A Meditation on the Armenian Genocide
by Vartkes M. Kassouni
There is a monument in the middle of Massis/Ararat Cemetery in Fresno, CA. It is a memorial to Soghomon Tehlirian. He is the hero who assassinated Talaat Pasha, on March 15, 1921, in Berlin, who was the war criminal, the main orchestrator and mastermind of the Armenian Genocide. A few feet away from this monument are the graves of my parents, Manuel and Martha Kassouni. They also were survivors of the genocide, from Aintab (today called Gazantep), and Marash (today called Kahramanmarash), ironically the epi-centers of the recent devastating earthquakes in Turkey.
We face a dilemma today as we again come to April 24 and the observance of the Genocide of 1915. How shall we address our profound grief and frustration? When I visit Massis Cemetery, I stand with wonder and thanks at the Tehlirian monument. He is a hero who, during his day, did that which was commendable and right. Shall we today, after 108 years, seek revenge and justice as he did? Then I turn to my parents’ grave. My father was also a hero, but of another sort. He had tried the way of a revolutionary in his early days, but later in life gave it up to be a humble teacher/servant to his people, his community, and his God. In Cyprus he taught his students, including Armenians, Greeks and Turks, as well, with quiet dignity. He did not impart a spirit seeking revenge for the untold misery and death perpetrated against our people. They looked up to him with deep respect, as he taught them their history and made us all proud to be Armenians.
There are times when I consider the way of Tehlirian to be the way to go. Anger wells up within me and I call for justice and restitution, as he did! That’s totally understandable…. Very much so today with the future of Armenia hanging in the balance. Will genocide happen again? We must answer the call to protect and to preserve our freedoms. However, that call is different from one seeking revenge for past horrors. It is proactive and constructive, while the former is reactive and self-destructive. It does not distort our vision with the sights and sounds of torture and death. The love, which flows out of our hearts for the preservation and flourishing of our country and people, is good, powerful and positive. It springs from the heart of God, for God is love.
“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’”. (Romans 12:19)
Vartkes M. Kassouni,
April 5, 2023