Armenians reflect on horror of genocide – PBS Documentary

Greenwich Time, CT
April 15 2006

Armenians reflect on horror of genocide

By Martin B. Cassidy
Staff Writer

Published April 15 2006

Shortly after sending his wife and young son to Constantinople to
escape 89 years ago, Elia Boyajian and other unarmed Armenian men in
the village of Kharpert were slaughtered by Ottoman Turkish soldiers,
Sarah Mushegian said.

Mushegian, a Milbank Avenue resident, said her late father, Fred
Boyajian, never recovered from the loss of his father, or from
spending years in the protective custody of American authorities in
Constantinople during the Armenian Genocide, when 1.5 million to 2
million Armenians living under the rule of Muslim Turks within the
Ottoman Empire killed or starved to death during an eight-year
period.

“He lost his father and was confined for years with his mother as
his only link to the world,” said the 50-year-old who grew up near
Hartford. “My father had a perpetual sadness and maybe that was part
of his personality, but I think some of us are probably unable to
recover from a trauma like that and live a joyful life.”

Armenians around the world observe National Remembrance Day on April
24 to memorialize those killed during the genocide, which lasted from
1915 to 1923.

For Armenians commemorating the dead, April 24, 1915, is considered
the true beginning of the genocide, when Turkish authorities rounded
up and executed more than 200 Armenian community leaders in
Constantinople.

While many were killed outright, others died slowly in concentration
camps or of starvation or disease trying to escape.

“It’s a major event for any Armenian-American,” said Harry Keleshian,
a Greenwich resident whose father escaped the genocide.

“The significance of April 24 is not to forget those who died trying
to salvage their lives as they were mass deported into the deserts or
massacred,” George Leylegian, a Stamford resident whose parents’
families were murdered.

On Monday, PBS will air a new documentary called “The Armenian
Genocide” at 10 p.m. which Armenian-Americans are hoping will educate
younger Armenians about the tragedy.

“I’m well aware of the show,” the 75-year-old Leylegian said. “The
handful of people who were able to survive have always believed in
the need for education and advancement of awareness in the countries
that we live in.”

Even before its broadcast the documentary created a flap, in part
because PBS commissioned a 25-minute panel discussion to run
afterward. The panel features two academics who believe that the
killings constituted genocide, and two who argued that a holocaust
did not occur, according to the Los Angeles Times.

An Armenian group launched an online petition against the panel
program and several members of Congress complained to PBS. They
argued that the network would never follow a documentary about the
genocide of Jews during World War II with a panel discussion
featuring holocaust deniers, according to the Los Angeles Times. A
PBS affiliate in Los Angeles has refused to broadcast the
documentary.

While Armenians and most of Europe have called on the Turkish
government to acknowledge, apologize and pay reparations for the
genocide, Turkish leaders maintain that the killing and deportations
were part of World War I, not a systematic ethnic cleansing program.

Almost without exception, Armenian families living in the United
States lost relatives in the widespread persecution and killing,
Leylegian said.

“This was a planned governmental action to kill Armenians, not
something that happened randomly,” Leylegian said. “We never had the
luxury of growing up with a normal family life with grandparents,
aunts or uncles. So many didn’t survive.”

Leylegian’s father, Arsen, witnessed the decapitation of his father,
Donig, by Turkish authorities, and his mother, Sarah, and other adult
relatives killed in various ways, Leylegian said.

Both his parents grew up in an American orphanage set up to house
Armenian children, the retired executive said.

“My father lived through it and passed away at the age of 90,”
Leylegian said. “He used to tell the stories and break down and cry.”

Following an earthquake that killed 75,000 people in Armenia in 1988,
Leylegian has visited the country 24 times, often as part of
humanitarian and medical aid missions.

On those trips, the sight of small Armenian children living in
post-quake poverty made Leylegian upset, he said, evoking thoughts of
the plight of his own orphaned parents.

“We feel a responsibility to our parents,” Leylegian said.

Mushegian said she and her husband and four children plan to watch
the PBS documentary on Monday night.

While disappointed that the United States has not done more to
pressure Turkey to apologize and acknowledge its actions, she hopes
the show will contribute toward keeping alive the memory of those who
were killed.

“I don’t think this has been at the forefront or more people would
know and understand this period of history,” Mushegian said. “I can’t
say it (the documentary) is of any comfort other than that perhaps
help to make the facts more well known.”

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