Armenians Should Care About Black Lives Matter

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By Anaïs DerSimonian

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

As Armenians, we are all too familiar with the violence and oppression that our ancestors endured during and after World War I. Our grandparents and great-grandparents were treated as less-than-human, brutally and systematically murdered by those in power in the Ottoman Empire. And perhaps cruelest of all, this genocide is still not recognized as such by Turkey. One hundred and five years later, there have been no reparations.

During COVID-19, I encourage us as Armenians to look outside of ourselves and come together as a community to condemn and fight against the oppression to which our Black brothers and sisters are being subjected. Some of us might feel that post-slavery and post-Jim Crowe, the oppression of Black Americans has been largely terminated, that they live lives of equal opportunity in the United States. I would argue that this opinion is grossly untrue.

Much like our ancestors in Ottoman Turkey, Black Americans are second-rate citizens in their own country. Much like our ancestors, who were subjected to forced-labor camps, Black Americans are incarcerated at drastically higher rates and perform free penal labor (i.e. legal slavery). Much like our ancestors, who were killed by the Ottoman government for no reason apart from their Armenian heritage, Black Americans are continuously murdered by the police or white “vigilantes” — and there are often little or no repercussions for the perpetrators.

If stories related to COVID-19 are the only news you’ve been tuning into during this time, here are some recent murders of unarmed black people that you might not have heard about or seen:

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Ahmaud Arbery : On February 23, a 25-year-old unarmed black jogger was running through a white neighborhood in Georgia and he was shot by two white “vigilantes” — a father and son. The men claimed that Arbery matched the description of a man who had committed several break-ins in the area, though it was clearly evident that Arbery was out for a jog. While both men are now in custody for the murder, it took months for justice to be served; due to COVID-19 — and because of the men’s personal ties with the District Attorney.

Breonna Taylor : On March 13, a young Louisville EMT on the frontline of this pandemic was shot 8 times and killed in her own home by police officers who thought she was a suspect that they already had in custody . The police executed a “no-knock search warrant” and fired 20 rounds into the apartment. Kenneth Walker, Breonna’s boyfriend, was arrested at the scene for firing back at the police officers in self-defense.

George Floyd: On May 25, a Minneapolis man suspected of forgery, was killed by a police officer, who pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck while Floyd yelled “I can’t breathe”. The four officers involved have been fired from the police force, but Floyd’s family is demanding that the officers be tried for murder. Floyd had no criminal record and was a high school sports star.

Armenians — if you don’t see these murders as a continuation of the human rights violations done unto our ancestors, then you didn’t listen closely enough to stories of the Genocide.

Ottoman propaganda described Armenians as “traitors, saboteurs, spies, conspirators, vermin, and infidels”. The Ottomans used this language to justify the murder of 1.5 million Armenians. We have to be especially aware that we don’t subconsciously or consciously dismiss the murders of Black people due to our inherent bias, or because of our blind trust in the police force. Every case must be examined. Remember: governments have historically oppressed minority groups to gain power and perpetuate a favorable status quo — but that doesn’t mean that we as the people have to fall in line with that oppression.

As survivors of the last century’s first, most documented, and least recognized Genocide, Armenians have a unique historical perspective on human rights violations and, thus, a duty to illuminate today’s injustices, wherever they may be. As a group that now directly benefits from white privilege in America, we must do everything in our power to give a voice to the voiceless. Armenian-Americans are a strong, powerful group; we should not underestimate the impact our solidarity and support can have on oppressed.

My advice to the Armenian community during this time is this: stay aware, updated and informed about racial injustices that are occurring in the time of Corona (the atrocities of the Genocide occurred during WWI, and were written off as casualties of war. Do not let the distraction of “bigger news” distract you from the truth). Talk to your family, friends and community members about these murders and others like them; start a discussion about oppression, historic and contemporary, and how we can all fight against it and stand for justice and human rights for all. Additionally, if you are able to, I strongly encourage you to donate directly to the families of these victims , Reclaim the Block or the National Bail Fund Network; the impact of posting on social media only extends so far.

If you’d like your Armenian identity to be connected to your gift, I have recently organized a GoFundMe that will grant funds directly to #BlackLivesMatter on behalf of Armenians showing solidarity with the movement.

The black struggle in America, like the Armenian struggle in the Ottoman Empire, is not a niche issue — it’s a human rights issue. As the survivors of the Armenian Genocide, we have a responsibility to uphold human rights, regardless of who that human is. Let us remain on the right side of history. We need to demand justice, stand by and defend our black brothers and sisters, and use our privilege in America — whether that be financial or social — to continue fighting for justice for all. Our ancestors demand it of us.

(Anaïs DerSimonian is a writer and filmmaker interested in the relationship between media and culture.  An alum of Clark University (’17), DerSimonian’s various creative projects include a documentary profile on a Democracy Today – a women’s NGO based out of Yerevan that uses micro-loaning to help create self-sufficiency in the post-Soviet economy.  DerSimonian currently resides in Cambridge, MA.)

 

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