Merrill D. Peterson

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Merrill D. Peterson is Professor of History (Emeritus) at the University of Virginia and the editor of the prestigious Library of America edition of the writings of Thomas Jefferson. His books include Lincoln in American Memory, John Brown: The Legend Revisited, and most recently Starving Armenians: America and the Armenian Genocide, 1915-1930 and After (Univ. of Virginia Press).

Starving Armenians explores the American response to the planned extermination and dispersion of the Armenian people during World War I, from the initial reports to President Woodrow Wilson from his ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Henry Morgenthau Sr., down to the ongoing campaign to convince the U.S. government to recognize the Genocide.

Part of a generation who were admonished as children to “remember the starving Armenians,” Peterson went to Armenia in 1997 as a Peace Corps volunteer and became fascinated by the country’s troubled history.

The farewell poem he wrote dedicated to Armenia upon his departure is below:

GIRL ON A BICYCLE
As I came from the bahnik,
Cleansed of the dust of Armenia,
A small girl in a cool green frock
Whizzed past me on a bicycle.

I watched until she faded away.
Then magically she reappeared
Peddling rhythmically with gay
Abandon. And stopped at my feet.

"What is your name?" she asked brightly.
I replied, "Im anuna Merrill"
In my best Hayeren. And so we
Conversed pleasantly of nothing at all.

Her name, she said, was Arminé,
So very fitting to a girl
With big brown eyes—a young Athena
In a smart dress, a bow in her hair.

The image of her shining grace
Lingered as I walked through the ugly
Street, and I wished for her a happy place
Midst the fates of her star-crossed country.