Armenian moms are hot in the news these days. Kim Kardashian in her red pantsuit at one of the most somber memorials on the planet… Kanye West performing IN Yerevan, Armenia’s Swan Lake… The Pope declaring in front of God and everyone that 1915’s atrocities against the Christian citizens of then-Armenia were in fact genocide. Who knew it’d take 100 years for stuff like this to go down.
I guess big things come to those who wait. (I often tell my girls that same thing when they can’t stop asking me “Are we there yet” on our frequent drives to my hometown of Fresno, CA to visit grandma and grandpa.)
Armenian mothers, fathers, grandparents, millennials and children around the world have gleefully and guiltily gobbled up every bit of news coverage about the Kardashians taking Armenia (myself included). As a 3rd generation American-Armenian mom, I’ve been pretty open about raising my girls with comfortable doses of Rose Parade grade Armenian identity and old fashioned Orthodox faith. Cultural identity is important to me. Always has been.
I have my opinions about the K-clan (we all do), but I can’t dispute that they’ve done good with this latest stunt [bringing attention to the 100th commemoration of the Armenian Genocide]. Armenians around the world collectively feel one step closer to a most horrific atrocity being officially recognized as genocide by the world’s superpowers (U.S. government included… no, the U.S. has never *officially* recognized the events in Armenia in 1915 for the genocide that it was, on account of current diplomatic relations with Turkey).
I guess we can credit the most famous mother of all Armenian moms (Kim Kardashian) with showing us how to get recognized. Maybe we all just needed the right red pantsuit.
But what’s going to happen when this 100-year build up is over? This year is probably our last *realistic* hope of official recognition happening (given Khloe Kardashian’s gorgeous gam upstaging the Mother Armenia statue and the Pope’s proclamation all in one week)… What if the U.S. does not officially recognize the 1915 events as genocide? Will today’s population of diaspora Armenians feel cheated and betrayed? Probably. (Ok, based on what I’ve seen in my Facebook newsfeed, YES. They’ll also be really pi$$ed.) Will today’s children of Armenian descent carry on a legacy of feeling unrecognized, intimidated, inhibited and insecure to strive and thrive as a strong people? Maybe. (This is what I’m afraid of…)
It’s up to moms of Armenian descent to do something about it.
One of my grandmothers would’ve had her 99th birthday this coming June. Ninety. Nine. Or, as my dad so smartly put it: She was 13 months shy of her 100th birthday. She passed last week… these last several days have entailed tears, laughter and every emotion in between as my family paid tribute to her most amazing life. She was a 1st generation American, born in 1916 in Los Angeles to immigrant Armenian parents, who fled to America from Arapkir, Turkey in 1912 to escape a most terrifying fate (a fate that would later be widely identified as genocide).
As a minority Armenian child growing up in California’s Central Valley, my grandmother and her family lived in sheds and garages that belonged to friends before they were able to build and move into a barn on a modest property. Yes, a BARN. To LIVE. (In her notes before her passing, she wrote about how her family wallpapered the wooden walls – of the barn – to make it a more comfortable home. They later got to build a 2-room house.) I remember her telling us grandkids about having to go to the bathroom outside and we didn’t believe her.
(SIDE NOTE: My other grandmother, who’s also a 1st generation American and now 95 and still kickin’, is a total hoot-and-a-half in the adorable department.)
None of my grandparents told stories about the genocide when my sister and cousins and I were kids. When I asked each grandma years later (when I was in college) why they never mentioned it, they both (seperately) replied with something along the lines of “It was such an awful thing and everyone was so ashamed… we just wanted to move forward and be successful and to prove that Armenians were good people…”
Driven to succeed to prove the world wrong, I imagine.
Or, their families were just scared $hitless. They belonged to a group of people who were being hunted in their homeland. I imagine that each family was scared of a new life in a new country among citizens who hardly welcomed them with open arms. They were spit on (literally). They were required to drink from alternative water fountains. They were avoided and called ugly, dirty and all kinds of things that fall under the umbrella of racism and would probably considered hate crimes in this day and age. And that language? Better not speak that in public or else. No way were they going to start talking about some kind of genocide that was going on… they had to figure out how to succeed at survival first.
Not only did they survive, but they managed to stay out of trouble, built businesses, got educations and showed everyone what it really means to rise up.
