Category Archives: Social

She.

by A. Dilanyan

People live. Long and short, happy and not so. But what makes a bag of bones a person? And this is not a philosophical question to consider while sitting on the toilet seat, or while drunk to the gills on a Friday night. No! This is just a fact. The main thing that makes us human is time. We get old and doesn’t matter if a club 27 member or a 113-year-old Japanese grandpa, you age. You reader will never be as young as right now. And now you are older than yourself reading the last sentence.

Life is an unpredictable sequence of events we can’t undo, though we can improve. You never know when your life will end. Maybe by the end of this paragraph, an asteroid will crash on the planet Earth, and you will never find out my favorite color, I am going to mention in the end.

Why do I care about all of this, anyway? I care, because of her.

She was brilliant. I never knew a person that full of life and joy. She was always there, as long as I remember myself. But once, she was gone. She was not dead, physically, but she was not alive either.

She meant life to me, and then there was profound darkness. Never could I imagine that empty look. Think of somebody you care endlessly about. Now, remember all of the joy, moments spent and hours talked with that person. Then, think how would you feel if they forgot you. But not like ghosted you, stopped texting, moved to another country and pretended that you never existed, but forgot who you are. Imagine yourself watching your loved one fading away, and the pain of being so powerless. Begging them to tell your name, and them smiling back, smile so dear but so lost.

She was so colorful. Always wearing her best clothes, even when going to the nearest store. She was the one who cheered me up, kept my secrets safe and cooked the most delicious pies I have ever tasted. She always had a story to share, a joke to tell and a way to put a smile on your face. She would light up a room with her entrance. She never gave up. She knew how valuable life is.  But now she looked grey.

I wanted to help. But how could I help?

Giving up was not an option, so with all the strength I had I started calling to every medical institution available to ask “Do you treat people with dementia? Anyone who can help?” and to hear “Sorry, we don’t. Did you try any madhouses?” I would hang up. She was not crazy. I knew that.

Mental diseases are ignored in Armenia. In many cases dementia is progressive, starting slowly, often unseen, then gradually getting worse and worse. That’s something you hardly recognize until you face it. Dementia is not a precisely defined disease. 

“It’s an overall term that describes a group of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities.” as defined by Alzheimer’s Association.

Alzheimer’s Association, 2017

My grandma needed the help of professionals, able to treat mixed dementia and as long as I was looking for that help, I understood that there is a massive hole in the medical care system in Armenia. Though every 3 seconds someone develops dementia worldwide, with almost 50 million people worldwide living with dementia in 2017, Armenian health care fails to provide proper treatment or decent living conditions to patients, and all you see are doctors not qualified to help, even if they wanted to. All that Armenia has to offer are mental institutions, which haven’t been renovated for decades, those terrifying places the patients are treated horribly. I went there. With hope for help, I visited every possible hospital. I wish I wouldn’t, and gave up after a call.  

 

We needed help. But there was no one to offer it. We were recommended to consult doctors abroad. But she won’t make it. Even if we could calm her down through the passport control, on the board of the plane, her brain wouldn’t survive a flight due to developing hydrocephalus, commonly known as “water on the brain,” that creates harmful pressure on the brain tissues.

Illustrated by Anush Dilanyan, 2016

So we were left with no options, but to treat her at home, spend hours talking her into the reality, reminding her how to do the easiest daily tasks, until she refused to leave her bed one day. I knew what this supposed to mean. I was losing her. She spent another couple of weeks motionless. She didn’t exist anymore; only her body felt the suffering of the stupid, pointless illness.

It was hard. I can’t forgive myself for the moments when I hated her; I wished her dead. I did. It was so hard, and I know now that what I meant was that I hated the thing happening to her. But still, our life changed the way no one could ever imagine. My mom quit her job. I had to study, work a full-time job I hated, spend evenings trying to reason with her, then get some sleep for the next day I didn’t want to wake up to. We were alone. No one could help, and all we could do is to make sure her best until the very end.

She was always prepared for a holiday. But not this time. This time I left for some New Year shopping, though it was a tough year, she would never, in clear mind, never forgive not having a proper celebration.

I remember the moment my phone rang. I answered my phone, it was silent for a moment, and then the next moment my mom started crying and shouting something indistinct. It was clear to me. She was gone.

