Not so thankful

The Armenian Weekly. Day 60 since the start of restless attacks and torture on Armenians by the Azeris and Turks. Day 60 of not waking up from this nightmare and desperately savoring any good news that comes about. Day 60 of getting lost in the gut-wrenching thoughts of our ancestors’ past. Day 60 of every Armenian’s life trapped in darkness.

Day 60 happens to fall on Thanksgiving. This Thanksgiving and holiday season, it’s hard to feel thankful for a lot of different reasons. Separated from our loved ones by pandemic-force and distanced from our purest form of comfort, our families. Already, home doesn’t feel like home…and all you want to do is go home. Home, to your nation where everyone is family. That family, hundreds of thousands of them, also feel that home doesn’t feel like home, but in a different form of distance. A literal form of distance, since they no longer have homes. And suddenly, my diasporan guilt takes over and leads me to forget the meaning of being ‘thankful’ entirely with such immense suffering of my people taking place. Not to mention the celebration of Thanksgiving, a holiday created on lands of indigenous genocide and colonization itself, is also unsettling to me during this time.

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I was lucky enough to feel the force of Artsakh for the first time three years ago during my Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) internship. I quickly fell in love with Artsakh; it’s impossible not to. Whether it was the mystical adventure through the Areni cave, the serenity of Zontik waterfall or my first bite into zhengyalov hats, Artsakh is its own utopia. The natural beauty it offers is boundless. But, I felt the most connection among our ancient grounds at the Museum of Fallen soldiers. Wedged in between our mountains, portraits of over 3,555 martyred soldiers hang in the heart of Stepanakert. That’s 3,555 souls who fought for our lands. I’ll never forget the heavy, sunken feeling as I walked through those cavernous walls. That heaviness somehow carries even more weight today. I don’t think I will ever know a more somber space and state as such. Each step, more eerie, but each wall, more prideful. Black and white portraits in simple wooden frames that speak volumes to our eternal courage, accompanied by shrines of personal memorabilia as tributes to our fallen soldiers.

Portraits of Armenian martyrs at the Museum of Fallen soldiers in Stepanakert (Photo provided by the author)
Portraits of Armenian martyrs at the Museum of Fallen soldiers in Stepanakert (Photo provided by the author)

There are two quotes in the museum that will forever resonate with me. One of them in a glass casing, atop a photo of our mountains reads, “What we did during the war, we won’t tell anyone. Ask our mountains. They are the only witnesses.” Another quotation painted directly on the wall reads, “Your Bravery Is Immortal.” It was next to a painting of the Mother Mary cradling the limp body of her adult son Jesus Christ. These words portray the irreversible bloodshed of our soldiers—the reason we continue to fight.

Museum of Fallen Soldiers, Stepanakert (Photo provided by author)
Museum of Fallen Soldiers, Stepanakert (Photo provided by author)

Through this holiday season, amidst this surreal reality for Armenians everywhere, let us not complicate our search for reasons to be thankful. Like those wooden frames, let them remind us of the simplicity behind our worth. Our existence, which is to fight for our mountains. Our fight, tireless in tribute to our soldiers. Our soldiers, personifying our valor. Our valor, immortally passed down to us through the bloodshed of our ancestors.

Today, I am thankful to claim something so precious to me. I am thankful for the unmatched unity of the Armenian people. I am thankful to have walked those immortal grounds. I am thankful to have something thousands of miles away that values my entire worth. I am thankful to feel such deep pain that translates to determination. I am thankful to continue this arduous fight with my fellow comrades. I am most thankful for our soldiers, our heroes, who fight to protect our Armenia at all costs.

In this moment, I could easily think of many things I am not so thankful for. I am not so thankful for the ongoing cruelty, hate and heartbreak Armenians face. I am not so thankful that 110,000+ indigenous Armenians of Artsakh now live as refugees at the hands of the Turks. I am not so thankful that the sole thought of those refugees is how to survive for tomorrow. I am not so thankful for silenced and repeated genocide and colonization of indigenous land. I am not so thankful that our ancient churches and historical monuments are subject to destruction. I am not so thankful that my medz baba Mardiros Srabian and great-grandparents—my survivors and reasons I am here today—are feeling genocidal pain yet again.

This holiday season, it is easy to feel helpless. But we need not forget our worth: born patriots and raised warriors with indefinite resilience, fortitude, intellect and warmth instilled in us. That museum amplifies our worth. We will prevail and rise above, as we always have. To endure such a horrifically intense history but continue to exist so powerfully today — that is something I will always be thankful for.

Our Artsakh heroes represent our inextinguishable fight. Our mountains speak to our courage. May our worth remain invaluable and immortal through every battle we face…especially this one.

Rita Bahnan

Main caption: Museum of Fallen Soldiers (Photo: Rita Bahnan)

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