Life in America: Descendants of the Armenian Genocide
Lucy and Anahit grew up listening to stories from family members about the genocide, but now they are faced with it happening again today.
This story was originally published in the April issue of ICC’s Persecution magazine.
04/15/2021 United States (International Christian Concern) – For descendants of the Armenian genocide living in America today, the heart-aching reality of their history is something they never want to experience first-hand. As Turkey and Azerbaijan continue to spread their ideology throughout the region and the world, anti-Armenian rhetoric and hate crimes are spilling over onto U.S. soil.
Many displaced Armenians came to America to seek refuge and find safety under the blanket of religious freedom. Now, the stories Armenians grew up listening to from their grandparents are being replayed in real-time in front of their eyes.
Lucy is one of those who grew up listening to these stories from her grandfather.
Lucy was born in Soviet Armenia. Her paternal grandparents were on a death march in the early 1920s.
“It’s kind of funny because anytime you ask an Armenian where they are from, regardless of whether we were born in Massachusetts, if we were born in Fresno, California…when you ask that question, what you are really asking is ‘Where were your grandparents from?’ We never really stopped looking for our families because, in 1915, there was a systematic effort on the part of the Ottoman Empire to exterminate Armenians,” said Lucy.
Today, Turkey continues to deny the history of the Armenian genocide. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is power-hungry and does not tolerate anyone who creates opposition to his viewpoint within Turkey and beyond its borders.
“For example, when Erdoğan was visiting Washington, D.C. a couple of years ago, there were individuals who were protesting his visit. Erdogan’s bodyguards beat up these individuals. When they returned to Turkey, they were celebrated.”
Erdoğan seemingly wants to build Turkey to the power of the Ottoman Empire, a superiority complex that has infiltrated its way throughout the world… into our own backyards.
On U.S. Soil
The first skirmishes of the conflict in Artsakh happened on July 12th, 2020. Just 12 days later, in San Francisco, an elementary school located inside a church was attacked. Over the course of the next several months, numerous attacks targeting Armenian Americans occurred.
In the first incident, vandals spray-painted “Azerbaijan” in the colors of the Azerbaijani flag on the property of an Armenian elementary school. Families coming into the school the following morning were confronted by the vandalism.
On September 17th, the Armenian church in San Francisco was set ablaze. At this time, the same elementary school was fired upon by a gunman.
Last year, red cross markings appeared on the front doors of Armenian households, a tactic used during the anti-Armenian pilgrimage in Sumgait. In 1988, a red cross on your door indicated that the inhabitants would soon be killed.
“These weren’t isolated, and they weren’t separate. This happened in 2020, not 1920,” said Lucy. “When you had a red cross on your door when you were 10- or 11-years-old when you first saw that, you are now seeing it as a 40- or 50-year old. That’s a little bit hard to imagine because you’re now being attacked on peaceful soil in a country that accepts and celebrates diversity.”
Many Armenians from Sumgait ended up immigrating to the United States, and a fairly large population of Armenians escaped those pilgrims in San Francisco.
“In a country that was built upon one’s ability to practice its religion, that is being challenged by something that is 7,000 miles away. But, is it? Is it 7,000 miles away if it’s happening to you in your own city?” Lucy adds. “How does that feel if you are living in what you think is a modern, western society and hate crimes are happening around you? You are now having these feelings of what your grandparents had shared with you as a grandchild of genocide survivors. What does that say about your sense of security, about your sense of freedom, about your sense to identify yourself as who you are—a Christian and an Armenian—when all you know is what your grandparents had told you is that your family was persecuted because they were Armenian Christians.”
A Descendant of Two Genocides
Anahit’s mother and father are Assyrian and Armenian, both groups of people subjected to genocide at the end of the 19th century and during World War I.
“My grandfather used to live in a village in Iran called Khosrova (Husrava), where I get my last name. During World War I, Ottomans were just entering those villages because of the genocide of the Christian population (Ottoman Christians). In Iran, we used to have 70,000 Assyrians who were subjected to genocide, also by the Ottomans. My grandfather’s family was one of those families. He lost a lot of members, such as his older brother and his father,” said Anahit.
According to documents in the Armenian National Archive, on January 2-3, 15,000 refugees came from that Iranian territory, escaping the Ottoman genocide. Anahit’s grandfather was one of them.
“There are so many sad stories, so many sad stories. And being the kid, sometimes you don’t even realize and maybe it becomes boring when you hear those stories. But you grow up and you see, especially now, history repeats itself.”
As history repeats itself on U.S. soil, it is imperative that Americans stand beside Armenian believers to create a safe community. By loving each other as Christ loved the church, may we alleviate a century-old burden of bloodshed and replace it with a future of hope for all nations and tribes.