Originally published on April 24, 2014
I am writing this to you as a twenty-something year old citizen of LA. As someone who gets confused for Armenian more than my own race, which I don’t mind, because I find your women to be among the most beautiful of the East. I am writing this to you as a neighbor of 10 Armenian families between the years 2000-2010. I am writing this to you as the best friend and second daughter to an Armenian family, the Arakelyans, as the schoolmate to countless Armenians in Van Nuys High School, and as a fellow victim of large-scale denial.
I remember meeting you in middle school. Wondering where Armenia was, then finding it on a map, and thinking, “so close to Afghanistan”. I remember first hearing the word, “genocide”, and the grief on your faces when you remembered. How shocked I was that this was not in our school books – not one page? I remember hearing that it was the Muslims who did it, and how guilty I felt, knowing the same melodic call to prayer that brings me peace, must bring you pained memories of your ancestral past. I remember (once) being called Turkish, not thinking anything of it, then being told this was an insult.
For 10 years, I lived alongside you in Van Nuys. My mother and her Armenian girlfriends smoked Parliaments in the halls of our building, spoke loudly in Russian, their language of communication, to each other over music, nostalgically remembering the Soviet days. I’ve attended your birthdays, your christenings, your weddings, I’ve eaten your food, drank your coffee, smoked hookah alongside you. My mother & I have marveled at how similar we are, even more similar than our Persian cousins – how easy it is to dance to your music, how I can pick up words in your language that are the same as mine, how I can eat your food and realize we have the same dishes.
And I have witnessed, every year, the deep seeded pain you all express, the anxiety you feel, the absolute grief and anger that rises from your souls and into your throats – the pain of denial. How frustrating it must be, that every year, you must make your case again, and again, to try and get recognition, some kind of acknowledgement, a sign of compassion, of the injustice you went through so many years ago. I see the tears and hear the facts, (that for some crazy reason must be presented as arguments – almost theories), I’ve witnessed the silent protests and Googled the pictures, in Izmit, in Bursa, in Der-Zor. I have seen the skulls in the Syrian Desert, your brightest intellectuals hung in the Turkish squares, the march into the unforgiving sands that took your children from you.
And it is in your eyes that I suddenly find myself, each year. 1.5 million of yours perished in 1915, exiled from your land, stripped of your culture, your religion, made to hide amongst the various ethnicities of the Middle East, made to forget your language, to assimilate yourselves for protection. How your trauma showed once again when Kessab was under attack, how open your wounds truly are. How, generations later, you mourn the loss of your people.
My people have died – and are dying, too. They estimate roughly 30,000 in the past decade of war – but this is their statistic. History is written by the winners – don’t we both know it? When I see the skulls in Der-Zor, I remember the piles of men in Abu Ghraib. When I see the babies left in the desert, I remember the little girls being raped in Kabul. When I hear of the Armenians converting to Islam for protection, I remember the Afghans accepting Christ for theirs.
I am not saying this to prove that I understand you. Our pains are different, but in the end, arent they are one in the same? My genocide is still occurring – they are calling it a War on Terrorism, but why is my family calling us, with stories of the Americans barging in, rounding up our men, shooting them in the streets? Is this not what the Ottomans did to your youngest and bravest men? Wasn’t it both our women & children left to feign for themselves?
When I am welcomed into your homes, sometimes I am given pomegranates. You call them “Noor”, we call them “Anor”. And I see your Evil Eye charms on the walls, much like the ones hanging on mine. These pomegranates are symbols of the blood still on the hands of the Turks. These pomegranates remind my mother of a fruitful Afghanistan. It seems our charms didn’t work.
I will never fully understand your pain. But you are not alone. The Native Americans are with you, the Rwandans, the millions of hijacked Africans brought to America, the Tibetans, the Bosnians, the Jews, the citizens of Darfur, we are shedding tears with you. I know the pain you feel, being citizens of this country, but not getting the governmental recognition of your Genocide. They are not recognizing the Afghans. Because they are perpetuating ours.
Centuries ago, the jewel of the Mughal Court was an Armenian, our beloved Queen Mariam Zamani Begum – who we, the Afghans, built Christian churches for throughout antiquity. Even now, in Lahore, we still operate the church in her name. Our King Akbar loved her, and we love you, and we have always loved you, even as we share the same religion of your oppressors. It is Humanity, not color nor creed, that matters in the face of Denial.
I am sorry that your wounds are still open. I am sorry that this day marks the beginning of the arduous struggle for you, every year, to make your case. I am sorry that your grandmothers, and great-grandmothers, remember their childhood and mourn for it. I am sorry you are still fighting.
I will pray for you. I will pray for your hearts peace, I will pray for the 1.5 million of your ancestors gone with the sands. We do not need governments to recognize our pain. For was it not governments who organized it?
Inshallah, God-willing, with the tenacity your people exhibit, and the fervor of your generation, one day, the Armenians will receive the Recognition they so deserve. For as long as they are Denied, the common heartbeat of Humanity will forever skip a beat on April 24th.
-Madinah Wardak Noorai
Queen Mariam Zamani Begum