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Armenian Genocide, a poem by David Garyan

This poem previously appeared in Volume 7 of The American Journal of Poetry (July 1st, 2019).

What is the red liquid What is killing people flowing through the bodies because you hate of people and animals? who they are? What would a child say? What would a child say? What would adults say? What would adults say? What would a doctor say? What would a doctor say?

What is the substance What is the systematic extermination that carries oxygen of people based on ethnicity, throughout the body? nationality, or religion? A smart child A smart child may answer correctly. may answer correctly. Most adults Most adults should answer correctly. should answer correctly. Even a bad doctor Even a bad politician will answer correctly. will answer correctly.

What has an average In 1914, who had an average pH of 7.40, population of 1.8 million and 4.2 to 6.1 million that shrunk to 300 thousand erythrocytes per microliter three years later for men and women? in the Ottoman Empire? Children will say Armenian children will say they don’t know, they don’t know, but they don’t know but they don’t know that they know. that they know. Smart people may know. Smart Armenians may know. Most doctors should know. Most politicians should know.

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We should let doctors decide We should let historians decide if a bleeding person if the massacre of Armenians feels real pain or not. can be called genocide or not.

Blood isn’t the red liquid Genocide isn’t the killing flowing through the bodies of people because you hate of people and animals who they are without the word "blood." without the word “genocide.”

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History is a pristine mummy Blood is an extinct history of someone who bled to death. faithfully written by losers.

Accurate statistics don't lie, Honest pain exaggerates facts, but they also don’t feel. but its humanity never shuns truth.

One, two, three, four, five, Daniel Varoujan, a great poet six, seven, eight, nine, ten, killed at 31, who wrote: eleven, twelve, thirteen, “The wings of the Armenian crane fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, are tired of traveling.” seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, What statistic can precisely portray twenty .... one and a half million. the tragedy of one dead poet? Maybe 1.5 million? Is it one? Is it 1? Is there one? 1,500,000? How about the statistic One point five million for the unwritten works unwritten words. that died with the poet?

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Daniel Varoujan


Daniel, this holocaust is for you.

Let me burn your blank pages,

soak the ashes in history’s blood—

just to darken it.

What’s your shade of red?

Do you know its price?

Your rubies aren’t ruby enough.

The government gods

want more holocausts—

just to be appeased.

Let your books go to the fire,

along with all Armenian bodies—

is that enough works cited?

Maybe then regimes

would say “genocide,”

and Turkey could apologize—

at last … no one’s left

to demand redress,

or even an apology.

This is the only holocaust I can offer;

it’s mine and it’s not mine.

I would throw our legends into Ծիծեռնակաբերդ— I would set all our churches on fire, spoil our monuments in the blaze as a holocaust, just to bring everyone back. What have we done to anger the gods? What have we done to deserve this? And yet all will be well. People and land are gone, but we stood at Sardarabad. We’re still here. Let me tell you about those who were with you— some had no country then; Slovakia and the Czech Republic are less than 30 years old, and they haven’t forgotten. I’m now 31, the age when you died, and death doesn’t scare me yet, but when your captors raised knives, you heard hope— it was escaping like hummingbirds in your lungs trying to pierce their way out. How did you steal enough air to express your torture, much less breathe? Uruguay first heard your cries, then Cyprus, Argentina, Russia, Greece, Canada, Lebanon, Belgium, France, Italy, Vatican City, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Poland, Lithuania, Germany, Venezuela, Chile, Sweden, Bolivia, Austria, Brazil, Syria, Paraguay, Luxembourg, Bulgaria, and, of course, Armenia never stopped listening. More people will hear you. More people will come. Raphael Lemkin took the last breath of each victim to beget the term “genocide.” This word used to be our word, and, sadly, it no longer is; others have died to breathe life into this name and I wish things were different. The world is less innocent with “genocide” in it. Everyone can hear your last breath, but many fear repeating what they heard:


