Memorial at Yerevan, Armenia on 24 April 2015
Who, after all, remembers the annihilation of the Armenians? These words were spoken by one A. Hitler in 1938, as he embarked on another genocide. On the centenary of the Armenian genocide, Stephen Smith in Jewish Journal reports on a joint Jewish-Armenian project to record oral histories before the last survivors die off.
As the Jewish community knows very well, denial is the final act of
genocide. It excuses killers, obfuscates victims and deeply hurts
survivors and their families. It is an insult to the living and the
dead; cowardly, weak and harmful. Genocide is never a matter of opinion;
it is a matter of fact. The Armenian community has been hurting too.
Just imagine if the government of the United States denied that the
Holocaust was the genocide of the Jews.
The Jewish community and the Armenian community have much in common.
They are both clearly identifiable ethnic groups, both of whom have a
homeland, yet with more people living in diaspora than in the homeland
itself. They each have a specific language, history and, of course,
food. They also both have genocide in living memory.
Jews and Armenians therefore hold a common responsibility. Each
understands well the enduring pain and consequence of genocide. The fact
that they have different backgrounds, different religions and
traditions, and went through vastly different experiences makes the
point all the more clearly: that genocide can visit any of us, at any
time and we all need to be vigilant. How powerful when two communities
speak together with one voice on behalf of humanity.
As the last few centenarians who survived the genocide die, Armenians
face the challenge of living memory transitioning into history. Los
Angeles resident Yevnige Salibian at 102 is one of the last, but as
sharp as she is, there is not much she can say about her experiences
during the genocide, as she was a child at the time.
That’s just one reason why the USC Shoah Foundation and the Armenian
Film Foundation have come together to digitize and preserve more than
400 testimonies of survivors and experts on the Armenian genocide
collected by J. Michael Hagopian, a filmmaker who survived the Armenian
genocide. Those testimonies can be seen alongside the 53,000 testimonies
of witnesses to the Holocaust. Testimony is revenge. It puts the truth
in the hands of the eyewitness and resists denial. Even when justice
cannot be done, there is poetic justice in the freedom to speak, to have
the final word, to leave truth in the hands of future generations. The
first 60 testimonies of Armenian witnesses are online at USC Shoah
Foundation to mark the anniversary. Their voice thereby takes its place
in the collective conscience.