by Katia López-Hodoyán
The invitation was scheduled a day after September 21, marking the 13th anniversary of Armenia’s independence from the USSR. Guests from both sides of the border were arriving at Clinica CodetAris in Tijuana where Dr. Arturo Chayet, a prominent ophthalmologist and their host greeted them for the evening. Why would someone of Jewish heritage embark on this gathering?
Perhaps for an opportunity to celebrate Tijuana’s rich and diverse cultural heritage. Possibly to bring to light how a culturally diverse society can flourish with the unique cultural contributions of its members. Maybe to underline history’s past mistakes, so they will not be repeated. Be it what may, the evening would be a celebration of the Armenian race, some 90 years after the Armenian Genocide suffered under the Ottoman Empire.
Close to a hundred people gathered that evening from both sides of the border, the majority of which are direct descendants of the handful of the community of Armenians that settled in Tijuana around 1922. Armenians have demonstrated to be a strong race, hard working, entrepreneurial and committed, who have already made their mark in Tijuana’s business sector.
There is camaraderie among the guests, many which know each other if not personally, by their last names, all the last names ending in “yan or “ian”, a tell-tale ending that distinguishes all Armenians in the world.
After enjoying authentic Armenian food, a short presentation was given on the long-suffering history of Armenia and its people, from its glorious past to its fragile present. This was followed by the presentation of the first major motion picture ARARAT by Atom Egoyan, which won universal acclaim in its attempt to show to the world “The Unknown Genocide.”
The Armenian Genocide, is called “The Unknown Genocide,” because first and foremost, it has not been accepted by the Turkish government, successor of the Ottoman Empire and subsequently little known by the worldwide population. Turkey states that the number of killings is exaggerated and that there was never a systematic complot to exterminate the Armenians. The reasons for the denial are mostly political issues. Turkey is a strong NATO ally, and also the transit terrain for oil, where U.S. companies have a large stake in the construction of an oil pipeline running from Baku, Azerbaijan to the Turkish port of Ceyhan.
It is unfortunate that in the year 2000 when the House of Representatives was to vote on a resolution on the Armenian Genocide, the resolution was withdrawn only a few hours before the scheduled presentation. Pressure from the Turkish government that threatened to close its airbases to U.S. planes on missions in Iraq was reason enough for the withdrawal.
This was a great disappointment to Armenians in the Diaspora. Although this past April 24th, on Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, President Bush issued a statement mourning the state-sponsored killing of close to two million Armenians between 1915 and 1923, he fell short of calling it Genocide. The pressure continues and so the bowing under its influence.
Nowadays, the majority of the young Turkish generation dismisses the claim made by the Armenians, even though there has been worldwide progress in the recognition of the Genocide. For the generation that gathered this September evening in Tijuana, where some of the descendants are full-blooded, others fifty percent and others one quarter Armenian, there seems to be an invisible, yet strong bond. It is a bond of pain, suffering, of heart-wrenching stories from their parents’ histories. Still, there is also a lesson of survival, of celebration of faith and strength and the knowledge that their ancestors’ will to overcome their past challenges forces the generations of today to forge today and in the years to come, a contribution of life to the society they live in. It is also a call to the duty of the descendants of this strong and enduring race, a call to pass on to future generations, the history, the culture, yesterdays’ struggles and today’s triumphs, lest they be forgotten.