BEIRUT -- Lebanon’s third largest minority group marched to recognize the centennial of the Armenian Genocide north of Beirut today.
Tens of thousands of Armenians, Lebanese and supporters walked in the main highway running north of Beirut. They carried banners boasting “Armenian genocide we will never forget” written in Arabic, Armenian and English as hundreds of Armenian flags were raised.
The forget-me-not flower, emblematic of the Armenian’s quest for recognition, adorned clothes of participants and signs. Though 20 European and South American countries have recognized the massacre of up to 1.5 million Armenians as a genocide. Turkey continues to label the murders by the Ottoman Empire from 1915-1923 as violence part of the larger world war.
The United States collectively has not recognized the events as a genocide, though 43 of the states have deemed it so. Senator Cruz (R-TX) called for the events to be considered what they were, a genocide. If Cruz initiates Texas’ recognition, only Alabama, Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi, West Virginia, and Wyoming remain.
While running for president, Obama campaigned to recognize the massacres as a genocide, but since has referred to it as Meds Yeghern, the Armenian words for “Great Catastrophe.” The State Department has warned against labelling the events as a genocide, which Turkey is sensitive to hear.
Turkey recalled its ambassador to the Vatican last week when Pope Francis explicitly called the massacre a genocide. Turkey argues that the Ottoman Empire was collapsing at this time and that it, too, lost up to 8 million people in the battles of World War I.
Those who survived the genocide are few, but, multiple generations participated in the remembrance events which are occurring across the world.
Talar Adourian, 22, is an Armenian from Aleppo who has fled Syria to Lebanon. She recounted the tale of her grandparents-which is similar to many Armenians: “In 1915 my grandparents were living in [a] village called Birecik near to Anteb city in Turkey now. By walking from the deserts of Syria-Der el Zor-they arrived to Aleppo.”
The genocide began on April 23rd, 1915, when Ottoman Turks killed up to 300 intellectuals and political leaders in Istanbul. The following day Armenian men were massacred in villages across the Ottoman empire. Women and children were removed from the villages, forced to march through the Syrian deserts without food and water. Adourian’s grandparents survived the death marches, but, others were not as strong. She told me of the starvation and thirst many experienced on the route, some were pushed into rivers, others burned and more killed.
The Armenian community was approximated to be 2 million before the Great Catastrophe. Despite losing up to 75% of its population, today Armenians number 8,000,000, with the largest populations in Russia, the United States, France and Lebanon.
Basil Barsoumian spoke to me about the rewards of seeing multiple generations involved in Lebanon’s remembrance ceremony. “When you see a new generation and they are so interested. You are excited.” Barsoumian himself returned to Lebanon from Holland-where he has fled to during the start of Lebanon’s Civil War 40 years-to be with friends for the event.
“We celebrated the 24th of April here today.” Jack Semerdijan stated, as Barsoumian lamented not being in Armenia for the commemoration. “Armenian peoples didn’t forget that genocide and we will never forget about it.” Jack continued to paint a picture of how the memories are passed between generations: “It was amazing, you saw new generations, old generations, everyone walking. I saw a father who had his child held on his shoulder and this child was singing. This father is middle-aged and I’m sure he gives the history over to his son who is 6, 7 years old.”
Lebanon’s ceremonies involved many generations and are part of a larger year-long project of the Armenian Genocide Centenary Central Committee of Lebanon (AGCCCL) which has worked to involve not only Armenians but also Lebanese.
“We had one scientific archive research seminar on archives all around the world. A scientific meeting was held at Haigazian University with public and middle east records found during the investigation,” Vatdre Nadarian with the AGCCCL stated. “We are not asking for a person to be held responsible, we are asking for recognition and retribution.”
The asks of the AGCCCL align with other Armenian communities in diaspora. The community wants the souls of those who have died to be recognized, but, they also want back the churches which are now in Turkey, as well as the land their families once had.