Identification card bearing Levon Assadour’s signature, issued to Tavit Hayrigian, 9, from Siirt, ward of the Araradian orphanage / from the AGBU archives

Identification card issued to Armenian Genocide survivor and orphan Tavit Hayrigian, 9, from Siirt, who was a ward of the Araradian orphanage / via AGBU archives

Reflections on the Armenian Genocide: Lessons in Resiliency

by | June 28th, 2010 | 0 comments
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Who we are and what we will become in life is often times, at least in part, answered by a reflection on the past. For the Armenian, his or her past is intimately woven into the present. It is the contextual framework of history, which provides a backdrop for truly understanding the Armenian experience. In fact, throughout history, the Armenians have been exposed to genocide, conquest and brutality. Because of this, the Armenian is, if nothing else, a creature of history, an evolved spirit, who carries with him both the joys and burdens of his ancestors. Mostly, this history exemplifies how mankind’s moral compass can go astray. His is an ethnic heritage which is rich yet tragic. The Armenians represent a people blessed with a strong religious conviction and a well-rounded appreciation for Christianity, set against the suffering of man at the hands of mankind’s savagery.

People often times are unfamiliar with the experiences of those different from themselves. This unfamiliarity does not necessarily pertain to knowing the history, for those who are learned may know this. More significantly, knowing the full impact of that history may not be fully appreciated by those of a different background. It is perhaps necessary for one to have lived through or witnessed the experience of some horror to be affected by it in the truest sense. However, even if this is not the case, a special meaning occurs to those whose ancestors experienced the events directly. For example, in examining one’s ancestral past, who other than African Americans can fully understand  the implications and brutality of slavery? Who other than those of the Jewish faith can fully feel the impact of what it was like for their ancestors to have experienced extermination in the gruesomeness of concentration camps? The historical cases seem almost as endless as they are appalling. So too, the Armenian is unique in his understanding of the meaning of genocide and its implications as it pertains to his people.

For the Armenian of today, notwithstanding other examples of past tragedy, no event seems as salient or has attached to it as much significance as the genocide. The tragedy of genocide is a frame of reference. It is the lens through which actions, activities and thoughts are viewed. It is that historical instrument, if you will, that frames any misfortune in the lives of the Armenians of today and in some peculiar way makes it  more tolerable or bearable due to its juxtaposition to the historical realities of one’s ancestors. Thus, it may be that any achievements of Armenians  have emerged as a result of a kind of manifestation of their learned resiliency evolving in the aftermath of great tragedy. It is a lesson, which every Armenian knows only too well – that struggle, difficulty, adversity, and even tragedy of the current-day life situations encountered, pale in comparison to the ancestral victimization within the context of genocide. It is thus a kind of living history that Armenians experience in the name of keeping the memory of their ancestors alive. Accomplishment for the Armenian becomes a kind of symbolic homage paid to the death and sacrifice of the ancestral sufferers. It is the realization of dreams that their ancestors had no chance to realize. Thus, reflections of the past hold out a special meaning. They perhaps serve as part of a motivating force, which drives the Armenian to accomplish great and significant things. It becomes a source of courage from which the Armenian makes his or her mark in the world, and instills his or her being with a sense of resiliency.

In making these remarks, there may not be definitive, scientific, empirically tested evidence that supports this notion regarding resiliency as it pertains to the Armenians. No doubt there are other forces or variables which might need to be considered. In some ways, this explanation is more in the form of essentially a hypothesis, which might be subjected to testing. However, there is little denying the fact that the event of the genocide is a significant historical one of which virtually every Armenian is aware. Also, there is no denying its importance insofar as it serving as a horrific event in the minds of Armenians as well as most of the world. Even if the essential hypothesis put , forth were found to be wanting, when scrutinized through some kind of rigorous social scientific research, one inalterable fact would remain: the significance of genocide for the Armenian is not just as a historical event but as an event which has touched all Armenians in a very personal way even if only through reflection. This profoundly troubling event cannot be underestimated in terms of the extent to which it touches all Armenians. It certainly would seem to hold that in some way at least, the horrors of history, as impacting this group, have been contributory to the ability of the Armenian to better cope with and endure life’s difficulties. Of course the cost of acquiring such resiliency (assuming the correctness of this idea) has been enormous.