This is a typical conversation we have with our classmates:
-How come your last names end with ‘yan’?
-Oh, we're Armenian!
-Armenian? I thought you're Lebanese
-Yes, we are Lebanese but we are originally Armenian
-You lived in Armenia?
-No, our ancestors lived in Turkey
We are originally Armenian, our native tongue is Armenian, our names are Armenian, our culture is Armenian but we were raised in Lebanon. We are part of the Armenian diaspora, the grandchildren of the Armenians who endured the Armenian Genocide in 1915.
On April 24 1915, Armenian community leaders were placed under arrest and then executed. This was the precursor for the first genocide of the 20th century, where more than 1.5 Million Armenians were deported from modern-day Turkey, marched through the Syrian deserts, starved or executed. That is why there are more than 500,000 Armenians currently in Lebanon and Syria as well as large Armenian communities in France, Los Angeles, New York, Argentina and Canada. Though we consider ourselves of Armenian origin, our grandparents lived in what today is considered Eastern Turkey.
The Armenian people have inhabited the Caucasus region for 3,000 years. They were absorbed in the Ottoman Empire during the 15th century and were subject to unequal treatment. Hopeless, the Armenians supported a coup d’etat in 1908 by the Young Turks who promised to support the rights of minorities. But alas, the Young Turks had a different agenda and wanted to “Turkify” the empire, which made non-turks, especially Armenians a threat to the state.
In 1914, the Ottoman Empire entered World War I on the side of Germany. While the world was busy with the war, military leaders took the opportunity to execute their plan of exterminating Armenians. The Armenian Genocide probably inspired Hitler to perform the Holocaust in WWII. He’s quoted to have said: “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”. Well over a million Armenians, including 100,000 in Adana, the city where Arin’s grandparents once resided, were deported and marched through the Syrian Desert. Hundreds of thousands were killed outright. Many others died of starvation, exhaustion and epidemics which ravaged the concentration camps. Properties were confiscated, parents were separated from their children, wives raped in front of their husbands...
After 99 years, Turkey still denies the atrocities committed against the Armenians claiming it was just part of WWI and both sides were harmed. In the past 20 years, 21 countries including France, Germany, Italy, United States (House of Representatives) have recognized the Armenian Genocide and have demanded Turkey to apologize. The EU even put the recognition of the genocide as a criterion for Turkey's acceptance into the Union. We hope that the USA follows suit, ignores political pressure from Turkey, and fulfills the pledge that Barack Obama made during his presidential campaign to recognize the Armenian Genocide during his tenure.
As for us, we try our best not to forget where our ancestors came from. For our community, every day is a struggle to keep the Armenian culture alive. Next time you see us, you’ll know, we are Lebanese citizens but we have an Armenian heritage.
David Dedeyan is a Lebanese citizen of Armenian ancestry. Prior to Booth, David worked for four years in management consulting with Booz & Company, covering the Middle East out of the Beirut Office.