A 104 year old woman—clutching close her prayer beads for comfort—recalls a night of her early childhood that was filled with rifle fire, where families were attacked, parents murdered, homes looted and the “good-looking” daughters taken by the “fire and thunder gangs” to “rape them or do whatever they wanted to with them,” while the authorities of the time did nothing.
“They took my mother. They killed my father,” the woman says. She cries and rocks herself softly, because she can’t forget.
Women and girls were later taken in deportation caravans, where their fates varied from prostitution, forced concubinage, slavery or death. If they lived, their enslavers had them marked for all to know—shaming them for life.
Beginning a week of city-wide events commemorating the date of the Armenian Genocide, PCC’s Armenian Student Organization brought students, family and friends together on April 22 to screen Suzanne Khardalian’s film, “Grandma’s Tattoos.”
The event, held in the Wi-Fi Lounge next to the Cross Cultural Center in the CC building, was designed to create an open forum of discussion about the “cycle of genocide” as well as inform on the various rallying events leading up to the April 24 date that marks the Armenian Genocide 99 years ago.
The communities’ activism seeks the recognition of the genocide by the Turkish government and is also designed to empower, support and encourage activism within the Armenian community and for all who feel the results of historically equally suppressive violent actions.
“‘Cycle of genocide’ is a term used to illustrate the repercussions of not recognizing genocide,” explained Nareen Manoukian, a PCC English professor with several students attending the event. “The Armenian Genocide was the first genocide of the 20th century and it’s unrecognized still.”
The documentary, “Grandma’s Tattoos,” depicts the rippling effect that the genocide has had on the young Armenian women of the time who were enslaved by their captors.
Aside from the 1.5 million people killed in the genocide, many died as a result of being “driven out of their homeland [and] into the deserts of Syria and Iraq” where “thousands of young women were abducted to become the concubines of Turks, Kurds and Arabs,” according to the film.
“There was a lot of sexual violence too, and there was a lot of shame associated with that, so [the survivors] were not comfortable talking about that,” said Manoukian. “The women in the video had their faces tattooed because they were trapped and enslaved in harems.”
Manoukian’s own family had experiences that were relayed by surviving family members. She explained why there was an almost 50-year lull prior to the community response that has occurred within the last half century.
“About the first 50 years following the genocide, there was a cultural P.T.S.D. that occurred,” said Manoukian. “The immediate survivors—they weren’t the descendants of the survivors—they were completely shell-shocked. They didn’t know how to respond to what had happened.”
Senior Hykaz Paronian, mechanical engineering, collaborated with students, faculty and the Cross Cultural Center to organize and host the event for his last year, in order to provide the award-winning film and have a guest speaker from the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF), PCC alumnus Caspar Jivalagian, for PCC’s own commemorative event.
“We are gathered here tonight to not only mourn the loss the 1.5 million Armenians that we lost to the Armenian Genocide,” said Paronian. “We are here to be educated about the past in order to move forward from racism, hate and intolerance.”
Jivalagian spoke on behalf of AYF and their short film, “Revolution in Progress.” Fueled by the experiences relayed to him by his own surviving family members, he spoke passionately on what it takes to be an activist and on the AYF’s upcoming annual event.
“This year we decided to do a 24-hour protest,” Jivalagian said. “There will be a reflection on each date of a genocide, which is not limited to the Armenian Genocide, but all the genocides of the 20th and 21st century.”
Clear feelings were stressed on how critical this recognition is to the Armenian people.
“We are at the 99-year mark now,” said Manoukian. “I feel like it’s a crucial time. That if it hasn’t be recognized thus far, this next year is the most crucial point.”