On Saturday, April 24, 2021, President Biden became the first American president to officially recognize the Armenian Genocide.
“We remember the lives of all those who died in the Ottoman-era Armenian genocide and recommit ourselves to preventing such an atrocity from ever again occurring,” he said in a statement. “Over the decades Armenian immigrants have enriched the United States in countless ways, but they have never forgotten the tragic history that brought so many of their ancestors to our shores. We honor their story. We see that pain. We affirm the history.”
Coined in 1944 by Polish lawyer Raphäel Lemkin, the word “genocide” is comprised of the Greek prefix genos which means “tribe,” and the Latin suffix cide which means “killing.” Genocide was officially recognized as a crime under international law in 1946, and in 1948, the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide became the first human rights treaty adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations.
April 24, Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, marks a significant and tragic moment in history. On that day in 1915, Ottoman Turks arrested Armenian community leaders in Constantinople, sparking a series of events that resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians. Those who managed to escape became refugees—the first of the twentieth century—traveling first to Syria and Lebanon, and many eventually making their way to the United States.
Recognizing the Armenian Genocide reminds us of our responsibility to protect human rights, and of the worst that can happen when we fear and distrust the other. Although the genocide happened 106 years ago, violence, oppression, and forced migration persist today. Syrian Armenians, whose ancestors survived the genocide, have relived the trauma of violence and displacement during the Syrian Civil War, ongoing since 2011. Just last fall, thousands of Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh were killed and displaced by war with Azerbaijan.
An unprecedented number of people—80 million around the world today—have been forcibly displaced. This movement is often violent, uprooting communities and creating nearly 26 million refugees. Survival is the singular focus for those displaced by genocide, war crimes, or other violence. Disconnected from the physical home, cultural contexts shift and rupture.
So what makes us who we are when we are no longer “home”?
For the Armenian people, the trauma of the genocide birthed a steadfast commitment to sustain Armenian community life and cultural identity. The collection of stories from the Festival Blog and Folklife Magazine below offer a snapshot into the ways in which Armenian Americans have drawn on their cultural heritage—not just to survive, but to create home, to connect, to make meaning, and to heal.
—Halle Butvin, Director of Special Projects
Curator, Armenia: Creating Home