Does anybody hear us pray?
For Michael Brown or Freddie Gray
Peace is more than the absence of war …
If there ain’t no justice
Then there ain’t no peace.
Over 100 years ago now began what has been called the “first modern genocide”. It was the genocide for which the term was coined. It was the genocide that inspired Hitler.
And we whose ancestors suffered that genocide still wait for justice. We still wait for acknowledgment that it was a genocide.
When a people are denied justice, they are denied peace. They are denied humanity. They come to understand implicitly that their lives don’t matter to the world. They can’t move on. They are stuck in the trauma.
On April 24, 1915 began the deportation of Armenian intellectuals in Ottoman Turkey that would begin the Armenian Genocide. Over the course of the next few years, more than one million Armenian men, women, and children would die.
The genocide was carried out during and after World War I and implemented in two phases: the wholesale killing of the able-bodied male population through massacre and subjection of army conscripts to forced labour, followed by the deportation of women, children, the elderly and infirm on death marches leading to the Syrian desert. Driven forward by military escorts, the deportees were deprived of food and water and subjected to periodic robbery, rape, and massacre.
The official Turkish stance was that it was “civil war”.
“A lot of women, variously estimated from 60 to 160 in number, were shut up in a church, and the soldiers were ‘let loose’ among them. Many were outraged [raped] to death, and the remainder dispatched with sword and bayonet. Children were placed in a row, one behind another, and a bullet fired down the line, apparently to see how many could be dispatched with one bullet. Infants and small children were piled one on the other and their heads struck off… Aurora… told Apfel… how her pregnant aunt, who was trying to protect her two-year-old son, was killed. ‘The Turks, they took a knife and cut open her abdomen. They said, this is how we are going to end all you people. They pulled out a fetus from her. Put it on a stone. They took the end of the gun that they had, which was heavy, and started to pound and pound and pound her baby.'”
from Peter Balakian’s “The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response”
That is not civil war. That is slaughter.
Not all of the deaths were so violent, granted. Likely most of the deaths from the Armenian Genocide occurred during the forced marches, where entire Armenian communities were exiled from their villages and forced to walk to their “new homes” in Syria. They were provided no food, no water. When they fell from exhaustion or starvation, they were killed or left to die.
And now, in the USA, in the country I’ve lived in my whole life, in the country who worships freedom:
- One black man died one week later from injuries sustained during a half-hour ride in a police van.
- One black man died after being strangled to death on a sidewalk in NYC.
- One 12 year old black boy was shot while holding a BB gun, only seconds after the officer saw him.
- One 7 year old black girl was shot while sleeping during a botched raid.
This is not a complete list. (More names can be found on this website.)
The families of these victims still wait for justice (though some trials are still pending).
As an American with white privilege, I have a choice. I can ignore the pain, suffering, and fear of black Americans. I can assume that these deaths were justified, that the police never kill black men, women, or children “unnecessarily” or “without due cause”. I can assume that black Americans are exaggerating their fear of the police, that it’s without cause. I can choose to believe that everyone in the US is treated equally, despite the evidence I discussed a few months ago.
But as an Armenian, I cannot. I cannot ignore their suffering, because I know what the lack of justice does to a community.
So, to black Americans, I say loud and clear: your lives matter. YOUR LIVES MATTER. Full stop. And I will keep saying that until there is justice. And I will open my eyes to your suffering until true peace exists in our country.
And to the Turkish government, and to governments which allow Turkey to continue denying the genocide by refusing to acknowledge it for fear of alienating a strategic ally—I’m looking at you, American government, and you, President Obama—we will not stay silent. We will not forget. We will not call it a “massacre” or a “civil war”. We will not pretend our ancestors deserved to be butchered.
Because without justice, there is no peace.