I ran out of the shop, screaming on the top of my voice. I hardly remember getting home. I opened the door, and there was silence. My mom was sitting by her bed. I knew this is not the first time I am seeing her leave. She found her peace.

Life goes on. I renovated her room and call it to mine now, though it will always be hers in my mind. She was great; she was my very best grandma. All I know that me being there for her is just a payback for all the years she has been there for me. And yeah, we both loved emerald green, or maybe she did, and I just joined the club because of her, who knows.

Evans’ ‘You Must Believe in Spring,’ or How I Fought Depression

By Gayane Ghazaryan

Guest Contributor

I am running out of breath. My heart is pounding faster and faster. My entire body is trembling with pain. I’m afraid I will die any minute now… I started having my first panic attacks in December 2017, right at the beginning of my winter break when a series of traumatic events put me in a psychological state known as clinical depression. However, what I was experiencing differed drastically from how people around me perceived this mental disorder, and because of that very reason, I had to fight against the aftermaths of the trauma feeling almost entirely left alone.

While most of my friends and family thought what I was going through was just a period of sadness, I was sure there was more to that as my mental/emotional state was in a terrible mess. Some of my friends kept telling that “things would get better,” and I just needed to “stop stressing out, and have fun instead.” But no, things wouldn’t get better for the next four months.

I deactivated all my social media and tried to avoid people as much as I could. With each new dawn, my own existence felt like an unbearable burden I had to carry on my shoulders. I would often think of death, wishing that something would actually happen to me and I would no longer have to fight against the pain. Even the simplest action of breathing felt like an unachievable task, especially at nights when I would have crying spells, almost suffocating. My emotional state directly affected my physical health. In the mornings I felt intense fatigue and dizziness as if I would pass out any minute.

December 2017 was also the time when I found out I had OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), the symptoms of which I have been showing ever since I was 12. For nine years I lived with intrusive thoughts and never-ending obsessions, and yet never said a word as I was afraid people would think I had gone insane. However, I couldn’t keep all of that inside me anymore, as my compulsions had reached to the point where they prevented me from doing any work. I was concerned and terrified both because of my panic attacks as well as to find out I had a mental disorder that wasn’t easy to treat.

It took me a whole week to talk about my condition to my parents. I was concerned that they would get worried after learning it all as if I was going to tell them I had cancer or some kind of heart disease because having a mental disorder felt equally important to me. But to my surprise, they didn’t take my words seriously and thought I was just exaggerating things. They would tie the arbitrary pains I had to physical health problems and encourage me to see a doctor, but never a psychologist or a psychiatrist. My father would even get frustrated when I openly talked about my OCD symptoms. “Don’t tell such things to other people. They will think you have problems which you don’t,” he often told me. According to him, and most people in Armenia, it is shameful to voice about mental health issues.

I hoped that with the start of the new semester, I’d feel better. I hoped that the overwhelming amount of readings and essays would distract me from the inner chaos that was devouring me. But things got worse! Most of the time I wasn’t able to get myself out of bed. And when I did manage to get to university, I felt as if I had to play a part, concealing all the horrible things that were happening inside my brain. I tried hard to stay focused during classes, and sometimes it worked, but the home assignments were a real struggle. I would read something three or four times and still not comprehend what I was supposed to know or do. The hallways and the cafeteria were the definition of hell to me. I was constantly trying to avoid people, including friends. All the conversations and the laughter were only testing the limits of my irritability.

In February, I made a couple of attempts to see the counselor at university, but I failed. I wasn’t ready to be vocal about the things that put me in that condition. I didn’t want to open up to a stranger. So I found an escape in something new to me, something that didn’t have to involve words. I found an escape in dance. After signing up for contemporary dance classes, I soon discovered the healing effect that it had on me. Losing myself in harmonious melodies combined with graceful movements, I paved the way for the inner peace I so desperately needed. I was making progress, and it made me both hopeful and proud of myself.

Spring became the metaphor for hope to me.

