Thursday, April 22, 2010

Past and Future

It's the week running up to April 24th, and Armenians all around the world are caught up in remembrance, indignation, calls for justice, and predicting the tone of the US President's speech regarding the Genocide. For years while living in the US, I did my share of letter-writing, protesting, listening to and giving speeches, publishing photographs of the genocide and reading eyewitness accounts of this terrible event. It was like an annual collective look into the past.

Since 1992, I've been in Armenia four times on April 24th - and every time, it struck me how differently the Genocide is remembered here versus the Diaspora (at least in the US). First, the scale of commemoration is awe-inspiring. Every year, without fail, thousands and thousands of Armenians make the long trek to Dzidzernagabert to lay flowers, honor the dead and quietly move past the eternal flame. In this society that is mostly jaded, cynical and NEVER quiet, there is a collective respect for this day that truly touches the heart. There are no loud protests, no yells for congressional recognition, no attempts to draw media coverage - just a steady flow of thousands of people, families, young and old, leaving in their wake a ring of flowers taller than a human being around the eternal flame. The monument itself, bowing in front of those that died, and the rising of the nation (against the background of Ararat) speaks to the concept of remembering the past, but looking to the future.

It's the week running up to April 24th, and my daughter's first grade class (in a public school here in Yerevan) celebrated their completion of the study of the Armenian alphabet today. During an hour-long musical event, these 6-year olds sang and recited the praises of Mesrob Mashtots, who invented the Armenian alphabet in 405-406. They sang about the central role of the alphabet in preserving our language, our history, our culture and our identity. They celebrated Mesrob Mashtots in Armenian, English and Russian (in that order). They sang, recited, and danced their completion of the learning of our alphabet.

I was mesmerized during this hour - I had cleared my schedule for this, and could not have made a better choice for a busy Thursday afternoon two days before April 24. In the middle of crumbling protocols, congressional lobbying, calls for justice, pictures of the dead and posters dripping in blood, this latest generation of Armenians was enjoying this rite of passage unique to our people. And the best part is that no congressional panel has to vote the right way for these kids to learn and live this language, to be confident enough in their future as Armenians that they can learn about the past but not be imprisoned by it, so that, unlike me, they can write this same passage 20-30 years from now in Armenian. Today was a celebration of our future based on our appreciation of our past.

And two days from now, like the thousands of others that have preceded us, and the thousands that will follow us, my daughter, my son, my wife and I will quietly walk the long walk, place our flowers, remember the past, look at Ararat, and think not just about those who died, but also about what future we will create for ourselves as Armenians.


  1. Beautiful thoughts Raffi! As your daughter in Armenia sang and praised the Armenian alphabet, 7,000 miles away, on the other side of the earth, in San Francisco, the students of the only Armenian day school went up to Mount Davidson Cross to commemorate the 95th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, and to lay flowers in front of the cross. They recited Mouchegh Ishkhan, and Taniel Varoujan, and sang a song from Gomidas. A very emotional day!

  2. if every armenian was as courageous as you (and lulu) then we would have ten million of us at Dzidzernagapert to lay flowers, honor the dead and quietly move past the eternal flame against the background of massis.