Each year on April 24, Armenians around the world commemorate one of the darkest times of recent memory and the darkest period of the Armenian people’s 3,500-year history. No matter which country around the world you visit, the Armenian diaspora, comprised of the offspring of survivors, hold events dedicated to remembering the 1.5 million who perished and the countless others who were kidnapped and tortured.
Each year I join Fresno’s Armenian-American community at Fresno’s City Hall to commemorate this period by raising both the U.S. and Armenians flags to show solidarity between the two countries. Words can’t express how supportive the mayor, City Council and City Hall staff have been. From the parking division to the facilities department to the security staff, all work together and make it easy for us to observe this sad event.
Commemorating is personal for me because of my own family’s story, which I know because of an audio tape left by my grandfather prior to his death. The tape describes just how horrific the acts of the Ottoman Turkish soldiers were. In detail, he tells of being forced out of his home and losing his father and brother during the march through the desert. Words can’t describe the scene he witnessed along the way.
While advocating for the official recognition of the genocide, Valley lawmakers have always been supportive of a just and accurate representation of the events that occurred. Recently, freshman Rep. David Valadao and the rest of the delegation from the central San Joaquin Valley — Reps. Jim Costa, Devin Nunes and Jeff Denham — co-sponsored House Resolution 227, the Armenian Genocide Truth and Justice Act. Despite pressure from the Turkish government, these men stood up for what is right and that makes me proud to be a Valley resident.
However, not everyone is supportive of labeling the tragedy as genocide. Two common questions that continuously are presented to me are: It was so long ago, why should we care? And why don’t you go back home and fight for recognition there?
I tell people that forgetting any atrocity of this magnitude is difficult. I have spent a lot of time talking to elder Armenian-Americans in the Fresno area. The pain in their eyes when telling the stories of their parents and, in some cases, themselves, provides me motivation to continue the mission to have the Turkish government recognize and apologize for the actions of their predecessors
Armenian-Americans have thrived in Fresno and throughout the Valley. From politics to business to development to law and many other fields, Armenian-Americans have contributed substantially. It is important to know the history of this group of people who ended up here. The bulk of the population came because of the genocide. Today, we see evidence of the Armenian-American community all around us.
As to the argument that I should go “home” and continue my fight there, with all due respect, I am home. My house is in west Fresno. My job, friends and family are all here. I was also educated in Fresno area schools and my writing and speaking English far outshines my ability to read and write Armenian. As Americans (me included) we have a unique history. We all bring to this country a special story and reason for coming here. The Fresno area is no exception. Just look around you while out in our community. Each face has a different story and reason for coming here.
Please don’t ask me to forget my history and I won’t ask you to forget yours. This diversity makes Fresno County such a great place to live. This is “home” to me and the many others who ended up here from their historic homelands.
We are Americans, but each of us has a story that started on a different land and in a different place. I see no problem in sharing that story. It helps us understand and respect each other better. I don’t know about you, but I am here for the long run.
Sevag Tateosian, of Fresno, is host and producer of San Joaquin Spotlight airing on 90.7 KFSR FM and CMAC Fresno.