Spring became the metaphor of hope to me. I kept repeating the words from Bill Evans’ famous album, “You Must Believe in Spring.” The more I convinced myself that spring winds and blossoming flowers would bring harmony to me, the faster the seeds of hope grew within me. I knew these seeds would blossom and put healing petals on all the scars. Indeed, by the end of March, I had made significant progress. Then in April, with the start of the movement that would later be known as “Velvet Revolution,” I set myself a goal to get rid of all the remaining negativity. I joined the rally from the very first day and was in the streets almost every day, from morning till night. To me, the Revolution wasn’t only about “rejecting Serj.” It was about fighting against the things that made me vulnerable, frightened and fragile both physically and emotionally.

Although I still struggle with OCD and can’t make my mind to take medication regularly because I’m afraid to become dependent on it, I succeeded in my battle against depression. What I learned is that life can slap you in the face, slap you really hard, but it doesn’t mean you should give up easily. I learned that people might not always be supportive, and that’s not because they do not care, but because they haven’t been in your shoes and lack awareness. I learned that there are people who have much more serious problems and do not have the determination or resources to cope with them. I once again realized there are millions of things to be grateful for, fight and live for.

Revolution diary

April 16, 2018 | So what?

It’s a peaceful, quiet Sunday, 5:30 pm. I’m downtown, near Cascade, almost finishing a photo shoot for a friend’s gallery. I’m impatient to join Pashinyan’s daily rally. I get a call from my friend Anush, pack my camera and walk to the France square to meet her. What I see is about 100 people, several tents and a stage-like construction. Somehow I feel very proud to be there. The song “My Step” is playing around all the time. It’s a bit cold. Everyone is calm and relaxed. Disappointed by the number of people and the calmness of the protestants,  I decide to walk down Mashtots street to meet Anush, hoping that by 6 pm more people will join. We greet each other and walk back the France Square. Now there are around 200 people. But who makes a revolution with 200 people?  We both are very indifferent. We try to act as caring citizens but actually we do not understand what is the aim of the protest. The rally starts. We find a comfortable place and stand next to two old women. Some old guy takes the microphone and starts talking about Armenian stones, how profitable could those be and how bad is our government. We are listening to a boring,  and pathetic speech very much like those in Soviet Union. The old women curse the government after every second word. They are funny though and seem to be more excited than all the young protesters out there. It is getting colder. Pashinyan has not spoken yet. We become nervous. It’s time to go home.

I barely find a marshrutka to get home. After a huge disappointment, I blame Pashinyan for blocking the streets and justify myself for leaving the rally, “At least you came, Arpine, you should not feel guilty anymore.”

But I keep asking this question, “ Dear Mr.Pashinyan, you have blocked the Freedom square, and you have been protesting for several days, so what? ” An hour later, he calls for massive civil disobedience starting the next day, April 17.


April 17, 2018 | Let’s do it

9 am, morning, I’m still on my bed. My hand automatically goes to my phone, I barely open eyes and my Facebook feed is filled with information about protests. The headlines say “Students have started mass protests, the streets are blocked..”

The whole city is shut down. All the streets that lead to the city center are blocked.  I decide to join the students, and there is only one way to get into the Yerevan State University. I run to the bus stop, catch a marshrutka and drive to the upper part of the Cascade. As always, the marshrutka is packed. I turn on Azatutyun live and try to catch up with the events.  The driver also turns on the radio. The whole marshrutka discusses the student protest. It seems like people are against it.

“These poor kids do not understand that they cannot change anything,” an old lady says, “it’s useless, this government will never change.” I want to argue, but I shout myself: it’s not the right time. Anush calls me. She is there. Hundreds of students are there.I get out of the marshrutka but immediately stop. God, Ararat is so beautiful. Even our mount wants us to fight for a better country. I decide to capture it.

Ararat on April 17, 2018

Anush informs me that thousands of students are near the Yerevan State University. She’s very excited. While I run down the  Cascade stairs, I try to catch up with live stream. 10 minutes later I’m there, with students. It’s hard to believe there are so many of us. I hug Anush tightly. I look at her eyes and say, “I’m starting a journey with you, and I’ll be with you till the very end.” She smiles. We start marching and calling people to join us. There is no such thing as an AUA student, Yerevan State University Student, or Conservatory Student. There is independence generation fighting for a better country. Independence generation wants to be independent. Hour by hour more students join. We do not stop marching. Women look from their balconies and cry. They seem to be very proud.

