Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A Story of Survival Armenians remember those slain by Turks

Tuesday, November 27, 2007
The Post-Standard - Syracuse.com, NY
By Renée K. Gadoua Staff writer

Richard Roomian's father left his family in Armenia - then a part of the Ottoman Turkish Empire - in 1915 to come to America and earn a living as a tailor.

He settled in Syracuse and soon sent money for his family to flee oppression from the Turks and join him. His parents never made it.

His mother - Richard Roomian's grandmother - was killed before she could board a boat. His father - Roomian's grandfather - died on a forced march out of Armenia that left an estimated 150,000 people dead.

That's the story of every Armenian. They have immediate relatives that were killed," said Roomian, a leader in Central New York's Armenian community.

A recent failed congressional resolution would have labeled as genocide the deaths of Roomian's grandparents and hundreds of thousands of other Armenians by Turks beginning in 1915.

Roomian says the resolution would have been a cathartic step toward forgiveness, while opponents say such a resolution was not an appropriate congressional action. Others pointed out a resolution could harm U.S. relations with Turkey.

Many scholars view the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians during the World War I era as the first genocide of the 20th century. Turkey's leaders say the deaths occurred during inter-ethnic conflict.

Roomian says it's important that people understand the Armenians' story of survival. He was born and grew up in Syracuse, home to an Armenian community of about 350 families. He now lives in Rochester and serves as chair of the

parish council of St. Paul's Armenian Apostolic Church, 310 N. Geddes St., Syracuse.

The church serves as a cultural center for many Central New York Armenian-Americans.

St. Paul's is one of 10 Armenian Apostolic churches in New York. Others operate in Binghamton, Rochester and Niagara Falls. A second Armenian church in Syracuse, St. John's, 372 W. Matson Ave., closed a few years ago.

About 1.3 million Christian Armenians worship in about 110 churches in the United States, said Michael O'Hurley-Pitts, spokesman for the Armenian Church headquarters in New York.

The church, a branch of the Oriental Orthodox Christian Church, was founded at the foot of Mount Ararat in ancient Armenia, which is now in Turkey. Mount Ararat is believed to be where Noah's ark came to rest after the biblical flood.

Christianity became the national religion of Armenia in 301 A.D., a fact that's still significant, O'Hurley-Pitts said.

"Armenians' Christian identity is tied up in their national identity," he said.

O'Hurley-Pitts is disappointed the resolution was abandoned.

"If we favor the passage of the resolution, it is because we cannot pick and choose which crimes against humanity are worth recognizing and which are not," he said.

At the very least, he said, the proposed resolution raised interest in Armenian history.

"The Armenian people don't need an act of Congress to tell them there are gaping holes in their family trees," he said.

Armenians began arriving in Syracuse about 1894, according to "Like One Family: The Armenians of Syracuse," a 2000 book by Arpenia S. Mesrobian, former director of Syracuse University Press.

"Even while the recently arrived immigrants sought to establish themselves in a new land, their minds and hearts remained with the families and compatriots they had left behind in a homeland which most of them would never see again," she wrote in the preface.

That's how Nevart Apikian, of Syracuse, remembers her youth. Her father came from Armenia to America about 1910.

She was a charter member of the now-defunct St. John's Armenian Church and remembers attending picnics with Syracuse's Armenians.

"Everybody would talk, and people gave $25 or $50 to $100 for people who needed it in Armenian organizations," she said.

She said people were passionate about their homeland, but rarely talked openly about what they experienced.

"You didn't ask questions," she said. "You got little snippets."

Renee K. Gadoua can be reached at rgadoua@syracuse.com or 470-2203.

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.



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