Your final gasp is my holocaust. Forgive me. My paper is just paper, but this ink will reach your grave. Tell me—is revenge a good thing if it feels good? Those behind our suffering were sentenced to death, but they all escaped justice. We put down the main architects of our plight, and Europe’s courts have absolved us, but even European courts can’t make God preside over them— I ask that you pray for our race when we praise the revenge of our brothers. Like wind scattering a torn book, the genocide has strewn survivors across the world. Much of the pain can no longer be felt, only understood— time has lulled the red ink to black. I won’t let years and statistics keep your blood from drying. I won’t let wise ears of old history go deaf to your cries. The poet isn’t the historian of facts. You’re the archivist of laughter and tears. Inside your pen were voices from near and distant futures. The bard is a chronicler, but he has hemophilia; those who injure him incur torment— they must endure the endless howls of his ink; to kill poets is to kill one’s self— read lines enter the murderer’s nation and speak to the soil— forcing honest crops to grow there. Denial—prisons without walls or guards surrounded by minefields. Denial—truth that wears gloves when handling ethics. Denial—hospitals that only admit healthy people. Denial—palm trees of regret planted deep in the desert— no one can reach their dates of apology. Denial marks moveable feasts on calendars without numbers. Denial blindfolds justice— just to let killers escape. Denial hangs a noose in cells of the innocent. Denial arrests the blameless, severs their tongue and hands, then says: “All are free to acquit themselves of stealing and slander.” Still, the pens we left were picked up, carried by righteous palms, which saved the books of our history; foreign tongues tasted the lies and stopped them like circles trapped in a circle. Daniel, your name has erased the word “denial” from the Murder Dictionary; its authors now trudge deserts of reason to hide from your face; they have no ink to quench their lexicons of shame. The culprit lies, claiming Armenians were the enemy. Have you seen such enemies die without weapons?

The sinner boasts, claiming Armenians

were dangerous—the desert marches

served as brief transfers.

Did you know people

must be raped and starved

on long walks to a new home?

The crook twists, claiming Armenians

were the real killers.

Have you seen genocide

memorials in foreign countries

honoring murderers?

The conniver acts, claiming Armenians

and Turks were killing each other.

Have you seen a more one-sided defeat?

Can unarmed armies

lose wars this badly?

The thief hides, claiming Armenians were better off, and this led to jealousy. Could it be true? Maybe diplomas and wealth are cause for genocide:

“The Armenians were better educated and wealthier than most Turks and because of that were envied and hated, so much so that the government instituted a program of ethnic cleansing. The Turks had had practice runs before. Between 1894 and 1896, 200,000 Armenians were massacred by soldiers and armed mobs.” The Australian, “Geoffrey Robertson puts the case against Turkey for 1915 Armenian genocide” (2015)

Those are the accusations. Forgive me once more. I shouldn’t have refuted claims that don’t deserve our ink, or even attention, but like revenge— what can be wrong often feels good. Still, as victims, we can’t take our red bed sheets and pillows— forcing the innocent to sleep on them; they need peace as much as we do. We can’t forget the righteous; only denial and murder makes one a menace— not birth alone. Your life was a garden where bodies were buried. Your death is a graveyard where strangers leave the dead flowers. I tried taking your tears off this page by holding the paper up to the sun, but the words never dried. Never mind. I’ll stop writing this poem when your life gives me one metaphor for happiness. You haven’t left us— we’re archaeologists of echoes. The desert’s breath still speaks your name. How can I find truth in archives and books— their voice is distorted by those who keep them? Even the white gloves I must wear can’t silence the racket of cities. The poet’s truth sounds true at first sound. I ask you again: What price is your red shade? Is it higher on earth than in heaven? They want too much for it here. They need to measure the pH of your blood— perhaps it was too acidic. They’d like to research how far you walked to your death— if you didn’t walk at all, or only very little, you should be thankful for the killer’s kindness. They want to debate— were you given something to eat on your death march? Even crumbs from a guilty hand can wipe the blood away from its history. They crave to count the bodies again— the death toll was inflated, and statistics are very important: One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, XXXV, XXXVI, XXXVII, XXXVIII, XXXIX, XL, XLI, XLII, XLIII, XLIV, XLV, XLVI, XLVII, XLVIII … if less than a million died, this woman becomes a doctor of history and data.

Those who deny,

kill the victims’ memories—

they inherit the crimes

of their ancestors.

Rest here, friend; the worst is over.

Science says you can’t

breathe underwater;

it says most lungs

can stop textbook drowning

for a minute or so;

after that the brain

turns to “D” in its wordbook—

it goes down

the terms until its own

inventions can’t rescue you.

But how is that true?

Victims can breathe

under innocent blood.