Thousands of students near Medical University on April 17, 2018 

Hours later, we join Nikol Pashinyan. He leads us to the National Assembly. The Baghramyan street is blocked. The riot police are on the other side. And then there is an explosion…I see how grenades fall on people. My heart beats faster. Some of my friends start panicking. The second grenade exploits. Seconds later we see wounded people and blood. Ambulance sirens do not stop. I’m scared. Anush starts crying: she’s emotionally devastated. I don’t know what to do. Some of EVN report staff is right there, near the barricades. My parents keep calling me. There is chaos around.  I do not feel anything. I somehow get home. I am psychologically devastated. My aunt calls me and starts blaming for being a protestor. I can hardly speak. My tears flow down my face. I start shouting at her. I cannot stop crying. I feel so detached from her.  She is not my role model anymore. She does not believe in youth.


April 18-21 | I believe

My days start early. I don’t go to classes because I protest, and help EVN report to spread the English-language news. I don’t eat and sleep properly. There’s a massive rally at 7. Pashinyan speaks, and then thousands march through the city. And then we go home. This has become a daily routine. So many things happen at the same time. My friends and my professors are next to me. I doubt that Serzh Sargsyan will resign. But I believe in our generation. I believe Nikol Pashinyan and his vision. My country is facing a significant change, and I am proud to be a part of it. Emotions overflow me. Words cannot describe what I feel.

Revolution by generations | April 18, 2018 

Nikol Pashinyan and his wife resting after a long march throughout Yerevan on April 19, 2018


April 22,  2018 | Fear

It’s a rainy day. Nikol Pashinyan has been arrested. People do not stop protesting. It’s around 2 pm. I call Anush. We both cry on the two sides of the phone. We want to believe that everything will be fine, but we cannot. Our Roubina from EVN is wounded. I feel hatred towards our government. I do not want to live in this country…I cannot think, I cannot eat, I cannot drink. This chaos does not end.

There’s a big rally without Nikol. I walk down Komitas street. People have blocked the streets. A guy shouts, “ This is our people’s protests, and not Nikol’s, we will not stop protesting.” He gives me hope. It’s almost 7 pm. We don’t know what to think. Mr. Garbis joins us. There are thousands and thousands of people coming from different parts of the city. It’s unbelievable yet chaotic without Nikol. We don’t know what’s going on. I’m terrified. What’s next?

April 22, a rally without Nikol Pashinyan


April 23, 2018 | Welcome to the world, New Armenia

Finally, I decide to go to class. The streets city are blocked, and the only way to get to the university is to walk. I take my camera, and photograph people in the crossroads. Everyone seems to be strong beside the fact that Pashinyan and his supporters are arrested. I sit in the back, my phone on my desk, my eyes following the live stream. Regular rallies. Streets are shut down; people are protesting. Nikol Pashinyan is still arrested. No significant news. We are somehow very indifferent. AUA is very quiet. We go eat at the cafeteria, I look at my phone and shout, “Guys, Pashinyan is free.” Anush and I forget everything and run down AUA stairs. We look at police standing behind the barricades and shout, “Pashinyan is free, people, Pashinyan is free…” We do not feel ashamed. The policemen start packing their weapons. We smile. They smile back. We wave. They wave back. “Dears, it’s the end, Sargsyan has resigned, believe me,” a young policeman says. It’s hard to believe. There are not official news. But we smile. And they smile. We decide to walk down Demirdjian street: Pashinyan has promised to greet people at the Republic Square. Dozens of buses with police drive down that street. They all smile. There are no barricades anymore. From time to time Anush shouts, “Pashinyan is free, Pashinyan is free.” People look at us and smile.

We see our friends on our way. It seems that there are little invisible drops of joy in the air that make everyone smile. We proudly walk to the republic square. People hug the police. I cannot hide my tears. I take out my camera and try to freeze the moment. Everybody keeps talking about Sargsyan’s resignation, but there is not an official announcement. The Internet is not working. We decide to walk to Mashtots park. On our way, the taxi drivers look at us and say, “Serzh Sargsyan has resigned, it’s official, երեխեք ջան.” But still, we do not want to believe. We reach Mashtots park, the internet starts working properly, and we eventually see the official announcement on Facebook. Serzh Sargsyan has resigned,  Serzh Sargsyan has resigned, Serzh Sargsyan has resigned. I keep repeating it as it’s hard to believe. The world freezes at that moment. I cannot stop smiling. I want to stop the time. And we run. We run to be with people; we run to hug everyone on the street, we run to celebrate our victory. We run to say, “Welcome to the world, New Armenia.”

