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My Family

I returned from my family reunion yesterday. The Merigian family gathering has been an annual tradition for eighty years or more. At one time, our family had probably close to one hundred people meeting in a park to celebrate being a Merigian. Now we are down to seventeen or so friends and family.

I have an Armenia heritage. I do not consider myself Armenian-American, I consider myself an American of Armenian descent. All this talk about diversity, ethnicity and multi-culturism has derailed the melting pot and created nothing more than a group of groups who just cannot get along.

It is not often that I learn something new about my family when we get together, but for some amazing reason, my wife spoke to my eighty year-old Uncle, to get some information about my grandmother(his mother) and grandfather(his father). My wife is a wonderful woman who wants to know everything about me which includes my ancestral story. I am fortunate to have such a love in my life.

As I was playing games and talking to relatives around a picnic table under an open aired shelter, my wife was chatting with my Uncle, getting as much information she could about my grandmother and grandfather. I told her what I knew about my family months ago. I gathered my information many years ago and put it to rest. My Uncle had information I did not know, and I am sure my grandmother did not want to share the horror stories because it would only cause her to relive those emotional disturbances she had tucked so far away in her consciousness.

People have seen the tragedies of the Middle East wars and civil uprisings. That area of the world has been as volatile as an active volcano covering thousands of square miles for over millions of years. Today, Armenia is a small sovereign state in the South Caucasus region of Eurasia. Located in West Asia on the Armenian Highlands, it is bordered by Turkey to the west, Georgia to the north, the de facto independent Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and Azerbaijan to the east, and Iran and Azerbaijan's exclave of Nakhchivan to the south. The Republic of Armenia constitutes only one-tenth of historical Armenia since the country has been whittled away by its adversaries.

When World War I broke out leading to confrontation between the Ottoman Empire and the Russian Empire in the Caucasus and Persian Campaigns, the new government in Istanbul began to look on the Armenians with mistrust and wariness. This was because the Imperial Russian Army contained a contingent of Armenian volunteers. On 24 April 1915, Armenian intellectuals were arrested by Ottoman authorities and, with the Tehcir Law (29 May 1915), eventually a large proportion of Armenians living in Anatolia perished in what has become known as the Armenian Genocide.

The genocide was executed in two stages: the wholesale killing of the able-bodied male population through massacre and subjection of army enrollees to forced labor, followed by the deportation of women, children, the elderly and infirm on death marches leading to the Syrian Desert. Driven forward by military escorts, the deportees were deprived of food and water and subjected to periodic robbery, rape, and massacre. There was local Armenian resistance in the region, developed against the activities of the Ottoman Empire. The events of 1915 to 1917 are regarded by Armenians and the vast majority of Western historians to have been state-sponsored mass killings, or genocide.

Turkish authorities deny the genocide took place to this day. The Armenian Genocide is acknowledged to have been one of the first modern genocides. According to the research conducted by Arnold J. Toynbee, an estimated 600,000 Armenians died during deportation from 1915–16). This figure, however, accounts for solely the first year of the Genocide and does not take into account those who died or were killed after the report was compiled on 24 May 1916. The International Association of Genocide Scholars places the death toll at more than a million. The total number of people killed has been most widely estimated at between 1 and 1.5 million.

Armenia and the Armenian Diaspora have been campaigning for official recognition of the events as genocide for over 30 years. These events are traditionally commemorated yearly on 24 April, the Armenian Martyr Day, or the Day of the Armenian Genocide.

My grandmother's father (who was a shoe salesmen) was arrested by the Turkish Police during the time of the Armenia Genocide. He was executed. My grandmother was married to a man she did not know until her wedding day. She was married in Beirut, Lebanon when she was fifteen or sixteen years old. Her husband, my grandfather, left his home to escape the Turkish army. He was told by his parents to take his sisters into the desert with him since they were going to die, they could die a better death in the wasteland. My grandfather's oldest sister drown herself to avoid being raped and mutilated by the Turkish military. His second sister died of starvation in the desert in the arms of his third, youngest sister. He carried his remaining sister on his shoulders, through the desert and ultimately found safe haven in an orphanage in Syria.

I do not know how the arranged marriage of my grandmother and grandfather took place, nor do I know how her sister and my grandfather's cousin married. I do not know how they made their way to America, but I know she was proud to be an American citizen, believed in the American way and never said she was an Armenian-American, she made sure every knew she was an American of Armenian descent.

Why is my heritage important? I am second generation American, my family did not come over on the Mayflower. That does not make me any less of an American as the Blue Bloods who fought in the Civil War. Nor am I entitled to anything other than the opportunity to serve my fellow Americans in some form or fashion.

However, in the last sixty years, I have seen our great nation turn its back on many conflicts and modern day genocides. Millions of people have found safe haven and prosperity in America. I suspect more will come and do the same. I am thankful that our Government saw my ancestors' plight in Armenia as a reason to give them a chance to matriculate into American society.

Americans have also turned their backs on segments of our society that are considered morally corrupt or disabled in some form or fashion. Perhaps the very thing that keeps me optimistic about my fellow citizens is that given the opportunity, they will step up and do the humane thing, regardless of the cost to us both emotionally and economically, since many have fled their own countries in fear of brutality and even death, and made their trip across the Atlantic and/or the Pacific to be a part of the greatest social experiment on the globe today. The experiment of democracy continues.

Let's not give up on the world. And for God's sake, let's not give up on ourselves. There is work to be done. Right?

Doc

Posted by Amanda Sanders at 9:46 AM
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