By David Barsamian
(Editor’s note: The following poem was read in Ankara, Turkey, on the centenary of the Armenian Genocide. April 25, 2015.)
It is important to complete the poems and eat the last pieces of lavash and sujuk. Our grandparents are singing, let’s finish their songs.
The lost child of Bitlis cries out:
Mayrig, mayrig, Oor es? Minag em. Ge vakhnam.
Mother, mother. Where are you? I am alone and afraid.
“Tarihini Bilmeyen Milletler, yok Olmaya Mahkumdur”
A nation that does not know its own history will die out.
“Those who control the present, control the past and those who control the past control the future.”
“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
“The struggle of humankind against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.
“The assassination of Allende quickly covered over the mem- ory of the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia, the bloody mas- sacre in Bangladesh caused Allende to be forgotten, the din of war in the Sinai desert drowned out the groans of Bangladesh, the massacres in Cambodia caused the Sinai to be forgotten, and so on, and on and on, until everyone has completely forgotten everything.”
“Who speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”
“The past is never dead. It is not even past.”
Yergeer. Memleket. Homeland. Water so clean, air so pure, fruits and vegetables so tasty. So survivors of the genocide told me maybe with some exaggeration. Yergeer. A magical place full of wonder and cruelties.
Bedros, my father, was born in 1895, in Nibishi, near Palu, during the Hamidian massacres. In the same year, his father, Barsam, disappeared, never to be seen again. Bedros left Yergeer in 1912. Eighty years later he is hit and killed by a car on 87th and First Avenue in New York. The car was driven by a Turk. When I told my sister what happened, she said, “Jagada keer.” Kismet. Fate. Written. I went to the accident site in March. I found two pennies in the street. I kept them.
Turkey: A crime scene. No more Enver and Talaat statues and streets. No more pretending it didn’t happen. No more macho posturing. Liberate yourselves from twisted and toxic nationalist narratives.
Ambassador Morgenthau: Where are the Armenians heading?
Talaat: Their destination is the abyss.
My mother Araxie remembered in early 1915 there was a plague of locusts in her village of Dibne, north of Diyabakir.
The elders said it was a bad omen.
The Death March—
“The ground was so hot my feet were burning,” Sarkis Hagopian told me.
“We were so hungry we ate unripen fruit. We were so thirsty we wet our parched lips with horse urine,” my mother told me. The last time she saw her mother and brothers was in Urfa.
We, the keepers of memories and dreams keep coming up like weeds to remind you and ourselves of the past. A faded but dear landscape drenched in blood. The burning of books and churches. We live in their ashes and beyond them.
“Against the ruin of the world? There is only one defense: The creative act.”
Let us play again in our gardens and fields and glory in the beauty of the flowers forever.
A century is a long time. It is and it isn’t.
Paree janapar. Safe travels.
Shnorhagalem. Thank you.