Copyright 1998 Newsday, Inc.
Newsday (New York, NY)
April 8, 1998, Wednesday, QUEENS EDITION
THE NEW NEW YORKERS / REMEMBERING TRAGEDY THOUSANDS EXPECTED TO MARK ARMENIAN SLAUGHTER
Merle English. STAFF WRITER
For his first move, Kosrov Derebegian was so small that he was transported in a basket atop a horse.
The elderly Armenian immigrant nevertheless remembers the day 83 years ago when he and his family were forced to leave their home and join a caravan of swift-running Euphrates River, across deserts and over mountains, a trip that most did not survive.
"I saw so many horses, so many people, so many children. Many Armenian villages evacuated. My father disappeared with a lot of other men. I remember people panicking. I see we are in the water. I saw a Turk kill a woman with a large knife and a naked man stabbed fatally. Swollen, dead bodies. Flies all over the place."
Derebegian, 87, was recounting the horrors of the Armenian Genocide recently at the Armenian Home for the Aged in Flushing where he lives. One of 53 people - most of them women - at the home, he is among a dwindling number of survivors for whom April 26 has a somber significance.
On that day, about 5,000 Armenian-Americans will assemble at Times Square to commemorate the systematic killing of about 1.5 million Armenian men, women and children by the Turkish Ottoman Empire, and to honor those who still live.
The genocide, which began on April 24, 1915, with the arrest, torture and execution of 300 intellectuals, writers, poets and civic and political leaders, lasted until 1923, according to Sam Azadian, an Armenian-American who founded the Times Square commemoration in 1985.
Lucy Derderian, 98, lost 80 members of her family. Sitting with other survivors in the landscaped backyard of the Armenian home, she became emotional as she recounted how, at the age of 14, she saw Turkish soldiers slaughter her parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters. She was wounded by a soldier's knife and left for dead, buried beneath the bodies of family members.
Another relative who also survived after being buried under bodies helped Derderian escape. She located a brother in the United States and came to this country in 1926.
Said by historians to be the first attempt in the 20th Century to annihilate an entire people, the mass killing is viewed as having set the stage for the Holocaust of 11 million - including 6 million Jews - by the Nazis during World War II.
"As in the Holocaust, Armenians were tattooed, men separated from their families, women were violated and children impaled upon Turkish bayonets," noted Joyce Matz, a spokeswoman for the Joint Commemorative Committee that is organizing the 83rd anniversary. Some were denied food and water on the journey and starved, she said.
In the Ottoman Empire's "frenzy" to eliminate all Christian Armenians, they were burned or drowned in groups while helplessly bound together, Matz added. "Whole families were murdered, entire towns were destroyed as the Turks attempted to wipe out every vestige of Armenian civilization that had existed for over 3,000 years."
"Two out of every three Armenians who lived in the interior perished," Azadian said. "I would almost wager anything I possessed that if you asked an Armenian family in Queens about the genocide, they'd say, My mother's father was killed.' Every family has a history and a story. These families are the handful of people who managed to survive the barbarism and made it here to America."
Although the event occurred in recent history, it is little-known because of attempts by the Turkish government to obliterate information about the period, said Christine Saraydarian, an Armenian-American who is the adminstrator of the Armenian Home for the Aged.
Saraydarian said when she went to public school in New York there was almost no mention of the Armenians, a pre-biblical people who occupied a mountainous, mineral-rich kingdom that was conquered by various invaders before it became a republic of the former Soviet Union and gained independence with the fall of the Communist system.
"There is very little or nothing about them in textbooks," Saraydarian said. But information about the genocide is part of the Holocaust studies curriculum in the public schools of New York and New Jersey.
While Armenian-Americans customarily observed the event's anniversary in churches, Azadian got the idea of public commemoration to create wider awareness.
"The Turks are very actively working on denial," Azadian said. "Almost every other situation you can think of has been acknowledged. We've just seen the president acknowledge America's role in the slave trade . We saw the Germans acknowledge the Holocaust. The Russians acknowledged the slaughter of 10,000 Polish officers in the Catyn Forest. Quite to the contrary the Turkish government is spending millions of dollars in universities seeking to do revisionism, saying it was a civil war, not a genocide. These people had no guns. They were subject to a brutal regime."
An official at the Turkish Embassy in Washington, D.C., who asked that his name not be used, said, "It is true that we supported the establishment of Turkish studies in some universities, but this has nothing to do with the so-called revisionism or propagating Turkish views."
The official said the Turkish government has a different view of the deaths. "We don't accept any charge of genocide . . . It was really a civil war," he said.
Many of the Armenian-Americans concentrated in Woodside, Sunnyside, Bayside, Whitestone and Flushing are expected to attend the commemoration, which will begin with a 10 a.m. service at St. Vartan Cathedral, located at 34th Street and Second Avenue in Manhattan, and a procession from the church to Times Square, at 43rd Street and Broadway, where the ceremony begins at 2 p.m.
GRAPHIC: Newsday Photo by Patrick Andrade - Kosrov Derebegian, 87, survived the wave of killings that claimed about 1.5 million lives. The dead will be honored April 26 at Times Square.
Source: Ovanes Manucharyan
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