How else can God keep a race from perishing? Why else have history’s sluggish eyes never witnessed a final genocide? Its pages are honest, but they can only be honest with what they’ve seen. Geschichte is a guest who must describe a party where thousands have gathered—without the time to shake everyone’s hand. The tongues of foreign pens tasted our blood and spoke the word “genocide.” The fingers of foreign brushes forced guilt to open its fist. The hands of foreign lenses led eyes to the bodies and made them discover; yet history had no time to meet everyone. Too many songs have been orphaned in the wind’s ears. Too much laughter has been shelved in the library without windows. Too much anger has traveled inside the unaddressed envelope. Too much hope glows in the stained glass of lost churches. Poets can speak the wind’s alphabet; they can pound on doors of libraries without windows; they can take blank envelopes and address them to the fire; they can bring light to dark mornings, but even we can’t make old days see a new past. We can only wonder: How long could history keep its eyes open if it had to face each dead child, each raped woman? We can only fathom: When would the objective voice of its pages start shaking if it had to find every body— just to count it? We can only picture: Might its cold arms finally give up if sources had to lead all corpses back to their homes? We can only imagine: How much blood can it stomach before the archives throw up truth in disgust?

How else can God keep a race from perishing? Why else have history’s sluggish eyes never witnessed a final genocide? Its pages are honest, but they can only be honest with what they’ve seen. Geschichte is a guest who must describe a party where thousands have gathered—without the time to shake everyone’s hand. The tongues of foreign pens tasted our blood and spoke the word “genocide.” The fingers of foreign brushes forced guilt to open its fist. The hands of foreign lenses led eyes to the bodies and made them discover; yet history had no time to meet everyone. Too many songs have been orphaned in the wind’s ears. Too much laughter has been shelved in the library without windows. Too much anger has traveled inside the unaddressed envelope. Too much hope glows in the stained glass of lost churches. Poets can speak the wind’s alphabet; they can pound on doors of libraries without windows; they can take blank envelopes and address them to the fire; they can bring light to dark mornings, but even we can’t make old days see a new past. We can only wonder: How long could history keep its eyes open if it had to face each dead child, each raped woman? We can only fathom: When would the objective voice of its pages start shaking if it had to find every body— just to count it? We can only picture: Might its cold arms finally give up if sources had to lead all corpses back to their homes? We can only imagine: How much blood can it stomach before the archives throw up truth in disgust?

Again I ask: How much for a bard’s blood? History is the past’s shepherd, but its flock has become too large— it can no longer see till the end. There’s not enough time to notice small losses. Poetry is the future’s steward, yet it’s losing the fight against time; it wants to save all lives, but there’s not enough paper to hide victims under blankets of verse. You had no time to wait for art. When they dragged you to the forest, you scratched your lines of death on the bark— all with bloody fingernails, until you had no biology left to write with. The memories of trees live the longest. Even if their life is cut short, some can sprout new stems from their roots. The history of blood doesn’t exist in libraries; the ashes of wisdom we’ve planted in our archives can’t absorb buried voices and carry them to the leaves— their roots aren’t placed in the ground. The history of blood doesn’t have dates— just the symbol for infinity. Cruelty’s extent lies in the number of prisons, and how we treat women, but that’s all false. To measure the volume of gore, see how many new words we need to define massacres: pogrom, genocide, the Holocaust. What’s next? Can I be wrong about infinity? Let “Holocaust” be the last term for plight. What’s the difference between one death and ten million? Tell me, Daniel. History opens its eyes, weighing loss with a scale; poetry closes its eyes, measuring with the heart. The Library of Genocide is built out of mirrors; when the past enters, it sees its reflection, but the Library never tells the biographer of blood that all mirrors are two-way— that bards are looking in from the outside. Only poets can interrogate history— only poets can bring it to trial. Their eyes are two flashes of lightning striking a forest at night. Their testimony is evidence gathered by saints. Your son was born on the day of your death— a welcome blessing, but even the bard’s house of language doesn’t have space to lodge these guests together. Your wife wasn’t afraid to name him “Haig,” even when the tongue of the killer’s blade was after Armenian flesh. The living can’t understand the word “genocide.” Only victims who spilled their lives on page “G” of the Blood Dictionary know the true meaning— this is a torment your offspring weren’t forced to endure. Poets know where they must dig to build wells that will raise tears from the ground, but they’d rather be asked to do harder things— speak with the frankness of children who are good storytellers, but poor liars. All kids know what blood is, even if they can’t say it has an average pH of 7.40 and holds 4.2 to 6.1 million erythrocytes. All kids can recognize the guise of genocide, even if it wears the friendly face of a low number.

Bards lie—

but only like youngsters;

they steal truth from the blood jar,

but never clean their mouths.

They guide archaeologists

to buried graveyards—

no pen stops digging

when hands are cut off.

Yet, we’d rather be asked

to do harder things,

like visit decency’s drying cement

and write “forgiveness”—

before it’s too late.

