The Armenian Genocide of 2020

Do you remember how you felt waking up to 9/11? That is how every Armenian has felt since September 27, 2020.

image of armenian genocide memorial in YerevanSeptember 27th of this year was just another Sunday for me. I woke up to beautiful weather and a glorious Florida day. That day unfortunately turned into a day of sadness, fear, and despair. The region of Nagorno-Karabakh, present-day Artsakh, was bombed by Azerbaijani airstrikes that resulted in civilian deaths, and a war against the people of Armenia. To provide a little bit of history, Artsakh is an independent republic inhabited by 95% Armenian Christians and is governed by ethnic Armenians. In 1923, Joseph Stalin “gifted” this region to Azerbaijan. When the Soviet Union collapsed in the 1990s, Artsakh fought for the independence of their republic and requested to rejoin Armenia. The fight for independence resulted in over 30,000 deaths, which ended in a 1994 ceasefire agreement between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Artsakh is and has been inhabited by Armenian Christians for generations.

In July 2020, Azerbaijan violated the ceasefire agreement and launched an attack on Artsakh, bombing a Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Factory during the height of the coronavirus pandemic. This isn’t a coincidence, but quite intentional. On September 27th, they violated the ceasefire agreement again and launched airstrikes targeting civilian populations in Artsakh. While Azerbaijan states that this is a war over land that they believe is theirs, let’s not fall for that, and let’s call it what it is: gaslighting. Gaslighting is the phenomenon where an individual, in this case, a politician, has denied reality, manipulated a group of people, and diverted attention from what’s actually happening. In this case, this is a war against humanity and Christianity. While they say this is over a territorial dispute, it’s really their attempt to “finish” the Armenian Genocide.

This devastation has hurt the entire Armenian community throughout the world.

Prior to the most recent attack, the Azerbaijani military engaged in training with Turkish military personnel, which has made it very clear to Armenians that the Turkish government is backing the attack against the Armenian people. Turkey is supplying Islamist militants, including the terrorist group ISIS to Azerbaijani forces in the hopes of “finishing what they started” with the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Why this is so significant is as an Armenian, we will never forget the Armenian Genocide of 1915, where 1.5 million Armenians were killed, and land was stolen. We as Armenians who are here, are here because our ancestors escaped the Armenian genocide. Turkish government for over 100 years has continuously denied that they committed genocide in Armenia. President Erdogan has said that he wants the same powers as Hitler. He has also said that he plans to finish what his ancestors had started, alluding to the genocide of 1915, while also gaslighting the rest of the world, denying the very implications he had stated. What this does to the Armenian community around the world is it invokes fear, anger, trauma, and a sense of disgust in that history is repeating itself before our eyes.

This is a case of a classic of transgenerational trauma and its present impacts on Armenia and the Armenian diaspora.

The Armenian Diaspora is defined as the community of Armenians living outside of Armenia. Transgenerational trauma is defined by trauma that has been passed from past generations. It’s the idea that we can feel traumatic effects and symptoms without even experiencing the trauma firsthand. According to trauma expert Dr. Molly S. Castelloe, Symptoms and behaviors from past trauma can be passed down from past generations through DNA, empathic connectivity, rituals, and even behaviorally down the family line. She states, “Transgenerational transmissions take on life in our in dreams, in acting out, in ‘life lessons’ given in turns of phrase and taught us by our family. Discovering transmission means coming to know and tell a larger narrative, one from the preceding generation. It requires close listening to the stories of our parents and grandparents, with special attention to the social and historical milieu in which they lived — especially its military, economic, and political turmoil.”

Trauma is also transmitted through the survivor’s stories. This means that oftentimes our parents and grandparents may talk about their past trauma, and as children, we are sponges that absorb those stories, feelings, and losses. Again, even though this trauma was not firsthand, hearing about those stories and witnessing those we love experience trauma will have that vicarious trauma effect.

Silence also plays a role in trauma transmission. A lack of open discussion about the traumatic experience is a form of communication that functions in an intricate manner. For example, a genocide survivor may choose not to speak of the experienced trauma in order to shield subsequent generations from the horrors associated with the events, but communicates trauma through actions and behaviors. The fact that we are dealing with the denial of the Armenian Genocide by Turkey perpetuates the re-victimization, oppression, and opposition of the Armenians. As ancestors of the Armenian Genocide, we are seeking vindication for our ancestors, and for the present fallen soldiers and civilians in the present attacks in Artsakh.

