I was a student in my father’s honor’s Civics class during my freshman year of high school. For some reason, I remember more from that class than many others. The time period was late Cold War; often talked about was Glasnost – a concept of openness that (I’m sure) many wish was present in that land today.
It should have come to no surprise that he told our class that he would be one of the first rounded up in some authoritarian regimes. As a teacher – and a teacher of government who encouraged critical thinking – a government which completely controlled the people would round educators like him up and either imprison them indefinitely or kill them immediately.
His dad (my grandfather) was the survivor of the Armenian Genocide in 1915. The official day of recognition falls on the anniversary of Red Sunday in which many Armenian intellectuals were arrested. Many later perished in prison.
From my previous research of the Armenian Genocide, I remember events at the beginning of the atrocities. As I looked up this information today, I found a term in which I wasn’t familiar: decapitation strike. Apparently, as a means of achieving instability and removing leadership, one party will round up leaders and intellectuals to decentralize power and avoid resistance. In genocides of people, the oppressors will use opportunities like this to control the remainder of their opposition, remove their resourceful leaders who are the heart and head of the movement, and allow them to live in a state of fear.
As my dad said – those who provide knowledge (especially contradictory to the oppressors) or allow for freedom of thought are the first to go.
With the anniversary of the genocide happening the day prior to the release of second season episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale, I suppose I was thinking this when I was watching the season two, episode two.
June/Offred is on the run. Members of the underground movement trying to help her escape take her to The Boston Globe offices. Obviously, the offices are empty, but as June walks around (and discovers where she is), she sees desks waiting for their workers with family photographs and Boston Red Sox gear. Then she enters another area of the offices and sees a row of nooses dangling from the ceiling. Nearby is a wall with a number of bullet holes. Journalists and others who worked at the newspaper were killed in those very spots.
Because when the intellectuals and those who provide information are still alive as an authoritarian regime rises, they pose a threat. And this is always something to keep in mind when we repeatedly hear “fake news” from our leaders about reputable news sources. The powers-that-be are weakening the values of a healthy country – one that encourages freedom of thought and freedom of the press.
I think back to what my dad said thirty years ago, and something else comes to mind: I would now be part of that group. When those of us who are leaders, knowledge-providers and proponents of critical thinking are in opposition the authoritarian regime in our land, we must realize that we, too, could be the ones imprisoned or killed. Now, I don’t think this is going to happen here anytime soon – at least I hope not. But we all must stay awake to the possibility that these things can happen anywhere at anytime.
They happened to the leaders of Armenia 103 years ago, including to another 45-year-old clergy member with the last name Torigian: Father Vaghinag Torigian. He refused to give information to the oppressive powers, realizing that he would probably lose his life either way but knowing that he would if he didn’t comply.
Unless we learn from the past just like George Santayana said, atrocities will happen again. But we must keep moving forward to work for justice – even in scary and threatening times. This is what it means to “take up the cross.” We must be willing to fully live into our values – even if our lives our threatened. Jesus did. He was willing to be authentic to his faith by not only sharing God’s love, but standing on the side of the people and against the powers-that-be.
Depending on what you think of Christianity and faith, some may see that Jesus was also one of the first to go of his new faith movement…
That’s what has happened when the Armenian Genocide started. To some: justice is more valuable than life. It’s our call to ensure that all people are treated fully human and that our agency remains intact.
Are we willing to go to the cross… or be shot… or hung for what we believe?