If we demand with axes,

the tree of denial won’t yield

apology’s ripe fruits—

we must save the roots

after picking the red grapes.

We’re geographers who’ve lost

our homes—the land

we must study

no longer bears our names,

but even this isn’t hopeless;

it’s easier to leave

regret’s shore with torn canvases.

Rage will rage at the avalanche,

even from its own summit.

Peace will find peace in all temples.

We create our ink

like portrait painters

in diverse lands,

but each voice

has its complexion.

We can see hope

inside the stadium where love

is always the visiting team.

We’d rather answer prayers

than use dog ears

to hear faraway trouble.

We’d rather stop history from bleeding

than use a shark’s nose

to find distant blood.

We’d rather get rid of darkness

than use owl eyes

to record dark crimes.

We’d rather pave a safe

road to one village

than divine every way

leading to tyranny.

We’d rather keep one person from drowning

than find the wreckage of tragedy.

You sang quietly

in life’s rear procession;

those at the front never noticed,

until history went forward

and told us you’re gone.

They made you give up the bard

before they made you give up the ghost—


every last drop of ink,

all the blank papers.

You weren’t supposed

to die as a poet—

somehow you did.

What did you manage to hide

from your captors?

Those who craft verse

get only thin veils to conceal it.

How did you smuggle your bard

out from the prison called fate?

Your lines didn’t scare them—

only one thing did:

Letting history witness

your death and having it alter

the parade of their crimes.

With a priest, your wife

retrieved The Song of the Bread,

waiting to be finished.

All it took was a bribe—

this shows how much

they feared your words,

which spoke of farmers and fields:

“It’s the sower. He is standing tall and stout in the sunset’s rays which are like flowing gold; before his feet are the fields of the fatherland spreading their unlimited nakedness.”

Who can be an enemy to that? Does this make you a traitor?

“I’m harvesting alone tonight; my love has a love. My pale scythe, a slice of light from the full moon above.

I walk through dark furrows, head and feet bare. She’s wearing a bridal veil, I wear the wind on my hair.

I cut through the waving wheat. Her hair is a lake. I shear and bind my grain while a mourning dove wakes.”

Who, then, can kill

poets as poets?

The death of one rhyme is a holocaust.

Genocide—quilts stitched

out of all blood types.


filled with victims’ ashes.


presented to Hades.

Genocide—the devil’s red pen

correcting utopian poems.

Genocide—Trojan horses

entering towns without walls.


that always come out to 0

when people are added.


who think the word “suffering”

only exists in their language.

Genocide shoots millions

of family photos—

frames them blank side facing the glass,

then hangs each in the Museum of Hate.

Historians should ask:

What do poets call genocide?

Really? What does it matter?

If we write “death

is a room full of clocks

that only work in the darkness,”

critics will say: “You’re no expert.

And you’ve never been to this room.”


We can imagine what we’ve seen,

but we can’t see what we haven’t seen.

This is my genocide and it isn’t.

I’m trying to grasp your fire

by walking barefoot

on the coals of our past.

Yet that’s impossible—

facts of time move ahead …

… sympathy’s warmth stays behind.

With each year that departs,

genocide’s heirs must go

deeper into history’s desert—

just to bring victims some empathy.

Time has eyes

in the back of its head,

but it never opens

them when surging forward.

Time has always been

the butcher’s best lawyer.

Time only buys fresh blood

at the Genocide Store;

it packs new slaughter

and stamps the good—

best before next election;

time never feels well

if history invites it

but doesn’t serve veal


100 years is enough—

let’s feast as one

without one apology.

But we won’t let years

or even seconds

become evidence.

Centuries won’t be long enough

for killers to clean

the guilt off their words—

sell them to the world

as “brand new.”

Seconds will be too long

for the past to blink.

We’ll plant the patience

of Sequoias in our kids.

We’ll pull the weeds

from their gardens of empathy.

We’ll teach them the brain

surgeon’s sobriety—

they won’t lack

the cultivation

of winemakers.

They’ll learn harmony

from the silence of monks,

and silence from books that spout lies.

We won’t build windmills underground

just to placate cross winds.

Our breath will keep turning

pages of tomorrow’s diary.

I hear your words:

“There’s a nation on my writing table— an ancient nation speaking to me from this soil where dawn was born.”

We have poets willing to plow the earth; wine-making priests, teachers willing to learn … … plowing, praying, and winemaking, librarians letting infants cry among old books; we have doctors helping bury our dead, soldiers who sing about triumph and loss, painters who paint those with no name, sculptors who sculpt those with no fame. How did you know this soil was fertilized with our blood?

