On Friday, thousands of Armenians, my people, my comrades — em ynker — will march to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first recorded genocide of the 20th century. Thousands of us will demand recognition from the leaders of the Turkish government, an admission from them that their Ottoman Empire forefathers carried out atrocities, that it was a genocide: “acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”
I say “us” with a renewed personal sadness. Just last year my cousin discovered our fathers — Zaven, a.k.a. Sam, and Antranig, a.k.a. Tony — had a brother, Azad, who died between 1915 and 1921 near Van, in eastern Turkey.
Will I be in the proud and crazy crowd Friday? Yes, but I won't be making any demands. I don't demand things anymore that I don't think will happen.
I respect the fiery youths who will make the loudest noise, who will wave the red, blue and orange national flag from their black AMGs and silver M5s, who will chant for justice and carry signs and banners. I am proud of them. I admire them. I used to be them (to a fanatical point — I condoned violence), but it's just not me anymore. I think we should focus the march equally on how far my small-in-numbers people have come from the horror we endured.
The Turks know the genocide happened. The pope knows it happened. President Obama knows it, even though he won't say it today. I mean, come on. There's DNA evidence to support a 5th century historian's claim that Armenia dates to 2492 BC. So on one fine spring day in 1915, did all the so-called Western Armenians suddenly decide it would be a good idea to just pick up and move to Beirut and Fresno and Watertown, Mass., and Aleppo, Syria? (Boy, we sure know how to pick 'em.)
Besides, who would claim to be a victim of a genocide that didn't happen? Who wants to be a genocide survivor? Even on our strange planet, that makes less-than-zero sense. Who is going to insist for 50 years that history be corrected (we were still too shellshocked to start the demonstrations before 1960), if they don't know that history in their bones? Who is going to keep saying, “Hey world, what about us? The Turks tried to exterminate us”?
And to me that's the thing. They tried; we survived. Today, I honor the dead from the early massacres in the 1890s and the death marches, from the deportations and the killings from 1915 to 1923. But I also honor the Armenians alive today.
I'm not going to cite the usual lineup of famous Armenians (but did you know Steve Jobs' adoptive mother, Clara Hagopian Jobs, was Armenian?). Instead, I have a personal honor role of great Armenians — the children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews, cousins and in-laws one or two or three generations removed from the ones who got away and the ones who didn't. The proof that my people live.
There are Vic and Greg Yedikian, my mechanics in Gardena. There's my preferred public defender, Alexandra “A.K.” Kazarian, and Krikor Tcholakian, the owner of Carousel restaurant in East Hollywood. There's David Arzouman, my favorite local artist; Harry Kasbarian, an advocate for Armenian causes (who also sells tires in Glendale); Lisa and Sevan Nahabedian, whose cleaners I go to in Larchmont. And there's my favorite Armenian priest, Father Mesrop Ash of St. John Armenian Apostolic Church in San Francisco, who just happens to be my nephew. All told, they are the makings of a small-town Main Street, from a people ordered annihilated.
Not long ago, I was driving east on Los Feliz Boulevard when I spotted a man standing in front of a SUV holding out jumper cables for passing motorists to see and get the desperate hint. I stopped and gave him a jump. After his car was running, and I disconnected the cables, he shook my hand and thanked me. I said, “I'm Armenian.” I just wanted to let him know we're still here.
Michael Krikorian is the author of the novel Southside.