Armenia: My fruitless country

    Natalie Yemenidjian

    When I was much younger, my grandfather led me into his garden, where I would be dwarfed by a fig tree whose roots were as thick as my grandfather’s body.

    The tree was barren except for one month out of the year, when two or three purple spheres would explode off of the tree’s dark green leaves.

    While I was eager to eat it straight off the tree, Geddo, a staunch Christian, warned me about gluttony and of the worms that sometimes took refuge in the figs.

    In his kitchen, where we shared family dinners, arguments and the occasional Easter egg painting sessions, he broke open the succulent fruit and exposed its juicy meaning.

    Our heritage, my family, is a lot like the fig. Years go by and the tree is fruitless and dry, yet it keeps growing.

    I understood from a young age that my life would be marred with a tragedy commonly referred to as the Armenian Genocide. My whole life, I have been the fruitless tree embodied; my full potential has not been reached.

    I am the daughter of a million and a half men, women and children.

    I have yet to see my people with even a shred of justice. Two years ago, when I broke bread and drank homemade vodka with villagers in Armenia, I felt the vibrations of my ancestry follow me around by the soles of my feet, like a tabla drum.

    On the plane ride back to Los Angeles, I could clearly see the faces of the elderly men and women who retold the path Turkish soldiers forced them to tread, from their homes in Armenia to the Syrian city of Dez Zor.

    They witnessed their closest family members fall to the ground from dehydration, one by one, like a set of unstable dominos. The first attempt in the 20th century at the systematic mass-killing of an entire race was taking place.

    That was in 1915. I am certain that this is genocide, because in 1944, when Raphael Lemkin a Polish-born adviser for the United States war ministry, coined the word “genocide,” he based the meaning of the word on the systematic killings by the Young Turks. Most of all, I know this was genocide because I am missing limbs to my family tree.

    They were not casualties of war in their peaceful villages, nor were they rebel groups. They were cousins and aunts that could have made a difference in the world.

    92 years later, they are remnants of bones buried in Turkish land that was once Armenia. It is no wonder millions of Armenian Diaspora have been pounding on the doors of strangers’ countries.

    It is no surprise that when the House of Representatives passed legislature stating that they recognize the Armenian Genocide, it was bittersweet.

    I was enthused that after decades of protest and years of hearing our representatives tell us we were a priority, our cause was made an important issue on the house floor.

    Our representatives in Congress have retracted their support for the bill they passed, because it compromises America’s relations with Turkey, which is conveniently situated in the heart of the Middle East. It isn’t in our interest to acknowledge what 20 or so other countries know to be true.

    Perhaps our government would feel more comfortable denying the Armenian Genocide because it means we don’t have to examine our own history of ethnic cleansing; from tribes of American Indians to African American slaves. Just like American children learn that the expeditions of Lewis and Clark were peaceful, Turkish children learn to repress the past of their ancestors.

    Maybe America denied it in order to be independent of any responsibility.

    The same way they dropped the “G-word” to describe the tragic events taking place now in Sudan and did nothing to help stop it until years later. I feel that my community has finally reached its dew point.

    I am trying my best to have faith in the country I live in, but I can hear the sound of tabla drums dwindle in the background, and when I try to follow their vibrations to its source, it seems that I find my way back to childhood memories in my Geddo’s garden.