“Perhaps this rust-red color hasn’t been bestowed by nature— a sponge for wounds, this soil drank from life, from sunlight, and, living defenselessly, it turned red, becoming Armenian soil.”

We’ll grow cherries and pomegranates until the ground dies of thirst. We won’t fear spilling red wine before it becomes Christ’s blood. Our desire is patient—like clocks that seduce cognac; our patience is fleeting, like thousands of church candles lit at the same time. Now I feel as you do:

“The chords of my nerves shiver with a trembling that furrows the mind to wider creative paths than the sun-soaked winds of spring can. And all my senses are woken up by lips still calling for vengeance and souls still red with wounds.”

We shall seek revenge, but music will make the sound of our guns. We’ll be first to draw red, but the shade will flow from our Ararat Scales, not from enemy pain. Our poets have cartridges filled with the past. Revenge is a battle that must be won without war. The Library of Genocide may invite killers inside, but it mustn’t deny them the exit to log guilt in its own archives. We have to fight with antique guns until history surrenders its centuries of apathy. Wrath must be a bomb that explodes when the timer has counted to infinity. Revenge should be blunt— like swords owned by heroes who’ve lost, but care not for revenge. Foes should be free to deny until they find their humanity lost; such wars can be won. Sharpened pens, brushes dipped in read history— both can cross enemy borders without crossing their land. My heart is a children’s library next to a graveyard— it has no space for any more bodies. Genocide is a million dead figures of speech trying to grow crimson clichés on forget-me fields— yet poetry is a forget-me-not.

“Never again.” “We shall never forget.”

“Justice.” “We demand recognition.”

Unlike nations,

verse has no space

for clichés in its canons,

nor red on its flags.

We keep reading History’s

unfinished epic, Pages of Blood,

which not even Time

has the time to complete—

only humanity’s death can finish it.

I’m tired of asking:

How much for a poet’s gore?

Your heart—

a white hummingbird

cut open at night.

Your eyes—

two black panthers

caught in a snowstorm.

Your voice—

the howl of a wolf caged in a theater.

Your smile—

a bridge joining two nations at war.

Your verse—

taxi drivers

taking scenic routes,

never charging extra.

I won’t describe the shade of your red—

let people read for themselves.

The death of one person is a genocide

if you kill the only one like him.

Who, then, is the same as someone else?

We don’t want numbers.

We want to count on truth.

Only final genocides

merit pity—we want a future.

Lost homes, lost territories,

land as concession for peace—

still some claim our nation

has too much space on the map.

Invaders have passed; the soil is a passport stamped by a motley of fingerprints. We never had Alexander’s empire, America’s dreams, China’s silk, or Caesar, but the Silk Road was there, and Romans once too. Alexander’s armies came. Jamestown had an Armenian in 1618. This is our scent— a cellar full of old books that haven’t been read; wine forgotten in a barrel; a pond where mosquitos are never disturbed; a loud waterfall still undiscovered; the descent from an unclimbed mountain. Armenia, why don’t you go away? Just stop demanding. We don’t want your spoiled wine— your antibodies drying in the desert for years. Britain won’t dip its hands in your mosquito pond. Your pain is too loud, but also too remote. For God’s sake, we hear you, and we’d like to reach out, but we’re not willing to step over “good” fences— though the red paint is yours:

“HMG is open to criticism in terms of the ethical dimension. But given the importance of our relations (political, strategic and commercial) with Turkey, and that recognising the genocide would provide no practical benefit to the UK or the few survivors of the killings still alive today, nor would it help a rapprochement between Armenia and Turkey, the current line is the only feasible option.” —House of Lords Debate (1999)

“The Foreign Office documents include advice in 1995 to the then Tory foreign minister, Douglas Hogg, that he should refuse to attend a memorial service for the victims, and attempts to encourage the idea that historians were in disagreement over the facts. The government refused to include the Armenian massacres as part of holocaust memorial day.” The Guardian, “Britain accused of ‘genocide denial’ over Armenia” (2009)

“Finally, in October 2007, when the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee adopted a resolution acknowledging the Armenian Genocide, the Foreign Office wrote an alarming memorandum, expressing concern that ‘the Armenian diaspora worldwide lobbying machine’ would now ‘go into overdrive!’” Huffington Post, “Internal Documents Reveal UK Officials Misled Parliament on Armenian Genocide” (2010)

