April 24th is coming around again. Once again, members of the Armenian community and our friends, colleagues, and allies will gather in downtown Northampton to mark Armenian Martyrs’ Day.
Once again, we will wear black, walk in a mournful procession from behind Thornes Marketplace to Memorial Hall.
Once again, holding our Armenian flags, we will walk side-by-side. Once again, some will weep as we walk, some will weep when the program begins, and some will weep the entire time.
We gather to mark April 24, 1915, the beginning of the genocide in Turkey that lasted years and took the lives of 1.5 million Armenians. The genocide that Hitler used as a blueprint for the Holocaust.
My sister Gina and I have been organizing this gathering for 24 years. Our grandparents, Haig and Shenorig Ayvazian, and our father, L. Fred Ayvazian, were survivors of the genocide. Our parents used to be part of the annual commemoration in Northampton — sitting in the circle in lawn chairs. Our father would cry while he spoke of the “massacres,” as he called them; our mother, Gloria Ayvazian, also Armenian, sat stoically holding his hand.
April 24th is coming around again. We will gather again — we will never stop marking Martyrs’ Day as long as there is life in our bodies. We will always gather to remember a genocide that Turkey denies, and the U.S. refuses to acknowledge, even though many other countries have done so.
We will gather again to experience the strength of the Armenian community. We will gather to pray, cry, sing, and stare in each other’s large dark eyes. We will gather to lift our voices, share our words, and make our witness. And to hug each other — hugs that are too tight and last too long. We will gather again.
“I was born at the intersection of East and West, life and death, hope and despair,” Marian Mesrobian MacCurdy writes in the introduction of her book “Sacred Justice: The Voices and Legacy of the Armenian Operation Nemesis.”
“My grandparents’ job was to survive, my parents’ to anchor us all into another universe, and my generation’s job to remember,” Mesrobian MacCurdy continues. “Parts of us survived, even thrived; parts did not. Much of us is anchored to our adopted home; other parts are floating bodiless, without tether in the ether between Turkish Armenia and American, between the will to thrive and the guilt for doing so, of never being able to do enough to fix what cannot be fixed.”
This year when we gather, Marian Mesrobian MacCurdy, who lives in the Valley, will be our guest speaker. She will bring her wise words and open heart to our commemoration and will share thoughts about Armenian life today and how we move forward.
Every page of Mesrobian MacCurdy’s book is remarkable. I was late for meetings and stayed up into the night reading the book. Her meticulous research is stunning and her ability to weave a story with gripping detail is deeply moving.
Her discussion of intergenerational trauma — something I have studied for years — gave me pause. Mesrobian MacCurdy describes the children of survivors of the genocide with remarkable, almost disturbing, accuracy. We are traumatized, all of us who are in any way related to the genocide. We reverberate with the horrific stories, we carry the grief, and we cling to the hope that our history will be told, recognized, and validated someday. Someday.
And so we gather. Because we must. Although we live with the wounds each day, our awareness of the genocide is heightened on April 24th and we have a gnawing need to see one another. The Armenian diaspora is scattered around the globe.
But in this green Valley, the Armenians who come together on April 24 do so with a longing that hangs in the air throughout the commemoration. We need the prayers, the songs, the words, the tears shed, and the time together. We need to stand in our sorrow and strength and say: we remember.
“We are still attempting to survive, to anchor, and to remember,” Mesrobian MacCurdy writes in “Sacred Justice.”
It is true. We are still struggling. Still attempting to survive, to anchor, to remember, to be recognized, to be acknowledged, to be seen, to heal, and to be made whole. We stand each year to remember those who died in the genocide, and those who survived the genocide, but never lived to see the massacres they endured acknowledged by their adopted country, the United States of America.
April 24th is coming around again. And we will mark the day. We will walk, hug, speak, and pray while weeping.
Armenian Martyrs’ Day Commemoration begins at 5:30 behind Thornes Marketplace. The Rev. Dr. Andrea Ayvazian, of Northampton, is an associate pastor at Alden Baptist Church in Springfield. She is also the Founder and Director of the Sojourner Truth School for Social Change Leadership which offers free movement-building classes from Greenfield to Springfield.
photo (c) The Rev. Andrea Ayvazian, center, of Northampton, with her husband, Michael Klare, and her sister, Gina Ayvazian, gather in 2016 to recognize Armenian Martyrs’ Day, at Memorial Hall in Northampton. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS