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The Armenian Genocide forget-me-not symbol

Today, April 24, 2017, marks both Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 102nd anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.

For me, remembering the Armenian Genocide is personal.  My grandfather survived this genocide as a six-year-old.  His harrowing description of the events go beyond what any person should have to observe in their lives – let alone a small child.  Crucifixions, beheadings, and sexual assaults were a few of the atrocities that were happening in the region.

Recently, the movie The Promise was released.  While appearing as a love story, the movie details the systemic oppression of the Armenians over 100 years ago.  This is the first time a major picture has been released to theaters on the subject of the Armenian Genocide.  And while the movie does not show the extremely violent scenes that my grandfather most likely witnessed, it implies how extensive the violence was towards the Armenia people.

People are speaking more now than I can ever remember about the genocide that killed 1.5 million Armenians and nearly killed my grandfather.  Every year, I speak, tweet, post, and blog on the events that occurred to the Armenians in 1915.  Our church holds a Genocide Remembrance Service for people who want to remember family who survived and died in the genocide.

On August 22, 1939, Adolf Hitler stated that “Our strength consists in our speed and our brutality,” heralding Genghis Khan’s ruthless attacks to achieve power.  Hitler concludes the statement by noting “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”  Believing he could get away with brutalities, Hitler moved forward with the Holocaust against the Jewish people.

Oppressors know their history, and they know that humans have been lax in remembering and recognizing the oppression of others.  They wage wars and genocides knowing that humanity often turns their heads away in a “it’s not my problem” attitude.  George Santayana stated in his 1905 work “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  Unfortunately, when people willingly “forget” the past, oppression continue to happen again and again.

Remembering what happened to my grandfather over a century ago has forced me to look at and recognize the oppressions of all people.  From the massacres of Native Americans here in our country to Holocaust of the Jewish people to the genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia, I see how this repeating oppression tolls throughout our world again and again.

And that is why we cannot forget one genocide or any systemic oppression of a group of God’s children.

Jeremiah 29:7 claims “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”  When we seek the welfare of all people, all of humanity prospers.  When we grasp that each oppression is connected to all other oppressions, we see how systemic oppression is interconnected.

Because I am the granddaughter of a survivor and refugee, it is my calling to remember what happened to my grandfather and the Armenian people in 1915.  Furthermore, it’s my calling to remember what happened in other systematic killings like the Holocaust and other genocides as well as shine a light on systemic oppression in our present time.

Knowing that staying silent will cause others to experience oppression, I know that I must speak against current oppression of LGBTQ people – specifically, gay men – in Chechnya.  I must speak against the mass incarceration of people of color in the United States as well as continue to claim aloud that “Black Lives Matter.”  I must speak on the refugee crisis and oppression in Syria.   Speaking on the deportations of people in our country – as well as the desired ban on refugees from specific predominantly Muslim countries – is imperative for the greater good of our world.  Even though conditions have improved some, it’s still important to speak on issues such as the water crisis in Flint because we don’t want another community of people to have unclean water.  No group of people should feel unsafe in their homes, their country, their schools, and their workplaces.  And just as we want these events to stop for the ones experiencing these atrocities, we also never want them to happen again to any other group of people.

It is my hope that when we speak aloud of the oppression happening in our world and remember the genocides that have happened in history, change will happen.  We recognize oppression much quicker.  More of our neighbors will become aware of broken systems and, hopefully, speak out against domination systems as well.  And we will be required to face how our various privileges play into the persecution of others in our world.

Today isn’t just Holocaust Remembrance Day or the day to remember the Armenians who perished in 1915.  It’s the day for us to ensure we know history, commit to listen to as many stories as possible, and join with the other children of God to say “never again.”


The Rev. Michelle L. Torigian is the Pastor of St. Paul United Church of Christ, Old Blue Rock Road in Cincinnati.  Her essay “Always a Pastor, Never the Bride” was in the RevGalBlogPals book There’s a Woman in the Pulpit.  Torigian blogs at www.michelletorigian.com.


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