As part of my birthday celebration last Sunday–I went to the 90th Commemoration of the Armenian genocide at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. I was so impressed by how well it was organized. It was pure joy to see so many new faces among the thousands of men–women–and children who had gathered on this beautiful Spring day to remember those who perished and honor those who survived. I felt proud watching our church fathers sharing a platform on this solemn occasion which also brought together other–non Armenian–representatives of the Christian faith. Quietly–I prayed that someday members of the Muslim–Buddhist–and Jewish religions would also join such efforts–and more of us would support theirs–since they too have experienced massacres. I shall never forget the powerful sermon of the black preacher who related the biblical story of Abel and Cane brothers with the responsibility of ending violence in today’s world. He reminded everyone that every drop of blood spilled has a voice out there and said that if violence became the norm the potential of creation will be exhausted. The program also included a congressman who asked that we demand of President Bush to acknowledge the Genocide for what it was–nothing less. As always–Peter Balakian spoke with great eloquence and it was refreshing to hear a young man conclude the event in Armenian.
HOWEVER–towards the end I walked away outraged–offended–and deeply disappointed at the organizers of this event who ignored to include ONE Armenian WOMAN to share the stage with all the men–even if for a single moment.
On this occasion of remembrance–please take a moment to question: Was the Genocide perpetuated against Armenian men only? How is it possible to mark the 90th Armenian Genocide Commemoration (in one of the world’s most important cultural centers and most influential cathedrals) without the participation of women? And–equally significant–what are the implications of such exclusions?
If you are having difficulties to find answers please try to:
Imagine where we would all be today without the Armenian women who survived the rapes–the bullets–the swords–the starvations–the slavery and the orphanages.
Imagine how few of us would have attended Sunday’s commemoration had Armenian women not kept the household together in the aftermath of the Genocide–often in the absence of men who were working the fields or the sweat shops and numbing their pains–humiliations and memories.
Imagine where our churches–organizations and schools would be today if Armenian women did not bake the breads–served the meals and continued to work tirelessly to help build such institutions and to keep their doors open.
Imagine how many Armenian women’s fingers bled embroidering the fancy garmen’s that have decorated our altars for decades.
Imagine where Armenian modern culture would be without the women who inspired/encouraged/comforted our freedom fighters–and our predominantly male novelists–poets–song writers–painters–sculptors and filmmakers.
Think hard for a moment what kind of a message we–Armenia’s–sent on April 24–2005 to the thousands of believers in attendance–(not counting those who would watch it on TV) to the distinguished guests–to our emerging generation–and to the rest of the world including the Turkish authorities whom we blame for denial.
As I wondered in how many other corners of the world similar rituals were performed–I also asked myself if we have the right to expect justice. I don’t know about you but the God I communicate with and the Genocide my grandmother taught me to remember do not recognize sexism–gender inequality and silencing of women or rendering them invisible.
As the 90th Commemoration of the Genocide continues–I call on Armenian women and men throughout the world to send a clear message to our community leaders that says: NOT IN MY GRANDMOTHER’S NAME! Tell them we refuse to be passive listeners at Genocide or other commemorations that are the exclusive domain of a patriarchy who denies the proper acknowledgment of the role of Armenian women in civic and community life. Remind them that Armenian women are tired of being the instrumen’s and facilitators of such conservative agendas–and applauding us on Mother’s Day is not sufficient. Tell them we refuse to be reduced to background music in our churches and that it is not enough to be the subject of male pens–prayers–brushes–chisels–and cameras. We demand to see more women heading advocacy groups and organizations (not just serve as assistants–secretaries and fund raisers). The emerging generation deserves to have Armenian women as chairs and faculty of university departmen’s–as editors of journals–and in cultural and political leadership positions!
Join me–brothers and sisters–in reminding our leaders that inclusion of women is a precondition of achieving justice and to (re) envisioning a world without incomprehensible violence and genocides.
Thank you for your attention.