As the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide looms ahead, I find myself the only one advocating for its recognition amongst a sea of my Afghan and Muslim friends. As a long time activist, I have found that people tend to rally in favor of those who share nationality or religion, so it is not surprising, but it is dissapointing to say the least. I would assume Afghans, and Muslims, coming from disenfranchised backgrounds who constantly suffer from war and geo-politics, would be more enthusiastic, or at least acknowledge that such a genocide has occurred. Do we not do so in fear of hurting our “Muslim brethren”, the Turks? Is this the case?
I would argue that Armenians are much more similar in culture to Afghans than the Turks are. I have seen with my own eyes, the hospitality they exhibit, which we Afghans call “Melmastia”, one of our tenets in the Pashtunwali code of honor. I too have seen Armenians exhibit “Badal” another code we follow, which is revenge in the face of insult. I have witnessed more cultural similarities to Armenians than even to our neighbors, the Iranians. Afghans, did you know we once had an Armenian queen? Her name was Mariam Zamani Begum; we adored her to the point that we operated a Christian church for her, which still functions in Lahore. Did you know Armenians conduct Khastegaris as well, what they call “Xosgap”? Did you know they mourn for 40 days after a death – just like we do? Or that they adorn their homes with the evil eye, like us? And the pomegranate, such a staple and fond memory for Afghans; did you know they cherish them, just like we do? We call them “Anar”, and they call them “Noor”. We are one in the same. There was even an Armenian presence within Afghanistan, a flourishing community of entrepeneurs and shopkeepers, which explains why my DNA test came back with trace amounts of Armenian heritage. Our king, Abdur Rahman Khan was so concerned about them being “lonely”, that he asked for more Armenians to move into Afghanistan so that their community might grow. It was not until the Turkish Sultan Abdul Hamid II wrote a letter to our King, questioning the loyalty of the Armenians to the Afghan throne, that they were expelled from Afghanistan. So far-reaching was the Turkish paranoia and hatred. But this means then, it is very likely, that any of my Afghan followers reading this, may have a bit of Armenian in them.
It is encouraging to see so many Afghans rally for the Palestinian cause. But I can count on one hand how many I know that are educated on the Genocide. The American education system is partly to blame – I would have never heard of the Genocide if I did not grow up in a predominantly Armenian neighborhood. But now, with the celebrity of Kim K, and more mainstream media picking up on the atrocities of 1915, I can assume most Afghan-Americans have some sense of what happened. So coming from a war-torn country, and knowing injustice like the back of our hands, why are more of you not advocating recognition?
I don’t care that the Turks are Muslim, because the spineless cowards who executed the Genocide were not Muslim to me. They did not exercise any of the tenets of Islam. Muslims are required to protect Christians – they did just the opposite by attempting to exterminate them. Our book tells us,
“…and nearest among them in love to the believers will you find those who say, ‘We are Christians,’ because amongst these are men devoted to learning and men who have renounced the world, and they are not arrogant” (5:82).
And although many believe the Turks killed Armenians for being Christians, I would argue this was not the sole reason. Armenians were among the most powerful and educated citizens of the Empire, and the Turks were attempting to spread a sort of “Pan-Turkism”, from Turkey & Azerbaijan, across to Turkmenistan, essentially uniting all Turkic peoples. The Armenians, among the elite, were in the way of this, as were Assyrians and Greeks. When the Kurds, who are Muslim, could not be assimilated, they too were met with violence. Additionally, as the Empire fell, a paranoia that the Armenians would be more loyal to the Russians gave the Turks more of a reason to solve the “Armenian problem”.
Afghans – we have seen time and time again religion being used as a front for political gains – shouldn’t we be more outraged that the Ottomans could put such a black mark in Islamic history? Our own country has burned to the ground – partly because of ethnic and tribal warfare – shouldn’t we too be sensitive to these issues?
How can we quell stereotypes about Islam when we do not acknowledge one of the largest massacres in history that was carried out by Muslims? What happened to “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”, the loud message we sent through speakerphones during the Palestinian protests? How can Christian and Islamic unity be achieved when Muslims are not willing to come out in support of recognition?
I know I am biased. Living with Armenians for 10 years of my life, and having countless Armenian friends has made me more sensitive to recognition. These people are our neighbors, our teachers, our bankers, but most importantly, our family. Armenians and Afghans are both Aryans, making us distant relatives. We share a common history, and even our language has tons of similarities – ones that I catch when hearing my best friends speak to their families.
My best friend Ovsanna Arakelyan is one of the most loyal people I have met. In 11 years, she has shown me trust, companionship, unabashed love, deep commitment, and an unfaltering sisterhood. She exhibits the “ghayrat” or the honor that us Afghans have instilled over 6,000 years.
Nicolette Gevorkian is another young woman I hold near and dear to my heart. She has defended my name in my absence, and has proven time and time again that she stands beside me. Her friendship means the world to me, and I consider it an honor to call her my companion.
And I cherish and love these women, and I do this while I keep in mind, that if the Turks of 1915 had it their way, they would have never existed. That if Turkey did not fail – I would not have them in my life. And we would not have the flourishing Armenian community in our lives. And we wouldn’t have Andre Agassi or Kim K or Joe Manganiello or Cher or all the other dozens of Armenians that add to the multi-cultural fabric of this country.
It pains me to meet Armenians who have a bias against Islam. But can we blame them? The religion that brings me so much peace, the faith that fills my life with love, was the same tool of oppression used against 1.5 million people. The call to prayer that brings me comfort, may bring pained memories to the families of my friends. This outrages me, and it should outrage every Muslim reading it.
100 years. 100 denials. 100 times, a Turkish finger has pointed at the Armenian diaspora and said, “You are wrong. You are hallucinating. This never happened”. Afghans, we are the most compassionate people I know. How many times have we screamed to the world for a shred of recognition? How many times have we mourned our countrymen, our children, our widows? So I urge you, educate yourselves on what happened. Learn about the pain of our neighbors. Share their grief, and support them in their fight to recognize what happened to their forefathers.
1.5 million perished. I stated one year ago, and I will state it again:
“For as long as they are denied, the Common Heartbeat of Humanity will forever skip a beat on April 24th”