By Marcus Kazazian, 16, Daniel Murphy Catholic HS
Print This Post
Marcus can’t wait to visit Armenia for the first time this summer.

I’m proud to be Armenian. It used to surprise me that no one knew what that was. My freshman year, people would ask me if I was Irish or German because I’m fair-skinned and have light-colored hair. I’d say I was Armenian and kids would ask, "Where’s that? Europe somewhere?" I’d say it’s in the Middle East bordering Turkey, so they’d say, "You’re Muslim?" No, we’re Christian. One time when I said I was Armenian, one of my classmates even said, "Now you’re just coming up with stuff."

It makes me sad and a little mad that Armenia isn’t more known. Being Armenian is my culture and heritage, it’s a big part of who I am. I like speaking Armenian with my family and eating the food, like soujuk, a type of sausage, and basturma, which is like pastrami. They’re really good. Every Sunday I go to Homenetmen, which is the Armenian version of Boy Scouts. I hang out with my friends, play sports and learn about Armenian history.

It’s very important to pass down our history, culture and language. If we didn’t continue it, it would end. Armenia is so small, the country has just 3 million people, that it’s important that the people living outside the country keep the history alive.

The reason there are so many Armenians living outside the country is because of the Armenian genocide, when Turkey invaded Armenia and killed half the population during World War I. Those who survived fled Armenia to get away.

This history was personal

I love studying history, but learning about the Armenian genocide as I grew up was more personal, even though I don’t have any relatives who were in Armenia at the time.

Before the genocide, the Young Turks, who were Muslim, were in charge of the Ottoman Empire (which later became Turkey). They wanted to wipe out the Armenians because we were Christian and they wanted the land.

On April 24, 1915, the Turkish Army rode into Armenia and stormed people’s houses. They killed them in their homes or led them into the desert where they died of starvation or were killed. They killed 1.5 million people from 1915-1918 and have never recognized this atrocity. People went wherever they could escape, like the Jewish people fled Europe during World War II. They went to Lebanon, France and even Australia. In America they went to Fresno and down to Glendale. Today there are 150,000 Armenians in Los Angeles County, according to the Los Angeles Times.

In our history class one of our homework assignments when we were studying World War II was to find a famous quote. I used a quote from Hitler. He said to the leaders of his army the night before he invaded Poland in 1939, "Who, after all, remembers the annihilation of the Armenians." Hitler figured that if the Nazis killed all the Jews, no one would remember the Jewish people and he would get away with it. While I was reading the quote aloud in class, I got so choked up I barely finished. I was shaking afterwards.

I shouted for justice

Armenian-American teens attended a rally in April to demand that Turkey acknowledge having killed 1.5 million Armenians from 1915 to 1918.
Photo by Managing Editor Libby Hartigan

We continue to protest and fight for justice. On April 24, I attended a rally at the Turkish Embassy on Wilshire Boulevard that marked the 91st anniversary of the genocide.

It felt like the whole Armenian community was there. I marched with everyone in a circle in front of the building chanting "1915 never again" and "Turkey’s wrong, Turkey lied, Turkey’s guilty of genocide."

A speaker talked about how no matter how many years it takes, we cannot stop fighting for justice. I was yelling and raising my fists into the air. I felt a mix of anger, pride, frustration and hope. I was frustrated that the Turkish government has not taken responsibility for what they did, but I also felt hopeful seeing everyone chanting, holding up their signs and waving their flags, knowing that we will never give up and that one day things will change. I began to tear up when the whole crowd sang the Armenian national anthem and I looked up and saw Armenian flags blowing in the wind above the crowd.

I’m proud that Armenia, one of the most ancient civilizations, has survived throughout history. We’ve lost land, but it’s still there.

Armenia wants recognition, reparations and reclamation. Recognition means it wants Turkey to admit what it did. Reparations are payments for what was lost. Reclamation is giving back the land that used to be Armenia and is now part of Turkey and the surrounding area.

Other countries have recognized the genocide, but the U.S. hasn’t because it has military bases in Turkey and doesn’t want to anger Turkey. That’s why it’s not taught in school.

This was the first genocide of the 20th century. I think it’s important for others to learn about it because it’s not just about Armenia. It’s about justice. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Genocide is still happening today in Darfur, a region in the African nation of Sudan. If we learn about why it happened, we can stop genocide from happening again.