By Susan Gosine
They came riding in wheelchairs and tottering on walkers, the very old, some their visions waning and their voices mere whispers. Only death can keep them away from this propitious occasion.
Swaddled in warm clothing on this cool spring day their forlorn faces are a reflection of the painful words buried in their timeworn eyes. Relics of the past, they are, tokens of a transgression cast upon them 99 years ago. They are survivors of the 1915 Armenian Genocide, an embarrassing reminder to the world of the dictatorship of the then Young Turks government.
The group grew rapidly; the survivors came from everywhere in New York State. And as the banner of red, blue and orange of the Armenian flag was unfolded with the words, “Turkey is Guilty of Genocide: Denying the Undeniable is a Crime,” emblazoned across it, the atmosphere changed. The curious stopped to inquire. The customary din at 43rd Street and Broadway, Times Square, New York, lulled; traffic slowed, hurrying footsteps stilled, and loud voices dropped to a murmur.
Thousands of survivors of the Armenian Genocide, accompanied by their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, friends and supporters assembled at the cross-section of the street, on the afternoon of Sunday April 27 to commemorate the 99th year since the Armenian Genocide had taken place.
The procession proceeded to New York’s St. Vartan’s Cathedral at 34th Street and 2nd Avenue, for a commemorative service. As a prelude to the service, two light beams were lit and projected into the sky on Thursday April 24. They will remain lighting for 99 hours to honour the 1.5 million Armenians killed from 1915 to 1923 by the Young Turk government of the Ottoman Empire. The intent was to exterminate the Armenians. The genocide, also known as the Armenian Massacre, started with the arrest of 250 Armenian community leaders and academics.
The annual parade is organised by the Knights & Daughters of Vartan. Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Eastern Diocese, said, “In memory of victims of the Armenian Genocide, we illuminate the sky in New York City to shed light on Genocide. We shall never forget their sacrifice and the historical truth of the first genocide of the 20th Century.”
Centenarians Perouze Kalousdian and Azniv Guiragossian were among the survivors. Although their lives, like those of other survivors, have been scarred by torture and death, and a relentless struggle against an oppressive regime for accountability, their spirits have endured. It would take more than the Ottoman Empire’s cruelty to break their resolve. Their presence at the remembrance of the most horrible time of their lives is a testament of their resolve to survive and procreate despite the threat of annihilation by the Young Turks who had called themselves the Committee of Unity and Progress.
In a soft voice, Guiragossian born in 1914, told of how she was kidnapped when she was one year old and made to live with a Turkish family for four years until she was returned to her parents. Kalousdian was born in 1909. She was six years old when the genocide took place.
Guiragossian’s father had died just weeks before the attack on the Armenians. She was forced to march with her mother through the Syrian Desert to the concentration camps. She saw her mother give birth to a child that died from lack of proper care, then she (the mother) too, died two months later. After the march Guiragossian was sent to an orphanage. At age 16, she married a choral director. And in the 1950s they moved to New York. “When I think of it I cry. Sometimes I go to bed thinking about my life. I was a little girl, but I am strong,” she said.
Kalousdian saw the Turks take young men over the age of 15 and threw them from a bridge into the Euphrates River to drown. “The Turks have done us much harm. We were living like animals. I hate them. They came and took us out of our homes and took our homes for themselves. I was crying and asked my mother what happened to our homes,” she said.
After the attack Kalousdian and her mother worked as maids for the Turkish leaders. One day they ran away to Syria. They lived there for three years then migrated to the United States where they were reunited with her father. He had somehow managed to escape from Turkey before the genocide.
The centenarians live at the New York Armenian Home for the Aged in Flushing, New York.