In 2018, several weeks after I came back to France from the UK, a little shaken up because I no longer have a permanent home in the world, I awoke one sunny morning from a not-so-lucid dream with a weird sensation and one word.
A couple of emails, a long conversation, lots of patience, and a few months later, here began an experience, so eventful, and full of apprenticeship.
One day, I’ll recount the entire experience but today, this week, I want to stop on one little Armenian adventure I had. It starts with the following:
This 24th April commemorates the 105th anniversary of the 1915 genocide, one of many turbulences to rock the Middle East during World War I.
I am revisiting my Armenia photo archives, including my pilgrimage to Tsitsernakaberd, the genocide memorial in Yerevan.
You can arrive from 2 directions:
1. the formal entrance, wooded, and a winding drive through a park, off of the highway periphery.
2. After the gorge crossing (a long bridge) from the metro station off Komitas Avenue (the longest Yerevantsi street winding up a hill), a sports complex with its park comes up.
I went through the second. Go up the so many steps, contour the sports complex, and you arrive at this garden with a few khachkar* memorials. I went through that, a new tree plantation park, and arrived at a wide alley path, leading to the memorial. Each rock slab represents a region of historical Armenia, each one also representing the sorrows and a past entrenched in the bloody history of the greater region. They form a circle around a pit of eternal fire. Next to it, shooting off towards the skies, an arrow-like structure, representing the survival, the unity, and dispersion of the entire worldwide community.
Simple as it is, the emotions run deep. Powerful even. To go there alone was a choice and it gave me time to reflect away from the noise of the city below. Yet, every commemoration brings overwhelming crowds. Something I have yet to see as I wasn’t in Armenia at that particular time. You can still feel the sadness, the remembrance and in several ways, the weight of history. A museum is not far away either. Dedicated to the genocide, its victims, its survivors, and the Armenian society (in not so many words), it was closed when I walked up the mountain. Sunday, you see. I walked around, went in through between two slabs and stood there, sat there for a long time (not too long) and regretted not having brought a flower to add.
And then, I left, slowly, breathing it in. Until I was out of the park drive onto the highway.
As historians say, even if, yes, history is written by the victors, a work of remembrance still exists. In French, historiography gives it a proper name: “la mémoire“. We see it with the world wars ( did you notice the bookshops in 2014 and 2018? ), the Holocaust, and every other event, catalyst, atrocity, or simply historic. I personally see Lebanese youth of my age attempting to pierce the bubble of trauma called the Lebanese civil war. I saw the Holocaust memorial and contemporary Jewish history museum in Paris last month. And as for the 1915 genocide, the younger generation, at a certain point, scrambled to get eyewitness accounts from survivors, especially the elderly.
I don’t want to discuss the geopolitical underbelly or the human rights – genocide recognition question today. Just that remembrance is important. Our memorials are important. The lobbying, the marches, the commemorations are, in a way, a statement to push forward human rights and pressure the world to change its habits towards Turkey (in this instance). However, they are also to show a movement of unity with the other communities doing similar actions at the same time. They do it as a homage to the victims and to the future generations. One lost, three to come. Thousands lost, a few thousands to come.
Normally, commemorations begin before the 24th. As a matter of fact, the entire month of April is a commemoration. This year with the bizarre situation and pandemic happening, these are happening virtually and from our windows. Not in the streets. But we remember. We commemorate.
As of 2020, more than 30 countries have recognized the 1915 genocide officially (and unofficially).
* Stone crosses
A short list of literature and filmography:
William Saroyan (thinker, writer, and poet)
The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian
Orhan’s Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian
Numerous first eye-witness accounts have been published.
“The Promise” (2016) directed by Terry George (This film is a little hard to find if you are in Europe. Turkish lobbies throughout the continent made sure close to no publicity was made.). U.S. – Spain co-production.
“Mayrig” (1991) directed by Henri Verneuil. French production.
Note: This list is not complete. It is not exhaustive. Rather, it comprises of a few. ]