Some of the last remaining witnesses of the Armenian genocide gathered to tell their stories recently at the New York Armenian Home in Flushing, where four of less than an estimated 50 remaining survivors in the U.S. reside.
“We want to put a human face on the Armenian genocide, to show that real people are involved,” said Dennis Papazian, an organizer of Sunday’s event and founder of the Armenian Research Center at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.
Some of the speakers, between the ages of 99 and 102, struggled with memory loss as they recounted their experiences — so much so that organizers said that this may be the event’s last year.
“It’s very sad. We will just have to find different ways to do it,” said organizer Hirant Gulian.
The gathering was part of the lead up to the 97th anniversary of the massacre, which will be commemorated, as in past years, with a mass demonstration in Times Square on April 22.
Papazian said supporters want recognition from the Republic of Turkey for the events of 1915 to 1916, during which some 1.5 million Armenians are believed to have been killed.
Seated before a small group at the Armenian Home, Charlette Kechejian, 99, recalled fleeing through the desert to escape persecution.
“We walked miles and miles. We never knew when it was going to end. I was only eight years old,” said Kechejian, who arrived in New York with her mother when she was 10. She later finished high school in the U.S. and had three children, all of whom she was able to send to college.
Perouze Kalousdinian, 102, also reached into her memory to describe the events that changed her life.
“They took everything from us,” she said. “All the men they took away — they killed them. Only women and children left.”
Kalousdinian worked as a seamstress after arriving in New York. She was wearing blue trousers she had sewn herself.
The survivors, though sometimes struggling to recall events, were often emotional as they spoke. One speaker broke into tears while another became increasingly agitated. Gulian, while acknowledging this may be the last time these survivors speak, maintained the importance of the event.
“It is for the remembrance,” he said, “If we remember events like this, hopefully we will prevent them from happening again.”