The intergenerational trauma can take part in many forms.

1. Silence and Avoidance

In some households it’s easier to just not talk about the past trauma and ancestral pain. Silence is a survival strategy. Avoidance of a situation is an opportunity to not feel. Avoiding symptoms enables one to compartmentalize to manage life. While this is a helpful survival strategy, it doesn’t allow for healing and thriving. Grandchildren and great-grandchildren of trauma, can tell when something is wrong in their households. And if not given the space to talk about it, we also compartmentalize, avoid, and silence ourselves. This can lead to depression, oppression, sadness, anxiety, among other mental health and identity crises. Shame thrives in secrets. Healing thrives in authenticity and talking about our pain.

2. Helplessness and Denial

Because the Armenian Genocide has been largely ignored and denied, As Armenians, we feel helpless right now. Outside of the Armenian Diaspora, the world is silent. The U.S. had not reported about the attacks against Artsakh in any of their media outlets. We had to protest outside of LA Times, CNN, and block freeways in order for the large media outlets to report on the attacks against Armenia and Artsakh. We see Armenians sharing on their social media about what is going on, but we also feel helpless that our non-Armenian friends have not shared, joined the movement, and checked on us. We don’t feel heard by the non-Armenian community. We need you to join our fight. We feel invalidated, dismissed, and stranded. Cardi-B, Elton John, and Hailey Beiber all posted about what is going on in Armenia and shortly thereafter took it down because they were pressured by Azerbaijani and Turkish bots harassing them on social media. The most notable Armenian around the world Kim Kardashian West had taken weeks before she made a statement and used her influence. We feel neglected due to the lack of recognition by our current and past politicians. Where are our Senators, Congressmen, Congresswomen condemning these attacks? Where are the sanctions against Azerbaijan and Turkey? When will the military aid to these countries stop? As Armenians we have been writing to our Congressman, signing petitions, and pleading for our politicians and our President to stand up to these dictators. We feel helpless that the U.S. cares more about their relationship with Turkey and Azerbaijan’s oil and military forces more than the people that are dying daily in the attacks. We feel helpless that all of our politicians have shared empty promises during their campaigning and have had 4–8 years to recognize the Armenian Genocide and have not.

3. Anger and Rage

Feeling our rage and anger is a healthy, human emotion when our rights have been violated. How we express our anger is individual to each person. It’s important to express anger in a healthy manner for our own healing and catharsis. Some express anger outwardly. In healthy ways, anger can be expressed through the body, for example, engaging in boxing or dancing can be a productive way to release tension. Ideally, engaging in trauma therapy and body work is also a healthy way for outward expression of anger. In unhealthy ways, anger can be shared through poor and abusive verbal communication like yelling, condescending statements, and abusive attacks. Some turn their anger inward. They may feel like they are not doing enough to help the present situation in Armenia and Artsakh, and thus turn their anger inward and hold onto shame.

The effects of the Armenian intergenerational and present trauma are real and healing is necessary.

Here’s how you can help. If you are not Armenian, please check on your Armenian friends. If you are not Armenian, please donate to the Armenia fund. If you are not Armenian, join and protest with our community.

Trauma is healed through collective support, and affirmative response to collective calls to action. I am so proud of the Armenian community around the world. The Armenian community is out protesting in front of the consulates and in front of media outlets. Additionally, the Armenian community is hosting fundraisers and engaging in call to action events to their local Congressman. We are also seeing collaboration of Armenians around the world. It is incredible to see men and women join the Armenian military to defend what is right and defend our land.

The Armenian community also needs mental health support.

Joining a support group to continue having the necessary conversations, to combat helplessness, release anger in a safe space, and ensure these issues aren’t silenced, can speed up the healing process. Reminding each other through the collective action that we are in this together also contributes to our healing. Healing happens with service, and community action together.

There’s a reason Armenian’s aren’t giving this issue up without a fight. In addition to inheriting the trauma throughout generations of genocide, the Armenian diaspora has also inherited their ancestry’s determination, perseverance, strength, and will to fight for what’s right.

If you're a member of the Armenian Diaspora and are struggling to cope with trauma caused by these events, please reach out to see how trauma therapy could help you.