Friday, May 15, 2015

Byurat: My Grandfather’s Legacy--Armenian Genocide commemoration event in Ankara

The following talk was given by Seda Byurat in Ankara on April 25. Byurat is the great-great-granddaughter of prominent Armenian writer Smbat Byurat, who was arrested and killed in 1915. Byurat currently is a student at UC San Diego. The commemoration was co-sponsored by 18 human rights groups and political organizations from Turkey, including the Human Rights Association, Dur-De, and the leading pro-Kurdish political party HDP. The commemoration event featured remarks by writers, artists, and human rights activists from Turkey and the Armenian Diaspora. Armenian Weekly Editor Nanore Barsoumian, scholar and activist George Aghjayan, co-founder and board member of the Genocide Education Project Roxanne Makasdjian, scholar Khatchig Mouradian, and Alternative Radio founder and director David Barsamian were among the speakers.
Seda Byurat speaking at the Armenian Genocide commemoration event in Ankara (Photo: Mehmet Ozer)
“Yes I am sure we will be killed. But the intent of the war is clear. The Turks will lose a lot, but the Armenian race will not die. I am a dead man now. Save my writings.”
Those were Smbat Byurat’s last words, etched on the prison walls in Ayas, where he and other prominent Armenian intellectuals were imprisoned during the onset of the Armenian Genocide. These words encompass the attitude the Armenian people have held over the past 100 years. Whether it is in the nation of Armenia or the Armenian Diaspora, Armenians have survived.
We have survived by creating resilient Armenian communities. We have survived by reading Taniel Varoujan’s poems. We have survived by listening to Komitas’s songs. We have survived by reading Smbat Byurat’s plays. We have survived by our strong passion and the connectivity we feel for our culture and land. Even if we cannot walk through the hills of Zeitun or swim in Lake Van or pray in one of the 1,001 churches in Ani, those places are forever with us and within our souls.
Smbat Byurat’s legacy is found amongst the Armenian people, but even more so it is found within myself. He was my grandfather’s grandfather, and I grew up hearing his stories every day. His story has helped shaped the person I am today.
Even now, I am reminded of his legacy as I have a picture of him hanging in my room. Every day when I see his picture, I am reminded of the great struggles he endured and the strides he made to further the Armenian cause and demand justice in the tumultuous climate of the Ottoman Empire. From the years spent imprisoned in Marash and Aleppo to furthering Armenian intellect from Zeitun to Constantinople to Cairo.
His passion for the Armenian land and culture is evident through his poems and plays and even through his biography—it was described that his adoration for the Armenian land and people could be felt with every breath he spoke. I am inspired by his perseverance and determination. I myself want to ensure that truth, equality, and justice come for the Armenian people.
However, this struggle is not limited to Armenians and the genocide of 1915. This is a struggle for humanity and this struggle cannot be ended with the Armenian people alone. The truth does not exist if Armenians are the only ones advocating for it. There exists an undeniable connection that Armenians and Turks have; we can either acknowledge it and do nothing about it, or we can embrace it and fight for justice together.

Byurat delivered a version of this speech at the April 22 concert in Istanbul, dedicated to the memory of the Armenian intellectuals arrested in the city on April 24, 1915, and the weeks that followed. Here is the link to that concert (Byurat’s speech, and her reading of Smbat Byurat’s letters from prison begin at the 2:28 minute mark):

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