An Armenian In America -nyt19210629

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An Armenian in America

June 29, 1921

"How does it feel to be an Armenian in America?" asks a thoughtful friend. I stare at him. Does he wish to change places with me just once? "Write it, if you can't tell me," he urges. Yet even while I write these lines I wonder if he will really read promises to be so painful.

Being an Armenian - an Armenian anywhere - gives one strange feelings. My mind is torn by the conflict of opposing-emotions growing out of my racial inheritance and my living experience. Fear struggles with courage; pain with the will to endure; worry with optimism; depression with buoyancy; sorrow with faith; despair with hope; overshadowing death with promising life.

The injection of my friend's question into such a consciousness makes me gather my life into a shifting scene in which we Armenians, bleeding, wounded, murdered, outraged, drowning in the sea of barbarism, beaten by the waves of civilized cruelty, call out to the multitudes dwelling on the shore of security.

We cry the story of our life-long suffering, of our murdered manhood, our outraged womanhood, our drying babies, our tortured mothers, our crucified leaders. We cry in anguish and pain. We show our wounds. We cal for help. The crowd on the shore throw out some handfuls of pennies which fall leaden into the waters. Our cry has not been understood.

Perhaps that band of strangers will be stirred by the story of our marvelous history of heroism. We tell of our struggle for liberty through the ages, of our martyrs who are countless, of the ever-undaunted courage of our men and women, of our undying faith in the triumph of right, and our unfailing hope of human goodness. Again we have failed to thrill the crowd upon the shore. What has happened to the people who look out at the Armenian sea of suffering. They are incomprehensibly unresponsive. They seem almost motionless. We detect, however, a slight movement. It seems to spring from an emotion like that described in a cartoon published in a well-known American magazine, showing the gaunt figure of Armenia disturbing the peace of a fat congressman, who, handkerchief to his eyes, exclaims, "Get out. You are breaking my heart." Yet, there almost seems to be a slight movement, a turning of the back to avoid a harrowing picture. The scene gives way in my mind to a question that stands out in letters of living fire: Has the world a heart? Alas! This is Armenia's eternal and unanswered question. People who appear great and noble talk about the heart of the world. Do they really believe in it? Are they sincere? Have virtue and love of human valor died? Is there only the false and pretentious?

The suffering that comes from feeling that we live in a shallow and isolated world is more tragic than the danger of impending death. For death we have always met fearlessly, but is life, -- good, brave, real, serious life, -- which Armenia craves; and the time when she feels her wings most broken is not when the Turk is out killing and plundering, but the time when England is deceiving her and France is betraying her, and when America is to be bitterly disappointed. To this country, this America so beloved, so rich, free, happy, it seems impossible to impart the sadness of an Armenian's life.

But why do I suffer? Haven't I the privilege of living in America, a privilege envied by others of my countrymen? Haven't I all the opportunities of an American? All this I have, freedom, position, opportunities, friends, but the happy smile of an American I can neither achieve nor buy. I walk about like one in a dream, my head heavy, my throat choked, my spirit crushed. I go to church and the minister reads from the old prophet of Israel, "How do the City sit solitary that was full of people! She is become like a widow, that was great among the nations! Is it nothing to you, all that pass by? Behold and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow." I do not comprehend the application of the words. I keep asking myself, "Isn't it of me that the minister speaks? Is there anyone else in the congregation who has lost his country, even as did the prophet?" I review the desolate cities of Armenia, its burned homes and ruined churches, its solitary hills and deserted streets. The rest of the minister's words are lost to me. As I walk out I cry silently to the passing crowds, "Is it nothing to you, O Americans, that I suffer, that my people are murdered, that my country is destroyed, that the virgins of Armenia die in shame in Turkish harems, that our children are starving, that our youth are still falling in the field so sacred to you, the battlefield of liberty? Is it nothing to you?"

I go to the mountains and the memory of the green hills of Armenia takes me back to its present valleys of tears. I leave the mountains and run away to the beach in despair. The gay crowds marching up and down bring to me the dark picture of columns of women and children marching up and down the plains of Armenia in search of herbs for food. I attend a dinner party and note the luxurious gowns and wasted food, and I am forced to think of the rags in which the once wealthy and beautiful women of my land are now clad. I pass through the streets where American children play, pretty, happy, careless, and in my vision rise the rows of our orphanages with their pale, solemn-faced babies. The bright side of every situation points out to me with unmistakable clearness the other, the darker side, the Armenian side, and so, confined in my Armenian being, I cannot step out into the freedom of America. I wait, still I wait for America to break my chains.

This is how it feels to be an Armenian in America.


A hard copy of this article or hundreds of others from the time of the Armenian Genocide can be found in The Armenian Genocide: News Accounts From The American Press: 1915-1922