that this day would be anything but another normal day.
All of a sudden the day got dark as the Turkish soldiers marched into the Armenian villages to deport all the Armenian families. The soldiers used force and violence to move the Armenians from the villages. Some men tried to fight the soldiers but they were brutally executed in front of their families. Children screamed as they watched their parents killed right in front of their eyes by the Turkish soldiers. All of this was done without mercy and without guilt.
This may sound like part of a new movie by Steven Spielberg that is playing at Edwards’ Theatre in Fresno, but it’s not. This is the true story of the Armenian people and the Armenian Genocide. The genocide, which began on April 24, 1915, with the arrest, torture and execution of 300 intellectuals, writers, poets and civic and political leaders, lasted until 1923. 1.5 million Armenians were killed during those 8 years. The point that I am trying to make is not to retell the story of the Armenian Genocide, which has been told and retold many times, but to see how well people in Fresno and in other cities know about the Armenian Genocide.
On April 25th, 2002, a day after the 87th year remembrance of the Armenian Genocide, I conducted a random survey at Fresno State University, asking some of the future leaders of this country some questions about the Armenian Genocide. The survey consisted of asking 50 randomly chosen people of every race, gender, profession, and age, if they knew what the Armenian Genocide was. The most common response was “Uhhhhhh no.” Some other responses ranged from Armenian Genocide being a food to the Armenian participation in the Olympic games this year.
Out of 50 people surveyed, only 8 knew about the Armenian Genocide. The remaining 42 people did not have a clue. So 84% did not know anything about the genocide and only 16% knew about the first Genocide of the 20th century. I then asked the participants if they knew about the Jewish Holocaust and all 50 responded with a quick “Of course.” I asked them how come they knew about the Jewish Holocaust so well and most of them responded that they were taught about it in their classes and also had learned about it through the movie industry.
We hold a commemoration every year on April 24 and tell the story of the Armenian Genocide and have speakers come and talk and give their opinions and feelings about the horrible things that happened to the Armenian people. Every Armenian has to live with the Genocide their whole life and passes that knowledge and pain to their children. We lay flowers for the innocent people who lost their lives during the genocide, but is that going to teach people about the Armenian Genocide?
We pay our respects and honor those who lost their lives during the demonstration but we do not reach the public to educate them more and to get their support. Fifteen seconds of airtime on the local news at 11 o’clock in the evening does not even give the viewing public enough information for them to even know what occurred during the genocide or how people suffered.
Who is to be blamed for this lack of knowledge about the Armenian Genocide? The people? The media? No, the government! There is not a single textbook at the junior high or high school level that has the history of the Armenian genocide in it. How are people going to know about something that they were not educated about? People know the great sufferings of the Jews and the African-Americans because they were required to learn about them in high school and also in colleges and universities. The country that models itself to be the most powerful country in the world turns its head everytime a light shines on the issue of the Armenian Genocide. If we Armenians had raised enough money to make multi-million dollar movies like “Schindler’s List” or “Amistad” to tell our story to everyone through the big screen or had enough political power to influence the government to recognize the Armenian Genocide, it would have already been done. But our population is small compared to the Jews and the African Americans and our voice is not heard amongst the larger groups.
Hitler was evil but not stupid. He watched while the Young Turks carried out the final solution of the Armenian Question during World War I, and he saw them get away with it. He drew the logical conclusion: the world has a short memory. When Hitler sent his generals to start World War II and to effect the final solution against the Jews, he ranted: “Go! Kill without mercy! Who today remembers the annihilation of the Armenians?”
Perhaps it is time we all remembered.