‘I WANT TO SEE JUSTICE’: ARMENIAN GENOCIDE SURVIVOR BRINGS HISTORY ALIVE FOR WILMINGTON STUDENTS
By Debbie Swanson
December 11, 2008 Thursday
WILMINGTON — The students sat transfixed as their 100-year-old guest,
Vergin Mazmanian, shared her story.
"When I was a child, my mother made our clothing. I was 7 years old,
and she was making me a red outfit to wear to my first day of school,"
she began, then paused. "That day never came."
She went on to describe how the Ottoman army arrived before daylight,
rounded up Christian Armenians from their homes, and forced them to
begin a death march wearing only the clothes on their backs.
She was one of them.
Mazmanian, now a resident of Arlington, is a survivor of the 1915
Armenian Genocide. She will turn 101 in February and is on a mission
to spread her story.
She visited seniors in the Facing History and Ourselves class — an
interdisciplinary approach of English and history — at Wilmington High
yesterday. She was accompanied by her pastor, Rev. Vasken A. Kouzouian,
of the Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church of Cambridge.
Mazmanian told stories of hunger, suffering and leaving family
members by the side of the road to die. She talked of her years in an
orphanage, where she was ultimately taken at the end of the march. She
lived there until she was taken in by a foster family and flown to
the United States.
She never saw her home again.
"Her story takes these events out of the textbook — they are no
longer just literal words on a page. We could see the horrors she saw,"
said student Mario Martins.
Classmate Joe Castiglia agreed.
"We could look into her eyes, hear what she has seen and witnessed,"
Mazmanian credits her solid faith in God for getting her through the
hardships and for blessing her with so many years.
"So many have died, but I am still here. Why? It is because I have
more to do. I have to share my story as often as I can. Those people
who died are not forgotten. … Their deaths aren’t in vain," she said.
Her chief concern is that many countries, including the United
States, do not officially recognize what her people went through as
genocide. Yet the Armenian Genocide, which commenced on April 24,
1915, is blamed for between 1 million and 1.5 million deaths.
"What I am waiting for is a gift," she said. "Ninety-three years is
long enough (to wait). I want to see justice."
Rev. Kouzouian nodded.
"She talks of this gift often," he added. "She wants to see the
U.S. government recognize what happened."
The students in the class, which is co-taught by Lisa Lucia and
Maura Tucker, are hoping to help make that happen. They videotaped
her presentation, plan to add student commentary, and send it to
President-elect Barack Obama.
"One thing this class taught us is how to make noise to get things
done," said student Brianna Brown.
Making noise is one of the lessons Lucia and Tucker are hoping their
students take from the class, which uses case studies to examine
crimes against humanity in the 20th and 21st centuries.
"In preparation for Ms. Mazmanian’s visit, we researched and discussed
the Armenian genocide and made posters petitioning the U.S. and
others who don’t recognize what happened," said Lucia. "These posters,
hung all around the school, have created awareness and conversations."
The posters dotting the hallways carry messages such as "History does
not fade away" and "Denial is killing twice."
"We look at the role of ordinary citizens and consider what we can
do today to prevent these crimes from happening again," said Lucia.
Other visitors to the classroom have included survivors from Cambodia,
Rwanda and the Holocaust. Students also painted symbols of hope to
send to the people of Darfur, in war-torn Sudan, and will study the
situation there later in the semester.
"Events like this visit have put a face to the textbook stories,"
said student Joe Giorlando.
Classmate Erin McMahon agrees. "It makes these things much more
personal. … It gives you a drive to take action."