“Genocide scholarship is one thing that the FCO have never been interested in applying to an issue they wish would go away. There is no reference in the papers to the 2007 resolution of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, which resolved that ‘the Ottoman campaign against Christian minorities of the empire between 1914-23 constituted a genocide against Armenians and the Assyrians and Pontian and Anatolian Greeks’. The FCO merely evinces concerns that the US House of Foreign Affairs Committee had resolved to recognize the events as genocide: as a result, ‘we can also expect the Armenian Diaspora worldwide lobbying machine to go into overdrive’. This is hardly the language of an impartial enquirer: the FCO had become a rather cynical adversary of the truth, or at least of a Foreign Minister ever uttering it.” —Geoffrey Robertson QC, An Inconvenient Genocide (2014)

“The British government has a strong track record in sophistry. Since Turkey became a strategic partner in the Nineties, the Foreign Office has been honing a set of cod-legal arguments designed to deceive Parliament – and by extension the electorate – into believing that the term ‘genocide’ is not appropriate in this case. Its current position is that it will only use the label if an international tribunal has already done so. This is a nimble legal dodge, which rules out recognising almost every genocide in history.” The Independent, “It’s pure sophistry that stops Britain recognising the Armenian genocide” (2015)

Yet, none of this is Britain; for us it will always be Benjamin Whitaker. One person’s voice can be greater than the honored crowd’s silence. What, then, is a life worth? Could we define genocide if war pushes us to the brink— when there won’t be millions to kill without shame? Is the price of plasma really based on supply and demand? I ask you again: What’s the difference between one death and ten million? Is it 1 and 10,000,000? Tell me the numbers don’t warrant a genocide. Say the nature isn’t systematic. The math doesn’t add up to a holocaust. Not enough torture, deportation, and rape. Can’t try under Article 7 of the Rome Statute. How long will lawmakers play Genocide hide-and-seek? They talk like children— they suffer like grownups. What else can we do? No matter where we are, we carry pieces of you:

“On my desk is a gift, a handful of soil on a plate from the fields of my fatherland. The giver thought he gave his heart, but didn’t know he was offering the hearts of his forefathers as well.”

Mapmakers today never give us much time, but there’s still enough soil to give every denier a handful— make them see its color; they demand historical proof … … we’ll hand them physical evidence. Our heart is an immigrant transplanted from its body. We’ve built churches in all parts of the world, saved some back home, died in foreign wars, and enriched other cultures. We’ve become Arméniens de France, Armenian Americans, Armeense Nederlanders, Российские Армяне, Αρμένιοι της Κύπρου, Schweizerische Armenier, armênio-brasileiros,

We’ll thank the noble,

while never forgetting

our հայկական ժառանգությունը.

We’re not the prism of diaspora—

merely light going in as one nation,

and leaving as new rays.

Enemies bring defeat,

yet the language won’t fall—

reshaped by the wind’s

voice that sings

it across the world.

We’re violins crafted back home,

yet the bows that touch

us have distinct strands of hair.

Abroad, our homes search for home—

too often like sharps and flats needing

space between B and C, or E and F.

Our background can’t meet

us head-on as we walk away

from it on one-way streets;

we can gaze back and hope

our past is able to follow

at the speed we’re retreating.

Many return to the homeland as tourists—

no longer able to grasp

their first culture;

some leave full of fire,

eager to return—

only as anthropologists;

others come back let down—

they must bury memories

that haven’t died recently.

Paron Diaspora is a paper

from the old country

gone out of print.

He remembers his land

like headlines without dates.

Paron Diaspora is a sculptor

who’s cast as the outcast.

Paron Diaspora opens his

restaurants on big streets,

but the taste is too distant for locals.

Paron Diaspora walks around towns,

praising his land’s greatness—

all in perfect accent—

sometimes Southern, sometimes Boston,

sometimes Midwestern, sometimes New York.

Worry not, Daniel,

about the heart of the race;

we need unique paths

to build more roads home.

Paron Diaspora won’t forget you.

When pens won’t write,

our voice will compose;

if voices shall fail,

great minds will change key.

Enemies count on human

memory’s limits.

They say: When survivors die,

the need to remember their pain

will perish as well.

We say: We’ve buried their bodies,

but not their words.

They say: When the new

generation comes,

they’ll forgive a bit more.

We say: We’ll keep yelling in front

of the house where denial tries to sleep.

They say: When that generation goes,

it’ll be quiet—we can sleep,

at last, without guilt.

We say: Poets will turn

our shouts into songs, then whisper

them to kids falling asleep.

Remembrance is a fortress

that has never fallen.

These are my memories:


David Davtyan, with his family.

There were 62 relatives

trying to escape.

