Swallows Fortress, against the oblivion of the Armenian Genocide
A delegation from the European Parliament visits in late December, 2017 the monument erected in Yerevan to honor the victims of the Armenian Genocide (Photo: Anush Janbabyan/EFE)
Yerevan, Dec 30 (efe-epa).- For the last century, the Armenian people have struggled to earn global recognition of the genocide they suffered during and in the aftermath of World War I, when hundreds of thousands were deported or exterminated in the territories of the waning Ottoman Empire and its successor state, the newborn Republic of Turkey.
In 1967, the Armenian community erected a memorial in the nation’s capital to honor the genocide’s estimated 1.5 million victims, which was visited by a European Parliament delegation in late December, 2017.
"Nobody, be it a man, woman or child, is an island. And what happens to them, all those experiences, must be remembered. We are not talking about history; it is to make sure that we have learned the lesson, so that we do not repeat what happened to the Armenians in Turkey," British Labour Party MEP Clare Moody told EFE after signing the book of condolences at the monument erected on Tsitsernakaberd hill (literally “Fortress of the Swallows”).
Tsitsernakaberd is a place of pilgrimage for all Armenians scattered around the world and a must for official delegations arriving in Armenia, like the one that went to Yerevan between December 19-21 for the 17th Meeting of the EU-Armenia Parliamentary Cooperation Committee.
For British MEP Sajjad Karim, who led the delegation, the monument helps "understand the importance (the genocide) has for Armenian society and that the rest of the world is much more aware of the atrocities that have been committed historically against the Armenian people."
"Lessons from history we still need to learn"
In the Armenian tragedy, Karim told EFE, "there is also a message for today's world. There are so many lessons in history that we still need to learn."
The Finnish MEP Anneli Jäätteenmäki regrets that the world "has not drawn the needed conclusions, because similar things are still happening today."
"This should be an example that marks the path to the recognition of all the genocides that have occurred over time," said her Finnish colleague Heidi Hautala.
While visiting the monument, she added: "I could not help but think that the atrocities against Armenians of the early twentieth century are actually happening now too. We are witnesses of ethnic cleansing, which in some cases could be called genocide, like the one that is occurring with the Rohingya minority in Myanmar."
The start of the extermination campaign in 1915 is commemorated every April 24, which marks the mass arrest of intellectuals and members of the Armenian elite by the Ottoman authorities, which was then followed by the deportation and killing of scores of civilians belonging to the ethnic minority.
For decades, they were forgotten. Survivors were condemned to exile and Armenia was reduced to only a part of its Russian territory, soon to become part of the new Soviet Union.
The history of the Tsitsernakaberd monument dates back to 1965, when the Armenian people, in an unprecedented act of insubordination against the USSR, demanded its construction from the Soviet government.
Tens of thousands of Armenians took to the streets in Yerevan that year to demand breaking the taboo on genocide, silenced in the USSR owing to Kremlin's desire to avoid any sign of nationalism and maintain good relations with neighboring Turkey, a country that even today denies carrying out a genocide.
Although the protesters were dispersed by force, the people’s voice was still heard and thus construction of the monument started, which was at the time dedicated to "the fallen in the First World War."
The Swallows Fortress was inaugurated half a century after the genocide, at the end of November, 1967.
Resolutions of the European Parliament
Nearly 20 years later, on June 18, 1987, the European Parliament approved a first resolution declaring that the "tragic events" that occurred to the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire between 1915-17 constituted a genocide, as defined by the United Nations.
The last resolution was passed on April 15, 2015, on the occasion of the genocide's centenary. In it, the EP urged Turkey to open its archives and to "come to terms with its past, to recognise the Armenian Genocide and thus to pave the way for a genuine reconciliation between the Turkish and Armenian peoples".
Latvian MEP Andrejs Mamikins was one of the authors of the resolution and showed pride in the fact that the majority of MEPs supported it.
"The Armenians also had the confidence of being rescued 100 years ago, but it was all a mere hope,” Mamikins said. “I believe that we have to (...) tell our children about the Armenian genocide, which can only be compared to the Holocaust of the Jews or the genocide of the gypsies. So that it never happens again."
Decades of silence and oblivion
What was happening with the Armenian people was recorded in a protest statement on May 24, 1915, in which the Triple Entente made up of France, Great Britain and Russia condemned the "massacres of Armenians at the hands of Turks and Kurds,” which had been happening for a month, and the places where they happened.
But that did not stop the atrocities and the Armenian people continued to be deported en masse to the Syrian desert, with many perishing along the way. The survivors were unable to return and were welcomed by countries such as France and the United States, where the Armenian diaspora is still notable today.
The Armenians who lived in the Russian Empire passed under the control of the nascent USSR, which in 1921 signed a friendship treaty with Turkey that erased the memory of what had happened… until the Swallows Fortress was erected and the Armenians’ struggle against oblivion regained strength.
Symbol of grief and the Armenian revival
When the sky is clear, from Tsitsernakaberd hill one can see the biblical Mount Ararat, one of the most sacred symbols of the Armenian people, currently located on Turkish territory.
The monument is composed of 12 basalt slabs representing the 12 provinces worst affected by genocide.
Within, a meter-and-a-half deep, there lies an eternal flame.
Next to it stands a 44-meter-high column that is divided into two, like the Armenian people, and on a 100-meter-long wall are inscribed the names of towns and villages where deportations and massacres took place.
Every year, Gevorg Glkhadyan, accompanied by his wife and two children, walks up the hill to lay down flowers.
As they walk the two kilometers that separate their house from the monument, the Glkhadyans talk about the impact of the tragedy on their family and hundreds of thousands of others. He knows it from his mother's stories.
"I always take my children with me and soon I also hope to go with my grandchildren because the memory of what happened must live on in each of us," he told EFE.
For the young doctor Svetlana Andriasyan, the monument is a place of mourning but also a symbol of the rebirth of the Armenian people, who, she believes, was saved from their utter annihilation by their unwavering faith in God.
"Many times", she said, "I go to Tsitsernakaberd alone because it is a place where you can just close your eyes and offer a prayer to the Lord. It is like going to a church to be alone with our thoughts and pray that all the dead find peace and that what happened is never repeated."
Within the memorial complex in homage to the victims of genocide, canonized by the Armenian Apostolic Church, are also the Genocide Museum and an alley of fir trees planted by various personalities who have visited the place: world leaders, religious leaders and figures from the world of culture.
Every April 24, Tsitsernakaberd receives more than a million visitors. That day, the amount of flowers placed in front of the eternal flame reaches the height of a person. They are later recycled to manufacture the paper on which research works on the blackest page of Armenian history are published.
By Anush Janbabyan
Translated by Sulagna Pal and David Latona
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