Just last month I learnt that April 24th, is ‘Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day’. The genocide is probably Armenia’s heaviest scar, one that too many people don’t see or acknowledge. Struggling with the past is not unique to Armenia but more than a century later, the pain still surfaces and permeates every aspect of life in the country.
I can recall entering the Genocide Museum with its haunting music playing in the distance, like ghosts calling after their loved ones left behind. On my left a wall stretched on for half a kilometer towards the memorial. Etched in the stone are the names of cities lost in the genocide. Itʼs strangely unsettling seeing it carved into that wall. Still wet from the rain.
Untouched by the rain though, is the fire burning in the middle of the memorial: the everlasting flame. It burns in memory of all the people that died and for everyone else who shares their loss. I’ve never been superstitious, but this place felt ominous. As if the people killed still remained in that circle, waiting for justice or simply to be acknowledged.
From what my new Armenian friends have taught me, I understand that Genocide Day is not a celebration – it’s a somber occasion. The atrocities are still a divisive, sometimes heated issue. I knew very little about the history before I arrived in Armenia, but I had no idea about the political controversy that still surrounds it. So that’s not really what I want to focus on in this post. I don’t have anything to contribute to the topic – I haven’t done any in-depth research; I only know what I learned in Yerevan.
To the best of my memory, I never learned about the Armenian Genocide in school or heard much about it through the media. When it comes to history, there are plenty of things we don’t know. So what I can offer is only a reflection as an outsider – and why I think all tourists visiting the country should take the time to learn about the tragic events of its past. History will repeat itself if there is no recognition and contrition for crimes committed. A change in human behavior only comes when the behavior is recognized as wrong. Too many conflicts or instances of violence across the globe seem organized around one or more dimension of human difference, ethnic, religious, racial, gender, sexual orientation, and more. There is an endless stream of new stories of violence, conflict – even as recently as last weekend, in Sri Lanka.
More than a hundred years on, the impact of the Armenian genocide reverberates loud and is echoed by the other atrocities that dot our social media feed daily. New Zealand, Syria, Sri Lanka, India, Too often despair stands in the way of action and knowledge leads to a sense of hopelessness. We cannot bring back to life the dead of the past or those who have been victims of political mass murder throughout the ages, but, through courage as well as knowledge, we can act to bring about a world free from the scourge of hatred. In committing ourselves in the everyday things to creating a world of peace, freedom, and mutual respect, we honor the memory of those who have fallen victim to the ultimate crimes.
Scars are sign of hurt but they are also indications of slow healing.