Only 4 survived—

one of them his father, Mirijan.

(My great-great grandfather, Mirijan, in 1959. He escaped conscription into the Ottoman Army, which, during the genocide, had less to do with military service for Armenians, and more to do with the removal of able-bodied men from that population. His first wife, Rebecca, died in Iraq on a death march. He eventually ended up in Bulgaria, where the previous photo of my great-grandfather and his family was taken.)

Destroying people’s bodies is genocide’s flesh and blood— wrecking their past is its very soul. When the sharpening stone of our past has worn out, we’ll go to its gravestone— dig up the echoes. Denial has weapons? Good. They only fire backwards. We hear your voice:

“And I sang: ‘fight to the end.’ My pen is a burnt cigar— an offering for you; be brave, Armenian warriors— I sang revenge and my voice blew the ashes of my odes your way.”

We’ll write the work you never could start. No bard can die if one elegist remains to keep him alive. The writer’s time moves straight. Though he walks to the end, his life is a clock turned by the hands of his readers. Shivers, The Heart of the Race, Pagan Songs, The Song of the Bread we have all your books; they won’t be lost now. I can see your face only on the pages, but your voice is all around me:

“Be naked like the poet’s mood, for the pagan is suffering in your unconscious, and he won’t hurt you.”

Our bards can witness without seeing, hear without listening, feel without touching, smell without breathing, and try without eating. Let the denier say he can’t taste our bitterness … time has taken its flavor— we’ll grant him a dog’s tongue; let the denier say he can’t smell our blood … the desert has dried it— we’ll grant him a wolf’s nose; let the denier say he can’t feel our pain … our children’s skin is young and has healed— we’ll grant him a shaman’s hands; let the denier say he can’t hear our cries … the wind has taken and lost them— we’ll grant him a cat’s ears; let the denier say he can’t see our past … the nights of time have made it obscure; we’ll grant him owl eyes; let the denier say he can’t understand why we speak to the dead— we’ll grant him the eyes of a psychic. We’re still with you:

“Tomorrow come to my grave; as bread, I’ll place my poet’s heart into your bag. So long as your grief lives, my poet’s heart will be your blood, and the blood of your orphans. Hungry One, come to the graveyard tomorrow!”

Perhaps I should ask again. What are you asking for a poet’s blood? What’s the value if it can feed a whole nation? The strongest weapon is a question no one can answer. I’ll wield it even after finishing this poem. They want history? We’ll give them poetry from the past.

They want to count the bodies?

We’ll give them a thousand abacuses

made from the victims’ bones.

Do I insult Turkishness if I ask them to read our red poetry? Let history decide. Do I insult Turkishness if I present them with those abacuses and ask them to count the bodies? Let history decide.

They want the past? We want it too. They want to juggle insults? We’ll laugh at their circus. They have Article 301? We have Article 302— “Yesterday’s Future.” Are we to blame? We offer to accept the apology, but they refuse to give it. We can mend things— tomorrow, even— if they just hint at the chance. Still, they want to keep looking back; they’re obsessed with the past; they want history. If they like it so much, we should hand it to them:

“They have drawn from the fields the male population and thereby destroyed their agricultural communities. They have annihilated or displaced at least two thirds of the Armenian population and thereby deprived themselves of a very intelligent and useful race.” —Henry Morgenthau writing to Robert Lansing, November 4, 1915, Constantinople, received by Mr. Lansing on December 1st

Morgenthau’s quote was obtained from the Office of the Historian, which is an office of the United States Department of State within the Bureau of Public Affairs, and it’s responsible for preparing and publishing the official historical documentary record of U.S. foreign policy.

“The dead from this wholesale attempt on the race are variously estimated from 500,000 to more than a million, the usual figure being about 800,000. Driven on foot under a fierce summer sun, robbed of their clothing and such petty articles as they carried, prodded by bayonet if they lagged; starvation, typhus, and dysentery left thousands dead by the trail side. The ration was a pound of bread every alternate day, which many did not receive, and later a small daily sprinkling of meal on the palm of the outstretched hand was the only food. Many perished from thirst or were killed as they attempted to slake thirst at the crossing of running streams.” —U.S. Army Lieutenant General James Guthrie Harbord

General Harbord’s report comes from the U.S. Department of State Archives, presented by Senator Henry Cabot Lodge on April 13, 1920, and printed a week later by the Washington Government Printing Office.

