Recognizing Our Fate and May 28

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Recognizing Our Fate and May 28


By Lucine Kasbarian


The Armenian Weekly


May 24, 2008


"One sniff and the bad memory is gone."


Thus ran the headline from a recent article in New Scientist magazine. According to the piece, anesthesia may soon be used to purge thoughts of our disturbing experiences before they become embedded in our memories.


Doesn't society anesthetize us enough as it is? How can we be sure this numbing procedure won't liken us to the housewives featured in Ray Bradbury's novel, "Fahrenheit 451," where they popped pills to forget what can often make life the demanding yet rewarding experience that it is?


Today's dominant cultural milieu advocates forgetting in order to dismiss ugly truths, transgressions, and accountability -- in spite of (or precisely because) perpetrators often still rule and even enjoy the benefits of their transgressions.


While these popular social currents carry us into a state of forgetting, will ignoring and even wiping out painful memories change history? Or make us any happier? Or change how genocide, ruin, and dispossession affected the lives of those exiled yesterday and today?


When I think of May 28, 1918, I recall how unbearable life was in the Armenian heartland, for centuries at a time, and brought to life in Raffi's historical novel, The Fool. Reading the book was excruciating, but it memorialized the nature of the Armenian national character and explained why the Armenian liberation struggle was essential to our survival as a people.


Are these memories all bad, and should they be anesthetized?


When I think of May 28, I remember leafing through a picture book called Hayduk which contained images of our bravest Armenian resistance fighters. Some carried black flags that read "Mah gam azadutyun (death or freedom)." These desperate men and women took up arms as a last resort and in so doing reasserted their dignity.


Are all these memories bad, and should they be anesthetized?


When I think of May 28, I remember our family's ancestral homes in Sepastia and Dikranagerd, and how with May 28, at least a portion of our native lands still belonged to us, rather than none.


Are these memories all bad, and should they be anesthetized?


When I think of May 28, I recall Antranig Zarukian's autobiographical work, Men Without Childhood, about growing up as an orphaned Armenian Genocide survivor. In one chapter, the scrappy orphans barely contained their excitement upon hearing that a famous writer and humorist was going to entertain them one Christmas. However, when the speaker, a Genocide survivor himself, lay eyes upon these urchins, he broke down and sobbed. There was to be no comedy at the decrepit orphanage that day. Back then, the children were puzzled by the guest's behavior. It was only much later that Zarukyan understood what the speaker must have seen and felt. (That guest was none other than satirist Yervant Odian.)


Are these memories all bad, and should they be anesthetized?


When I think of May 28, I remember learning that in 1918, independence was thrust upon the Armenians and that it was "do or die." At the time, Turkish generals were known to have said that they had never seen a more formidable fighting force than the Armenians at Sardarabad, Bash Abaran and Karakilisse. If, following our greatest national catastrophe, the Armenians has not defended selves and homeland with every last fiber, Armenia would simply have become an antique geographical term for an extinct nation, much like Cappadocia had become, according to historian Christopher Walker, author of Armenia: Survival of a Nation. How could one not feel proud that these traumatized people, surrounded by poverty, hunger and disease, persisted amidst the greatest of odds?


Are these memories all bad, and should they be anesthetized?


When I think of May 28, I remember standing with scores of Diasporan youth on a visit to the Sardarabad monument when Armenia was under Soviet rule. As we sang "Serundner, tuk tzez janachek, Sardarabadits," we knew that our generation did, indeed, to explain the words, recognize ourselves as the descendants of survivors called upon to carry the baton for what Sardarabad represented. Of all places, our summer camp was situated in Karakilisse -- one of the three historic battlegrounds where our independence was won. (Karakilisse's name later changed to Kirovakan and today is called by its Armenian name, Vanadzor.)


Are these memories all bad, and should they be anesthetized?


When I think of May 28, I remember when the Armenian tricolor flag was not embraced by all Armenians, and how those who revered it were frowned upon at public gatherings. And yet I remember how privileged I felt to sing "Harach, nahadag, tzeghi anmahner (forward immortals of a martyred race)" to these very flags while growing up.


Are these memories all bad, and should they be anesthetized?


When I think of May 28, I remember attending a ceremony at the United Nations to celebrate the second Armenian independence (this time from Soviet rule), achieved on September 21, 1991. Much as I knew it was an important occasion, I was surprised to feel no visceral joy. Living in the faraway Diaspora with no active involvement in this freedom struggle was the reason. I revisited modern Armenia thereafter to cultivate an attachment to our ancestral lands and people.


Are these memories all bad, and should they be anesthetized?


These memories are not recalled simply to mark history. Nor are they written here to remind us to remember. Many serve as cautionary tales about conditions that still lurk in our midst.


As my own mother's memory fades with age, she sometimes forgets who we are. I know she would appreciate the irony that there are some Armenians by contrast who do not sustain memory loss and yet still don't know who they are. A friend once said, "Perhaps the benefit of forgetting is that your mother can lay aside the haunting memories of genocide." Not so. Her long-term memory appears intact. As intense as those memories of genocide and hard-won independence may be, there is no chance of her forgetting. Neither will I.

Our fate is our destiny. We will not run from it.