A Journey to Armenia: Visual Reminders of Genocide and Oppression
AFTER MANY DECADES of teaching and speaking about the Armenian Genocide, I was invited in March 2016 to give a series of presentations in Armenia. I spoke about the Genocide, the Holocaust, and about American racism, sexism, and homophobia at seven universities and in various public venues in Yerevan and Gyumri. One of my objectives was to link the Armenian tragedy to a broader historical and global context, not to diminish the tragedy of the millions of Armenians who lost relatives, but rather to highlight the deeper pattern of oppression that will, among other things, advance the long overdue international recognition of the Armenian Genocide. I found my audiences extremely receptive to this perspective and appreciative of my passionate opposition to all forms of racism and historical falsehoods, including the continuing Turkish denial about the first genocide of the twentieth century.
In many of my presentations, I used visual artworks to illustrate my major points, including examples from Armenian American artists, artists from Nazi concentration and extermination camps, and American social and political artists, including prominent African Americans. These visual examples also resonated with university students and public audiences, most of whom had never seen any of these works even in reproductions in art magazines or books. These images dramatically revealed the human dimensions of historical and contemporary oppression against Armenian, Jewish, Roma, and African American populations.
In Armenia, I also had ample opportunity to see many visual examples of protest and resistance artworks. The year 2015 was the 100th centennial of the genocide and was commemorated throughout the world. Probably the most visible and regularly visited monument in the country is situated at the Armenian Genocide Museum in the capital city of Yerevan. Visiting that institution is a compelling and heartbreaking experience, emotionally comparable to my earlier visits to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., the House of Slaves on Gorée Island off the coast of Dakar, Senegal, and the Museum of Romani Culture in Brno, Czech Republic. The Genocide Museum, like its counterparts throughout the world, contains historical timelines, documents, photographs, and other reminders of the horrific events that began in 1915, resulting in the murders of approximately one and a half million Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman authorities.
At the Museum site is the national memorial complex, Armenia’s official monument dedicated to the Genocide’s victims. Every year on April 24, Remembrance Day, thousands of Armenians gather to pay homage to the victims while Armenians in the Diaspora and supporters also attend commemoration events and services. The monument is 44 meters high and symbolizes the rebirth and survival of the Armenian people after their deadly dispersal. An eternal flame lies under the adjoining slabs that form a circle. These slabs are stars that represent the regions where Ottoman forces murdered Armenian women, children, and men from 1915 to 1917. The monuments, like its Holocaust counterparts throughout the world, draw both laypersons and dignitaries to pay homage to the memory of the fallen. They also encourage visitors to reinforce their commitments to remember the past and to work to ensure that genocides end in the twenty-first century.
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Tikkun 2017 Volume 32, Number 1: 52-56