By Anoush Ter Taulian
After the 2010 Haitian earthquake, I thought of a friend who was under the rub- ble for three days before she was rescued during the 1988 Armenian earthquake in Spitak. In solidarity with the Haitian earth- quake victims, I wrote the poem “I Am Sailing On A Raft Of My Bones,” which I read at many Haitian benefits and on Haitian radio always mentioning how in 1915 while the US was invading Haiti, the Ottoman Turks were committing the 1915 Armenian Genocide. I also said that Armenians had nothing to do with slav- ery in America and in fact during the Genocide many Armenian women were forced to become slave brides of the Turks. When I mentioned that Turkey denies the Armenian Genocide and doesn’t want to pay repara- tions, many of the African-Americans I talked to felt the US denies the African Holocaust and does not want to pay reparations.
I started doing research on the African Holocaust (Maafa). I went to the Shomberg Library in Harlem where the librarian said the Maafa took place during the trans-Atlantic slave trade (1562-1807) with estimates of 40 to 100 million deaths. When I asked her how there really could have been 100 million deaths, she said that many Africans died during capturing or deportation and sometimes whole ships of slave cargo sank during the Middle Passage. Also, she said the numbers include the slave trade to Central and
South America and over hundreds of years it might even be more.
I also read this poem at “The Tribute To Our Ancestors Of The Middle Passage,” which takes place annually in Coney Island as a memorial to all the Africans that died during the slave trade in the Atlantic, which is the largest graveyard in the world. At the memorial after the cultural presentations everyone goes to the ocean to put flowers in the water while peo- ple drum and dance.
In 1791 the Haitians planted the seeds of the first successful slave rebellion in the Americas and in 1804 became the first post-colonial independent black-led nation in the world. But Haitian independence came at a high price because France demanded 150 million francs. It took Haiti more than120 years to pay off this debt, which greatly impoverished the country. Now many Haitians are demanding France return this extort- ed money. The Haitians have had little chance for self- determination because foreign powers have been sup- porting corrupt politicians to gain control over Haiti’s resources. The US boycotted Haiti and didn’t recognize the Haitian government from 1804 to 1865.The US invaded Haiti in 1915 because they wanted to dominate the region under the Monroe Doctrine. The US military stayed until 1934 after the US had taken over the bank- ing systems, stole the gold and changed the constitu- tion so foreigners could own property.