Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Turkey - Final Thoughts


My generation of Armenians grew up learning Armenian history in Sunday school. We listened to our grandparents and parents tell us the stories of the "massacres" of the late 19th and early 20th century in what is now called "Turkey". We went to college, studied world history, and learned how the "cradle of civilization" was located throughout the area now encompassed by Turkey, Iran and Iraq, as well as historic Armenia.

But, I learned that reading about that history is nothing compared to traveling to those lands and seeing it firsthand. That is true for any travel one takes to a place of historic value. But, as an Armenian whose ancestral family is from historic Armenia -- reaching from what is now Karabagh to the east of the independent nation of Armenia, to the region west of Mount Ararat -- standing on that soil is an entirely different experience.

Our 2009 trip to Turkey was everything I hoped it would be, and I urge anyone who has the fortitude to withstand a trip like that to do it! I walked on the streets where my grandparents walked, and where their grandparents and ancestors walked. I walked on the land where Armenians suffered horrible atrocities at the hands of the Ottoman Turks. I saw the river where their blood ran south to the Syrian desert. I saw the deserts, and the mountains, and the rugged landscape that bore the pain and suffering of over 1 million Armenians who died simply because they were Armenian.

The pain of seeing history crumbling before one's eyes is mind-numbing. The pain of seeing total disregard for human suffering because of political agenda is heart breaking. The pain of seeing world class architecture left to crumble into the earth is enough to make one want to scream at anyone who will listen. Today's occupants of historic Armenia - the Kurds -- are generally simple, poor, religious Christians or Muslims, who take pride in what is now their land. But, they too are suffering persecution for not being "a Turk" in the true sense of the word -- they are foreign, just like the Armenians and Greeks who were deported by Genocide. And, they too will someday be forced out of their homes (which were once the homes of Armenians).

The beauty of our Armenian culture -- which can still be felt and heard and seen in historic Armenia, even if one's imagination must embellish those senses -- is still evident, at least today. The Armenians were talented people - architects, builders, craftsmen, artists, religious leaders, kings, musicians, authors ... the list goes on and on. The Armenians played a significant role in what is today a flourishing and architecturally rich city called Istanbul. They built churches and buildings and monasteries and castles throughout what is now called "Turkey." Turkey only came into its existence after World War I. Armenia has its roots in this land dating back to the Urartu Kindom, and as far back as 7000 BC.

We cannot change what happened in 1915. We cannot bring back our intellectuals, artists, musicians, architects, homemakers, grandparents, great-aunts and uncles. We can, however, remember and respect what they died for, and be grateful that, because of what happened in 1915, those who are living in the Diaspora and in the independent country of Armenia have a legacy to take into the next generation.

Let us not ever forget them -- honor them by visiting their homeland. Honor them by making sure that we remember their suffering, and that we continue the legacy they passed on to us.

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