“Any doubt that may have been expressed in previous reports as to the Government’s intentions in sending away the Armenians have been removed and any hope that may have been expressed as to the possibility of some of them surviving have been destroyed. It has been no secret that the plan was to destroy the Armenian race as a race, but the methods used have been more cold-blooded and barbarous, if not more effective, than I had first supposed.” —Leslie A. Davis, American Consul in Harput

The consul’s testimony appears in the U.S. National Archives, doc. NA/RG59/867.4016/269

“The murder of Armenians has become almost a sport, and one Turkish lady passing one of these caravans, and thinking she too would relish killing an Armenian, on the guards’ invitation took out a revolver and shot the first poor wretch she saw. The whole policy of extermination transcends one’s capacity for indignation. It has been systematic in its atrocious cruelty, even to the extent of throwing blame for the murders on the Kurds, who are instigated by the Government to lie in wait in order to kill and pillage. Its horrors would be unbelievable if less universally attested. For scientific cruelty and butchery it remains without precedent. The Turks have willfully destroyed the great source of economic wealth in their country. The persecution is madness, but one wonders when the day will come, and if it is close enough at hand still to save the few remnants of this wretched community.” —Lewis Einstein, American Chargé d’Affaires in Constantinople

The diplomat’s account is taken from his book, Inside Constantinople: A Diplomatist’s Diary During the Dardanelles Expedition, April–September, 1915, published in 1918.

“Like the genocide of the Armenians before it, and the genocide of the Cambodians which followed it—and like too many other such persecutions of too many other peoples—the lessons of the Holocaust must never be forgotten.” —U.S. President Ronald Reagan, April 22, 1981

The president’s statement was taken from the official website of the Reagan Library, and was given during Proclamation 4838 – Days of Remembrance of Victims of the Holocaust.

“Today we recall in sorrow the million and one-half Armenians who were tortured, starved, and butchered to death in the First Genocide of the Twentieth Century.” —Monroe Freedman, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council Director

The director’s statement was also taken from the official website of the Reagan Library, and it comes from a speech given on April 24, 1980.

History, history, history. Why do we need it? Why do we care when we want new stories? Our past is all over— it’s there for all to see. There’s no harm in forgetting old news. Look. You can find the records. Deniers have lost the battle for yesterday— now they’re fighting to take our tomorrow. The living grow older— the dead maintain eternal youth. We’re not afraid of antiquity; the artists they hung are younger than ever. the pregnant women they killed keep waiting to give birth; the children they left in the desert remain children— still looking for water; the Armenianness they stepped on, has come back— like desert sands that settle after a storm. The future is all we have— it’s a white crane that watches from above; when its time has come, the feathers carrying our past will fall from the sky, reminding those after us we were here; you must’ve known this happiness with the birth of your children, and I shall end my poem on it.


Everywhere Armenian Providence

Daniel Varoujan was 31

when he was killed.

31 years isn’t a long life,

but it’s a long time

to write poetry.


A Tribute to Franz Werfel and Vasily Grossman

“This book was conceived in March of the year 1929, during the course of a stay in Damascus. The miserable sight of maimed and famished-looking refugee children, working in a carpet factory, gave me the final impulse to snatch the incomprehensible destiny of the Armenian people from the Hell of all that had taken place.” —Franz Werfel, preface to The Forty Days of Musa Dagh (1933)

(Franz Werfel with representatives of the French-Armenian community)

“Never in my life have I bowed to the ground; I have never prostrated before anyone. Now, however, I bow to the ground before the Armenian peasants who, during the merriment of a village wedding, spoke publicly about the agony of the Jewish nation under Hitler, about the death camps where Nazis murdered Jewish women and children. I bow to everyone who, silently, sadly, and solemnly, listened to these speeches.”

—Vasily Grossman, An Armenian Sketchbook (1962)

(Vasily Grossman, second from the right, with villagers from Tsakhkadzor in 1961)


Links to the Articles

“Geoffrey Robertson puts the case against Turkey for 1915 Armenian genocide” Louis Nowra (JANUARY 3, 2015)

“Britain accused of ‘genocide denial’ over Armenia” David Leigh (NOVEMBER 3, 2009)

“Internal Documents Reveal UK Officials Misled Parliament on Armenian Genocide” Harut Sassounian (MARCH 18, 2010)

“It’s pure sophistry that stops Britain recognising the Armenian genocide” Alex Dudok de Wit (APRIL 23, 2015)


Thank you to my brother, Arthur Ovanesian, for suggesting key edits and providing the idea for the epilogue.

Author Bio:

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with (DISS)INFORMATION, a full collection with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He received a master’s degree in International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage from the University of Bologna. He lives in Trento.


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