Monday, April 24, 2006

generation genocide

today was armenian remembrance day, officially the day recognized as the start of the armenian genocide. except, of course, it is not officially recognized in turkey, or in the u.s. for that matter.

as we sat in the ivory citybeat tower this afternoon, we began to perceive a racket from the street -- honking horns upon honking horns, like the world's longest wedding party or some transplanted third-world cacophony. after a while i looked down to wilshire, far below. many cars passed by festooned with a flag of three horizontal stripes: red, blue, orange. we decided it must be the armenian flag, and so i looked it up with the internets, and it was. we figured this had something to do with remembrance day, but what? so many cars were streaming west, and then a news helicopter appeared in the sky. i needed a break anyway and decided to check out what was going on. i grabbed my jacket, descended to ground level, and started walking down wilshire.

on the street the sun was shining but the air was cool and sharp. as i passed side streets, i saw the occasional flag-decorated cars parked on them. many SUVs, old and new compacts, and luxury cars drove along both east and west on wilshire, showing their colors. i marveled at the sheer diversity of vehicles, and, as i walked further, of people coming to join in whatever was going on. the t-shirts repeated the same messages -- "1915 - never again"; "in memory of our ancestors"; and assorted system of a down slogans -- but they were worn by middle-aged businessmen, teenage bookish types, youthful thug-wannabes, junior high kids, babies, grandpas ... whole families of armenian descent, all heading west on wilshire.

a trio of teenagers was walking near me, and i asked the extra boy, who was wearing a knitted ski-type cap with the armenian colors, what everybody was doing. "it's genocide remembrance day," he told me ... "yeah, i know THAT," i said, "but what is happening here?"

he explained that the turkish embassy was just ahead, and they were demonstrating for the turkish government to recognize what it did to his people (who are, by marriage and in my heart, also my people). he said something about them having only "nine more years" to get recognition -- i dunno why, except that would mark 100 years since the massacre began. i will have to look that up. so he said he thought they should demonstrate every day, not just this one day, until the turks admit what they did. spoken like a true armenian, man. relentless, a bit romantic, yet somewhat ruthlessly realistic (in terms of how much dedication it will take to change things).

anyway, it was kind of glorious. i was thinking about my grandmother, who died in 2000, many more decades after the turks who tried to kill her and her family would have liked. she survived and came to the u.s. and raised six children, most of whom also proliferated. i don't even know all the cousins on that side of my family. i couldn't help thinking she would really be amazed by the sheer numbers of armenians on the street. and then i remembered that i still need to tell her story. i hope someday i do.

at the corner of crescent heights and wilshire, the southwest side of the intersection was clotted with folks flying their flags and waving their signs, chanting "shame on turkey!" while handfuls of cops, many of them bike patrol, looked on w/o too much concern. i stayed for a little while, on the east side, just watching and listening. the sun was nice and warm, and it was pleasant to see the people exercising their free-speech rights. i could have purred.

not to trivialize the cause -- for which i have done my small part. and, small though it was, some months ago i received an accusatory e-mail from an angry young turk (in turkey), claiming i'd been duped by system of a down into believing lies and blah blah blah, deny deny. i was really angered by these charges and refuted them with razor-sharp fury. (i would reproduce the exchange here but i can't find the e-mails. i might have deleted them accidentally.) i suppose this person, who sounded very much like a student, wasn't expecting a person with an anglo last name to claim membership in an armenian family, nor any firsthand experience with a survivor of the massacre. but my adopted armenian heritage played a big part in making me who i am. i learned about what my stepmother's ancestors had been through before i even read the diary of anne frank -- often the first exposure that little white girls have to the deeper horrors of the world. this knowledge created an awareness of injustice in me at a very young age. which no doubt led me down this godless liberal path i now walk.

and as i bopped back down wilshire toward the office, a harley-riding gaggle of armenian bikers roared past, colors flying. i raised a closed fist in solidarity, which seemed to slightly puzzle passing armenians. "right on!" i said to two teenage girls who walked by in their genocide t-shirts. "yeah!" they said back. and i grinned stupidly and hoped hannah was up there somewhere, proudly watching her people keep up the fight.

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