April 23 :They finally smile 


April 15, 2018 | The beginning

Tired after the play rehearsal, me and Anush were enjoying the spring sun and a soft breeze at Mashtots park. We have not talked for months. Something was wrong, and that was the day to understand what was going on in our friendship finally. We were supposed to have a long and tense conversation. And we finally had it. But April 15 was never exceptional for that conversation.

It was that crucial day when we decided to join Nikol Pashinyan and his supporters on French Square. It was the beginning of a journey full of love, hatred,  fear, joy, disappointment and everlasting hope. It was the beginning of a journey full of doubts. It was the day we realized our importance as citizens. It was the day we felt responsible for our country and our future. It was the day we decided to stood up for our rights and fight for our parent’s stolen youth. It was the day we decided to spare no effort for a better Armenia…It was the day we believed.

*All photos were taken by me.

Thoughts on April 17

On Tuesday I witnessed civil actions and vignettes of disobedience that I have never seen before in Armenia. For part of the day I was watching many of these events unfold in different places simultaneously thanks to several online live video feeds broadcast by Azatutyun.am and A1plus.am. Hetq Online was reporting on the events throughout the day, and as usual posted stunning photos by Narek Alexanyan, some of which are reprinted here.

The peaceful actions of civil disobedience were unprecedented for Armenia. For example, students would suddenly decide to block the entire six-lane width of Abovyan Street at the Isahakyan intersection and sit on the ground in a tight row. Elderly pairs would be moving slowly but deliberately up Sayat-Nova streets to watch on, perhaps give a few words of wisdom and encouragement to student protestors. Thousands of people walked toward or right against the police barricade near the foot of Baghramyan Street, and linger there or move on to another impromptu site of protest, that would suddenly be abandoned for another intersection randomly blocked, impeding the flow of traffic once again. They were totally decentralized movements of disruption, always peaceful, and dignified (save for frustrated drivers who found themselves unexpectedly stranded, as I saw for instance on the corner of Sayat-Nova and Abovyan Streets around 3:30 pm, just moments after protestors blocked the intersection).  Then I began walking west to the Place de France, the square on Mashdots and Sayat-Nova, a stone’s throw from the Opera House. The area had been occupied at that point for at least 40 hours, if not more. Suddenly two young guys sharing a seat on a retro BMX-style dirt bike resembling the one my brother rode around when we were kids in Winchester rode into the intersection and announced that the people should mobilize and move directly to Republic Square.

Throughout the day the thousand-strong crowd led by Nigol Pashinyan moved to various locations, occupying the entrances of governmental agencies, like the Prosecutor General’s Office, then the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for several minutes at a time, before moving on again. When I first started observing what was happening, in all honestly it seemed pointless and absurd, and it stirred memories of movements from the past—from 2013 especially.  But it didn’t take long for me to understand that this effort was indeed an organized, nevertheless decentralized string of protests.

I walked south on Mashdots Street and saw that every intersection starting from Place de France all the way to the Khorenatsi intersection, near the “Pak Shuga,” was blockaded. Understand that this is the most travelled avenue in central Yerevan, one of the main city routes used by hundreds of minibuses, trolleys and, full-size buses every hour. So to see it come to a complete standstill, where only pedestrians traveled, was surreal.

Photo by Christian Garbis
Photo by Christian Garbis

I made a left on Amiryan and walked to the Square to see whether protesters were indeed assembling there. By the time I got there shortly before 4:00 pm the Square was occupied. All six roads that either enter or exit the square were closed, and people were just strolling about. Some, like me, were left standing on a corner, trying to comprehend how these students managed to bring traffic in one of the busiest, vibrant locations of the city to a standstill. At one point some protesters took a break to play impromptu volleyball directly in the middle of the square on the stone-tiled oval-shaped barrier. By 6:00 thousands of people were occupying the square, and more kept pouring in.

