This I Believe

Vonnie - Sacramento, California
Entered on April 3, 2007
Age Group: 50 - 65
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This I believe: It’ s Never Too Late to Do The Right Thing

I come from a starving people, although my pantry is full of green lentils, California basmati rice and bulgar. My hunger is of a different variety, and it carries the gift of divination. I see my Armenian grandmother and her lost children in the faces of the displaced in Darfur. I recognize the indifference of first world governments to protect Kosovo innocents. I behold ordinary people afraid of saving action. Yet, I believe it is never too late to do the right thing.

Paul Rusesabagina writes in his memoir, An Ordinary Man, that when the virus of ethnic cleansing besieged his country that he alone—a simple hotel manager—spoke up amid the madness of the Rwandan atrocities to save 1,200 people. Now in exile 13 years later, he bravely reports that the genocide is not over. There can be no true reconciliation without open apology. It is not too late to do the right thing.

April 24 is the Armenian Day of Remembrance. After 40 days of fasting and the joy of the Easter table, we recall that terrible time in 1915. The best and brightest Armenian thinkers and artists were arrested in Istanbul, loaded onto trains, interred in remote prisons and shot. Immediately, large scale deportations commenced in Eastern Anatolia. Eye witness accounts describe how whole communities became ghost towns and rivers ran red. My people were not only the subjects of the first modern systematic killing of an ethnic and religious minority, but of a modern government’s official denial. Our experiences are the riverhead to the murderous events 30 years later in Germany.

My hunger would be eased with admission: Call it massacre, the great calamity or genocide. Added to decades of mourning and exile has been the Turkish nationalists’ repudiation that there was no deliberate extermination of the Armenian people. The truth has become a punishable act against Turkishness, Article 301. This willed amnesia argues that the Der-i-Zor graves are a bad dream, yet every Armenian who came to this country in the aftermath was an orphan. Here is the truth about survivors; our condition links us more to the dead than to the living.

Instanbul journalist Hrant Dink, a centrist who believed that with an open society both Turks and Armenians could move on, is the latest victim of the Armenian trauma. After his recent murder, immediately in the street, outraged Turks coalesced honoring the victim, saying We Are Dickran, We are Armenians. They were ordinary Turks— perhaps they had heard their grandmothers whisper a strange language in their dreams—but they knew: It is not too late to do the right thing.