By Ani Agnessa Avetisyan
Starting today–Serouj Aprahamian–23–will walk from Fresno to Sacramento–and remember.
He will walk to honor the memory of his grandfather–who was only four when he was forced to walk through the deserts of Turkey into Syria.
And he will walk to honor the 1.5 million Armenia’s who walked to their deaths.
Ninety years ago–an estimated 1.5 million Christian Armenia’s were exterminated. They marched for hundreds of miles for months without food or water and were left to starve and die in the desert. Others were killed–raped–and tortured in a premeditated act of genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Turks–a genocide the United States refuses to recognize and Turkey denies to this day.
The "March for Humanity," which begins today–will pay tribute to the lives lost during the Armenian Genocide and all other genocides. Aprahamian will be among 16 Armenian youth between the ages of 18 and 25 who will walk the entire time–for about 15 miles each day–rain or shine–for a total of 215 miles and 19 days. They will sleep in community centers–churches–schools and in tents on the road side.
"We’re saying we are going to do everything in our power to get the issue resolved and the genocide recognized! The march is to show our determination," said Aprahamian.
Thousands of Californians will eventually come together at the State Capitol Building on April 21–2005 at 11a.m. for a rally thanking the California State Legislature and 36 other states’ legislatures for officially recognizing the Armenian Genocide.
The "March for Humanity" was originated within the "Miatsial Marmeen" (United Body)–an annual Armenian Genocide committee comprising 26 major–national Armenian organizations dedicated to furthering the Armenian cause. Aprahamian is a member of the Armenian Youth Federation and one of its representatives for the committee.
"As youth–we are spearheading the event," said Aprahamian. "But we need the entire Armenian community to support it."
Close to $200,000 in donations came in from various Armenian organizations nationwide–including $2,000 from each of the 13 Armenian Youth Federation chapters.
The Armenian community has been commemorating the genocide in every possible way as far back as Aprahamian can remember–but he feels that this march is one of the biggest and best efforts yet–and that it will send out the strongest message.
All the marchers want justice for those who perished and for most of them their passion is deeply rooted in personal ties to the victims of the genocide. Several of them have grandparents who were survivors–but who passed away without any sense of justice or closure–as did Aprahamian’s grandfather.
Aprahamian’s grandfather–Apraham Chakrian–was one of few survivors–an eyewitness to the unpunished crime of genocide committed against his people between 1914 and 1921.
"He didn’t really like to talk about that part of his past," said Aprahamian. But Chakrian’s story was passed on from generation to generation:
His whole family was killed. And while he passed away a couple of years after Aprahamian was born–Aprahamian says his grandfather vividly remembered his brother being murdered right in front of him.
Chakrian then marched with his neighbors from the Ottoman Empire into Syria. He remembered people teaching him the Armenian letters in the sand. Eventually–he was taken in by an Arab family who raised him as an Arab.
"But he always knew he was Armenian," said Aprahamian.
When he turned 18–Chakrian refused to marry an Arab girl and ran away to Alepo–Syria in search of his Armenian roots.
When Aprahamian’s father brought his family to America–he changed his family’s name from "Chakrian," which has a Turkish root–to "Aprahamian," an Armenian last name in honor of his father.
Today–Aprahamian refuses to forget what happened to his grandfather nine decades ago–and he is doing everything he can to find justice for the Armenian people.
Aprahamian–who initially became very active in the Armenian cause in his freshman year at Cal Poly Pomona–was the "March for Humanity" coordinator. He worked about 75 hours per week for about two and a half months planning and promoting the march and expects hundreds of supporters and activists from across the country and Canada to join the march.
Aprahamian was part of a five member administrative board organizing the march–but his efforts have been part of a much bigger undertaking–one on behalf of an entire people–all resolute–most still angry and hurting.
For the Aprahamian’s story is similar to that of many Armenia’s today–who during and after the genocide escaped to countries in the Middle East–Europe and the United States. Their story is one of pain and perseverance–of courage and dedication. They refuse to forget what happened and they claim they will never waiver in their efforts until both Turkey and the U.S. recognize the genocide.
But the realization of that goal seems distant.
The Turkish Government has been frantically seeking tougher measures to counter the upcoming Armenian observances which prominent Turkish journalist Mehmet Ali Birand described as the approaching "Armenian tsunami."
Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul announced last July that a government task force was being formed to promote the denial of the Armenian genocide and counter the planned commemorative events.
Despite overwhelming evidence documenting the Armenian Genocide–the Republic of Turkey continues to carry out a well-funded campaign–both in Washington–DC and throughout the world to deny the genocide and erase it from the history books. And every US administration since 1982 has feared that properly recognizing the Armenian Genocide would offend the Turkish government–endangering America’s safety and economic ties with a country strategically located to aid in the war against Islamic terrorism and serve as a bridge to oil producing regions in the Middle East.
Consequently–presidents have repeatedly opposed the passage of Congressional resolutions commemorating the Genocide and have avoided the use of the word "genocide" to describe the systematic annihilation of the Armenian people.
Several countries–however–have officially recognized the Armenian Genocide through legislation and state declarations. The Dutch Parliament–Swiss National Council–Canadian House of Commons–Argentinean Senate–and the French National Assembly are some of the more recent ones to do so.
These countries have acknowledged the importance of recognizing past genocides and crimes against humanity in order to prevent future ones.
It was just a couple of decades after the Armenian genocide–in 1939–when Hitler convinced his generals to conquer Poland:
"I have given orders to my Death Units to exterminate without mercy or pity men–women and children belonging to the Polish-speaking race?After all–who remembers today the extermination of the Armenia’s?"