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Legacy of the Armenian Genocide – a Personal Story

April 24, 2015 Thousands of people are expected to gather today in Ottawa to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide and its estimated 1.5 million victims.  Similar events will be taking place around the world. Behind the politics… behind the numbers, today is about remembering the victims and recognizing that each of the 1.5 million victims was an individual with his or her own story – a father, mother, son or daughter – with hopes dreams and aspirations.  Today, we continue to live with the legacy of their deaths, the trauma suffered by those fortunate enough to survive and most importantly the failure to acknowledge and take responsibility for these crimes. At Equitas, today’s significance was underlined, when Marian Deldelian, one of our wonderful interns, shared her personal story.  With her permission, we are honoured to be able to share it with you.  As human rights educators, we believe personal stories are crucial to help people understand the true horrors and lasting impact when human rights are not respected and protected.  Regrettably, the crime of genocide became all too common during the 20th Century and we are not immune today.  Human rights education plays a critical role in trying to prevent crimes of genocide and is equally important after gross violations of human rights in trying to rebuild fractured communities wherein equality, social justice and respect for human dignity prevail. It is our hope that Marian’s story and the commemorations today encourage people everywhere to dedicate themselves to practicing human rights values in their day-to-day lives and to remember the Armenians and all those who suffer human rights violations. My great grandparents were children in the village of Marash in Armenia 100 years ago. My great grandfather, Hagop (“pillar” or “standing stone”), survived because his parents hid him in a large clay pot where they usually stored their water. A neighboring Kurdish family finally came searching for survivors when Hagop was near suffocation and dehydration. They pulled him out of the pot and tried to shield his vision, but he still saw his parents and many siblings all around, slaughtered. The Kurdish family took him as the only survivor and smuggled him towards the refuge boats. Hagop had to make a quick choice between two boats and, being illiterate, his choice was spontaneous. In later years he discovered that, while he had chosen the boat headed for Syria, the other was going to France. He regretted this decision for the rest of his life. After arriving in Syria, Hagop was hauled from one Church to another, and transported to Jordan and then to Palestine where he was finally accepted at a shelter. There, he met my great grandmother, Siranoush (“Little Love”), who had survived with the help of strangers. As he knew her family from Armenia, Hagop felt responsible for her. They grew up in the orphanage in Palestine together and, when they were adults, got married. Only years later did my great grandfather find his sister when he walked into a convent in Jordan to register his name and was reunited with her. She was a nun there. He died long before I myself discovered a branch of our family in Argentina, and realized that one of his brothers had also survived. On his deathbed, Hagop sat with my adolescent father and described to him the great sorrow he felt for ending up in Palestine due to his illiteracy. As “outsiders” to both Arab and Israeli culture, his family was very marginalized and ostracized. The predicament he found himself in was hardly better than the situation he fled from; he always wished to go home. And so this was his request: First, the lost numbers of Armenians had to be replaced. For this purpose, Hagop had seven children. Of his children he asked for fewer grandchildren so that some of them may attain a Bachelor’s education; he wanted to ensure that his family was highly educated so that they would make good decisions for the reinstitution of his lost Armenia. Of his grandchildren Hagop asked for even fewer children, so that some of them may achieve a Master’s education. The request he left for my generation was: have one child only, if that is the only way that child may attain a PhD.  This plan, he believed, was seamless for the survival of our family legacy. I am now completing my Master’s degree because I feel a responsibility for fulfilling Hagop’s wish, and quickly. Naturally, I chose this internship with Equitas because I would like to contribute, in any small way that I can, to human rights education in the pursuit of a better life for families who, like mine, have always been (and continue to be) outsiders, even in the countries from which they stem. I consider myself a country hopper, a Bedouin of sorts, because I’ve lived in 8 cities in 7 countries during my 23 years. People like me are only at “home” when they are in no-man’s land: in airplanes, on bridges, and between borders. We only make it to the airplanes, bridges, and borders, however, because of people like all of you, who care enough to contribute their professional and personal time to greater human causes.   I would like to thank you all for your daily contribution to global human rights education, and I could not be more proud to have had the opportunity to work with people like you. I hope to remain friends with many of you in the future. – Marian Deldelian

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