My point? My grandmother’s generation (and, so many other Armenian immigrant children from that time) did not allow the genocide to define them. They had no choice but to forge ahead. My grandmother (the one that lived in the barn) worked her way through elementary and high school and went to college. To COLLEGE. Against all odds, a female child of dirt-poor immigrants got an education, participated in just about every single school sport activity you can imagine, joined various community organizations and graduated with a teaching credential in 1938. 1-9-3-8. A minority woman. Gotta give the lady credit for doing the unthinkable in her time.
As a kid, I thought this was cool. As a young woman, I thought this was inspiring. As a mother who happens to be of Armenian descent, I now deem it to be damn powerful. No red pantsuit needed.
Don’t allow circumstances to define you. Rise above. (There’s a real parenting lesson if I’ve ever heard one.)
All four of my incredible grandparents’ families, plus all the other Armenians who were the first to immigrate to the U.S. in the early 1900’s, set a standard of what it means to overcome the most horrifying adversity that I fear this generation has trouble tapping into. Our generation wants things rectified (rightfully so). We want apologies (rightfully so). We want it on the record (rightfully so). We want reparations (rightfully so). We want it all NOW. And we will throw a fit and never ever ever let it go and punish you forever and ever amen if you don’t give us what we rightfully deserve. NOW.
More than any other generation, we worry about what others say, think, do and don’t do… even if it’s 100 years past due. If we don’t get the validation, then somehow we are not validated. (How many times did you check your Instagram today to see how many likes your most recent picture got? Uh huh. Me too, don’t worry.)
I appreciate and champion our generations’ vigilance. We are RIGHT. Dear Government: Please proclaim it a genocide already and be done with it so we can all move on without further drama. But in this big bad world, not all wrongs have the fortune of being righted. Sometimes validation is elusive. Like I tell my little girls: Sometimes we can’t always get what we want… even though it is right. (Am I right?)
The Armenian Genocide was horrific. Disgusting. Despicable. The fact that it hasn’t been officially recognized on a political level is just plain shameful to governments that have the power to recognize it and won’t. As Armenians, it is important to keep telling the stories and keep pressuring the powers-that-be to give us peace. But if they don’t, we must rise above. Because we have no choice. (Success is the greatest revenge, they say.)
My grandparents’ generation had no choice but to focus on the success of their families and people as a whole – they didn’t have the luxury to chase apologies and reparations. They were obligated to forge ahead, assimilate, work their a$$es off to positively contribute to their new home (America) for the bigger picture of their people’s success. They had to buckle down, earn money and send it back to the old country so that more Armenians could have the means to escape and be saved. God Bless them.
My grandparents’ generation arguably wound up being one of the most respected groups of immigrants to rise from that time in history. (Ask anyone in California’s Central Valley about Armenians, and the majority of people you talk to will sing the praises about what a most wonderful people they are and how they are the pillars of that community…) On some level, our generation and younger generations should take notes. I know I have.
Forge ahead… no matter what.
Every day, I think about the type of women that I want my girls to grow up to be: I want my kids to know that others’ decisions and choices — whether they be ignorant, stupid or just plain mean and wrong — will not define who they are. No one’s decisions — no matter how high-profile or politically-popular — define who any of us are. This world is complicated beyond our will and understanding. There is right, wrong and what-the-hell-is-that-all-about all over the place.
The most powerful message we can teach our children, especially as mothers of Armenian descent, is to rise above, get educated, stay motivated and positive to succeed, be contributing citizens to whatever country they happen to live in (for my family, America), to speak the truth and protect what’s right… and have internal pride and feel content no matter who does or doesn’t recognize what happened 100 years ago.
We know it happened. They know it happened. The wounds have not closed… but there’s something to be said for fighting and CONQUERING through pain. We have the power to stop our own internal bleeding… we just have to make the choice to do so. And it’s ok if we need to do that to continue to succeed. (Just because we stop the bleeding doesn’t mean that the wound never happened.)
Never forget: YES. Never forget to forge ahead with all the strength, sense of survival and success of the past that pushes us all forward to evolve the definition of what it means to have Armenian blood: ABSOLUTELY. The Armenian people were victims of the past, but becoming victors is completely up to us. Tell your kids this. I’m telling mine.
Forge ahead. NO. MATTER. WHAT.
“Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger…” -Kanye West.
(This all said: If the U.S. does recognize our most dark time in history… expect to see a most epic celebration like you’ve never seen. Armenians – no matter where we live – know how to party on. I’ll bring the Kotayk… now somebody find me a red pantsuit.)