Photo by Christian Garbis

And then a couple of hours later they left. By 9:00 there were virtually no signs that anything had happened there. There were also no police, save for the row of young cadets guarding the entrance to the Government Building. It was peaceful, as it always is in the evening. People were strolling around the fountains, as they always do. Some vendors were selling those junky toys with multicolored strobe lights little kids love so much. It was business as usual, although traffic was still light. Republic Square was simply abandoned for another location, another site where traffic and normalcy would suddenly be disrupted, causing momentary chaos and stress for motorists.

As of Wednesday morning I am still trying to process the events. I have seen protests in Yerevan attended by huge crowds time and time again—2007, 2008, 2013, 2014, 2015. But this was different. Most of the organizers and participants were students—18-24 years old. Some even younger were directly involved.

Now I have never been a big fan of Nigol Pashinyan, who’s an MP representing the oppositional Yelk bloc, although I admire his strong will and straightforwardness. But he’s let down people before, quite a few times, actually, by trying to play ball with the authorities. Two years ago he was rebuked and sent home during the “Sasna Dzer” protests. I first encountered him in 2007, when he launched his anti-government “Impeachment” one-man show, followed by the broader “Aylentrank”  (Alternative) movement. Back then he was still the editor for Haykakan Zhamanak daily newspaper. He was on Freedom Square on the steps of the Opera House on a daily basis, screaming incoherently in a shrill voice into a bullhorn, with a few spectators standing around chomping on sunflower seeds, wondering what his beef was. He’s doing the same today, although his message is quite clear and articulate. And he has rallied thousands of protestors who are counting on him to persist.

But this movement is not about him. It’s about Armenia’s youth and their pursuit of justice, and their struggle to live in a free, democratic state, not one governed by an increasingly authoritarian regime. The protestors have vowed to retake Place de France today and Republic Square by day’s end. And, judging from what I personally saw on Tuesday, they will get the job done, irrespective of whether he’s actually present.

All photos by Narek Alexanyan (unless otherwise noted), copyright Hetq Online 2018

Reflections on April 24

IMG_20150424_190007

Now that some time has passed since the commemoration events held in Istanbul, I can finally freely post some photos and also part of the journal I was keeping at the time.

Firstly, I should say that the events planned by Project 2015 were phenomenal. They were brilliantly organized and executed. The organizers were gracious and caring to all the attendees, and they were well prepared for the days’ events. I unfortunately was not in Istanbul to attend the legendary memorial concert on April 22 featuring Onnik and Ara Dinkjian among other fine musicians, but from what I understand it was a moving performance (and apparently is on YouTube).

It was my first trip to Istanbul, and it was without a doubt one of the greatest adventures of my life. As you’ll see in photos I will post soon, Istanbul is a colorful, dynamic city where nothing seems to be impossible. Although I primarily spent all my time there in the Beyoglu district  and also the Golden Horn, I felt a peculiar, indescribable bond with the city, as if I had been away for several decades. For many years I vowed to never set foot in Turkey, not until the government recognized the Armenian Genocide. But some time ago I started getting over that. I realized that regardless of anything, Turkey–Western Armenia–is the home of my ancestors, and whether the Turks acknowledge the genocide or not, my roots are still there. That land is awaiting me.

I did not feel that there was anything relevant for me personally in being in Yerevan for the 24th. Nothing compelled me to march up Tsisternakaberd once again, droopy tulips in hand. The centennial was an event, it was a milestone, and for countless others like me, something had to be done differently this time around. I had heard one argument that by choosing to commemorate the centennial in Istanbul people were looking back in time instead of forward. I disagree. There was no other place on earth more symbolic for holding Armenian Genocide commemoration events than Istanbul.

Below are my notes recorded at the end of that day.

April 24, 2015

The day was an emotional one. It wasn’t depressing for me, however. Perhaps that’s because I was caught up in the shock of being here.

Yesterday as I debarked the airplane at Ataturk Airport a strange thought came to my head — was I home now? This musing was ironic since I had arrived from Yerevan, my home for 10 years. It’s where my children were born. But my roots are in Anatolia, not the South Caucasus. So was I home? Does it matter that I have no family ties to Constantinople? How does my identity as an American factor into this?

