FOCUS: The Forgotten Genocide
By Virginia Terzian
For the Titan
April 22, 2004 Cal State Fullerton – The Daily Titan
Sylvie Tertzakian is an adjunct professor at Chapman University and
the daughter of a survivor of the Armenian genocide. She remembers the
stories her father, Khoren Aharonian, told her of his struggle to
survive. Ahoronian was only 11 years old when the Young Turks began
deporting Armenians from his village. He and his family marched into
the Syrian Desert for months with no food or water.
`My paternal uncle and my father were the only survivors in our
family,’ Tertzakian explained.
She spoke of how her father had to witness his mother’s death in the
desert. She said, `The survivors did not get counseling to deal with
their tragedy, instead they carried that baggage with them and handed
it down to their children. ‘
For Tertzakian and many other Armenians who are the children or
grandchildren of the Armenian genocide, the `baggage’ holds a special
meaning to them.
`The trauma that they go through as children – they cannot share it
with others,’ Tertzakian said.
The two brothers were separated in the desert during the genocide;
Tertzakian’ s father went to Jerusalem and his brother ended up in
For the few survivors of the genocide, these separations were quite
Finding lost family members was an extremely rare occurrence; most
were left to start all over again – alone, with nothing but memories
and the hope that it would never happen again.
It has been 89 years since the Armenian genocide began. Some Armenians
believe the greatest tragedy is not that so many were killed in the
first case of ethnic cleansing during the 20th century, but rather
that its occurrence is still denied to this day by its perpetrators
and forgotten by much of the world.
To fully understand the significance of the Armenian genocide it is
important to examine when, where and why this event took place.
In present day Eastern Turkey, when the Young Turks, a political
faction of the Ottoman Empire in 1915, decided that they wanted to
create a new Turkish state they saw the Armenian minority as an
obstacle to realizing their goal.
On April 24, 1915 some 200 of the Armenian community leaders were
taken from their homes by the Young Turks and murdered, beginning the
three-year genocide that would eventually take the lives of about 1.5
million Armenians, or half of their population.
`The Turks attacked these communities, Armenians were put on death
marches. Others in tiny villages were just massacred. The Turks were
trying to create a Turkish nation with no minorities,’ said Cal State
Fullerton Professor Touraj Daryaee.
The Armenians were driven out of their homes to march into the Syrian
Desert. Adolf Hitler later used similar death marches during the
Holocaust. Cora Granata, professor of German history at CSUF said,
`Nazi policy makes explicitly references to the Armenian genocide in
According to the Web site , when Hitler
invaded Poland he was quoted as telling his associates that a Jewish
holocaust would be tolerated by the West by stating that `Who, after
all, speaks todayof the annihilation of the Armenians?’
As a Web site dedicated to educating the world about past genocides,
gives an account of the Armenian genocide: `the
adult and teenage males were separated from the deportation caravans
and killed underthe direction of Young Turk functionaries. Women and
children were driven for months over mountains and desert, often
raped, tortured and mutilated. Deprived of food and water and often
stripped of cloths, they fell by the hundreds of thousands along the
routes to the desert.’
The Turkish government states that the Armenian people of Eastern
Turkey were attempting to separate from the Ottoman Empire and form
their own country and that the Ottoman Turks were simply attempting to
hold the country together. Turkey has claimed that only a few
thousands Armenians perished in a civil war that took place between
the Armenians and the Ottoman Turks.
In a lecture given at Harvard University in April of 2001, Professor
Vahakn Dadrian said, `For about seven weeks, Mazhar Inquiry Commission
secured from many provinces of Ottoman Turkey authentic, official
These documents allegedly proved that it was the Turkish
government’s intention to massacre the Armenian people.
Although the international community condemned the actions of the
Turkish government, no actions were made to force the postwar Turkish
government to acknowledge the Armenian genocide.
Today, nearly nine decades later, the Turkish government still refuses
to admit genocide occurred. Instead, Turkey still refers to it as the
`so-called Armenian genocide.’
In an article from the Turkish Press dated March 4, 2004, Prime
Minister Abdullah Gul said `those who are living a comfortable life
outside Armenia do not contribute to improvement of relations between
Turkey and Armenia with their attitude. Historians should deal with
events of the past. The Ottoman Empire had never perpetrated any
massacre or assimilated intentionally.’
Armenians seeking acknowledgement of their people’s tragic history may
be faced with large obstacles, but simply giving up and trying to
forget is not a possibility.
`The genocide lives with us, not just in April, but all the time,’
said Tertzakian, referring to April 24, the day recognized by many as
the commemoration of the Armenian genocide. `It’s something we should
never forget. Never again.’
Taner Akcam, a Turkish scholar currently teaching at Minneapolis
University, is one of the few people from his home country to openly
recognize the Young Turks’ actions towards the Armenians as an act of
genocide. Akcam believes that Turkey has to deal with the past in
order to improve the future for these two neighboring countries. With
work like his from other Turkish people, perhaps there will eventually
be an open border between Turkey and Armenia.
In the U.S., 31 states already acknowledge the Armenian genocide –
including California – yet the U.S. government is still unwilling to
call it genocide. ` You would be surprised how many Americans know
about the Armenian genocide,’ said Tertzakian.
As of March 2004, 15 countries including Switzerland, France and
Russia have agreed to label the 1915-1918 killings of the Armenian
people as genocide.
It is the hope of many Armenians that once the genocide is finally
acknowledged throughout the world, it can help prevent other genocides
`The Armenian Genocide should be taught at schools and universitiesto
make people aware of man’s inhumanity to man.’ said Tertzakian.
As art is an expression of life, young Armenian artists are expressing
their peoples’ pain through their art.
In an interview for MTV News, Serj Tankian of the band System of a
Down said, `My family tree goes up to my grandfather and his memories,
from there on, it’ s cut off.’
Tankian’s band is well known, especially in the Armenian community,for
their work towards the acknowledgement of the Armenian
genocide. System of a Down will be having a concert on April 24 at the
Greek theater to raise awareness of the Armenian genocide.
The Armenian movie `Ararat’ is another artful expression ofthe
Already in the 20th century we have seen genocide in the Ukraine,
Cambodia, Rwanda, Germany and in areas inhabited by the Kurds.
`We are still going through the trauma of the genocide,’ Tertzakian
Because the Armenian genocide is still denied, the pain of the
Armenian people has been forgotten by the world, but not by those who
are connected to it.
Info maybe for a box
The Armenian Genocide has directly affected the author’s family. Her
great-grandfather, who was just five years old when the genocide
began, wastaken by a Turkish soldier and raised as his son. When he
was 14 he learned the truth about his past and the past of his people
by a few of the surviving Armenians in Turkey. He then ran away to
Syria where he heard other Armenians were living. At the age of 19,
in a chance meeting, he found his uncle and learned about his family.
The genocide is commemorated everywhere in the world that Armenians
are located, with monuments, memorials and protests, in attempts to
make the rest of the world to be aware and acknowledge the Armenian
genocide. Those interested in becoming involved at a presentation
should go to for locations of events near them.
Locally the 40 martyrs Armenian apostolic Church of orange in Santa
Anna’s commemoration Ceremony and virgule with a key note speaker on
the 25th at 7:30pm the event is open to the public and everyone is
welcome for more information contact them at (714) 839-7836.
Also in Hollywood on the April 24th there will be a march in `little
Armenia’ at 10:00am to acknowledge the genocide. If you are
interesting in being a part of this remembrance event go to
for more information.