This question was reinforced by other feelings, emotions that I wanted to subdue yet they were there, cacophonous in the soul but somehow latent. It started late in the evening and continued this morning. I contemplated that I was looking for a connection with my past in the wrong place all these years. It’s as if I was deceiving myself. My ancestral home is indeed Anatolia. It’s not Yerevan, it’s not anywhere in the Armenian republic. I still feel the need to go home. Yegheki is waiting. Sousoury is waiting. Urfa is waiting. These places are all expecting me, I sense it, I can even taste it. I’m almost there. I’m looking for the right time to go, with the supportive companionship I will undoubtedly need to have. I can’t take that trip home alone, not the first time there.

It was a full day of visiting historic locations from mid-morning to late afternoon, from the site where Gomidas Vartabed once resided in Istanbul (the original building having been raised decades ago), to the jailhouse where the arrested intellectuals were detained (which is now called the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art) to the Haydarpasa train station via ferry from where these same intellectuals were sent by railcar to their doom.

At 6:30 pm I set out for the site that is sanctioned for the protest adjacent to Taksim Square on Istiklal Street, but I decided to bypass it and walk up Tarlabasi Street instead, then left onto Zambak. At the Zambak-Istiklal intersection I met a barricade of police. Men and women in full riot gear were on the sidelines, preparing for the worst. There was a rumbling chant in the distance coming from far down Istiklal Street. What appeared to be hundreds of people (close to 5000 protesters assembled that evening) were already gathered for the protest but there was no way of getting to them; the policeman told me the area was “closed.” I walked all the way around the block via a side street I luckily managed to discover only to be told on Taksim Square that the area was blocked off—the same secure police barrier was there as well. I told a policeman that I wanted to join my friends, that I was an Armenian. He told me to go back to the other side, where I had just been. I rushed back, weaving in and out of the chain of random pedestrians strolling about, clueless of the protest that was about to formally start. When I finally returned the chants were now louder because marchers entered the protest area walking right past me. For a moment I stood in fear thinking that Kemalists had managed to enter the area sanctioned for the protest. Then I saw the placards that people were holding and I was relieved. The signs told us not to forget Sevag Balikci, the soldier serving in the Turkish military who was murdered on April 24, 2011. They demanded that the genocide be admitted. I saw familiar faces, close friends nearby. There was a call and response method to the chanting. The power it transmitted was overpowering, exhilarating. It was unlike any protest I have ever participated in—the emotions, the intensity of the moment, the energy transmitted from person to person as if a rolling wave in a calm sea. The chanting continued for several minutes before the mass sit-in protest officially began. Thousands sat on the brick pavement, listening to speeches being read in Turkish, Armenian and English. Amongst us were Turks, Armenians from Istanbul and across the Diaspora, French, Darfuri. Occasionally recordings of spiritual music performed with modern arrangements were played on the loudspeakers. The mood was solemn; I discerned one woman in particular holding back tears.

I wanted to weep but I couldn’t. The chants of the oppositional anti-Armenian protests in the distance kept breaking the mood to mourn. I yearned to weep for my great-grandfather Nishan Guetchudian, who never watched his daughter Clara grow up. There are no photos of him, no traces. It’s as if he never existed. I wanted to imagine my grandfather Hagop surviving on the streets of Aleppo, compelled to eat weeds, picking through gravel and dirt in search of nails or anything made of metal to sell to a blacksmith so he could buy a loaf of bread—or perhaps two loaves, one being a distraction for the dozens of other starving children hovering around him, begging for a morsel. I wanted to imagine how infant Lusine Mahakian, comforted by her mother and her siblings managed to flee Urfa for Syria, sheltered from time to time by acquaintances. But I can’t. How can anyone possibly fathom having to survive an inferno of devastation, slaughter, rot, famine and filth? How do you begin to imagine it all? It’s not possible. You can stare all you want at the photographs of decapitated heads piled up in pyramids of evil, bewildered women roaming while clutching their babes, the gallows where dozens of devastated men sway, emaciated, decomposing children laid tightly beside one another in rows that never seem to end. It’s simply not possible for us to in any way to visualize that hell as if we were there in the moment. And we are better for that. Our martyrs would not want us to imagine it. One hundred years later they beckon us not to forget them, while imploring us to move on.

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Haydarpasa
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Haydarpasa protest
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Haydarpasa protest
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In front of the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art, previously known as the gate to hell a century back
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Taksim Square Protest, additional photos below

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