Monthly Archives

April 2014

alice

Remembering Alice

By Karine Shnorhokian

My childhood, like many Armenians in America and around the world, involved an understanding and a shared pain that something tragic and unforgettable happened several decades earlier to our ancestors. April 24th- the day Armenians around the world commemorate the Armenian Genocide- is a day not only of remembrance, but an ongoing battle to have the Government of Turkey take responsibility for these crimes, and stop their ongoing campaign of genocide denial. Whether it is attending a commemorative church gathering, protest, lecture, walk, or lobbying with members of Congress, April is an active time for Armenians. Year round however, we continue to seek justice for our ancestors and pay tribute to those who suffered and perished 99 years ago during the Armenian Genocide- the first genocide of the 20th century.

I remember during my youth, the first several rows at Armenian Genocide commemorative events were reserved for the survivors. The seats were filled, and during the night, these survivors were recognized, received flowers, and applause from community members. In our eyes they were our fedayees, our soldiers, and their stories were immortalized in our communities. Decades later, the first several rows are still reserved, but the seats are now empty. The survivors are not forgotten, but time has passed, and they have passed on. We read about their obituaries, and saddened to hear that the last genocide survivor in a well-known city has passed on. Their stories however live on through us, and although denialists- like the Government of Turkey- think that time will erase history, our Diaspora is too strong and too proud to move on and forget our past. We console and unite with others who have suffered genocide, and continue to educate anyone who will listen. We always find a way to tell our story.

My husband’s grandmother Alice was a resilient woman. Succumbing to illness in 2011, she was 98 years old when she passed away, and was determined to make her story known. In 2008, she made one of her final journeys to Washington, DC to meet with members of Congress to discuss the Armenian Genocide and the ongoing denials by the Turkish Government. She remembered her story clearly; how she and her brother rode in the side baskets in a donkey during the deportations and how luckily, right before the death march through Der Zor, they were saved. I was very fond of Alice and though my time with her was limited, I appreciated the time I did have with her. Honestly, I was quite intimidated when I first met her, being that she was a much respected woman within the Armenian Presbyterian community. I had heard she was quick to judge and had no intention of holding back her feelings. When we first met, however, we had an instant bond. Perhaps it was that we were both nurses or that she was excited that her grandson was dating an Armenian girl or she was fond of my extreme passion for educating others about our history. I knew she had a story, and she knew I wanted to hear it. Like many grandmothers, her cooking was exceptional, and it was an insult if you didn’t have seconds. She was known for her Sou Boureg, an Armenian dish made with sheets of pasta like dough and stuffed with a cheesy filling. She tried to teach me how to make it, and gave me much grief when she learned I did not know how to use a rolling pin.
So many people with similar ethnic backgrounds can relate to Grandma Alice. She was a proud woman who ran her household like a tight ship. She was well educated and was very knowledgeable on various topics. Always exercising her mind, body, and spirit, she went to Church every Sunday, had plenty of friends she visited with throughout the week, and she loved to cook. As a survivor of genocide, she wanted to tell her story and talk about what happened. She pleaded that the truth be uncovered and one of her final requests was “for justice of this great country and for the world to not forget the tragic suffering and terrible genocide of the Armenians.”

As I was writing my conclusion to this blog, I had an encounter that I feel compelled to share. It was a little after 1:00am on April 24, 2014, and I was anxious to get home from the airport after a long day of work and travel. My taxi driver was curious and asked me my ethnicity as I got into the town car at Newark Airport. Not even thinking twice, I told him Armenian. In return I asked him what he was, and he said Turkish. You could tell he was a little defensive in his response, however, very pleasant. Throughout the course of the ride home we discussed the history of the genocide, which he was unable to accept. He pleaded that he has never really “investigated” this topic. Whether it was shame, guilt, or the unfortunate consequences of the Turkish government’s forced teaching of genocide denial in public schools – he was simply unwilling to face the truth. Obviously it made him uncomfortable being that I was his client and the topic was sensitive, but it made me realize that the denial doesn’t just exist in Turkey, it exists here in America as well. For whatever the reason, it made me think of Grandma Alice – and her lifelong vigilance to speaking the truth. I know I will follow in her path. I, like so many other Armenians, will continue to be fedayees for our cause.

Watch the re-cut version of Alice Khachadoorian-Shnorhokian’s interview here.

Screen shot 2014-04-17 at 3.23.49 PM

A few months ago, after returning from filming with Syrian refugees in Jordan,  I attended a small Human Rights Watch event where I met Lama Fakih, the Syria and Lebanon researcher at the HRW Beirut offices.  She gave a talk outlining her current projects, missions and goals.  Both my colleague and I were floored by her intriguing stories, her tenacity, and her remarkable eloquence.  Immediately, I knew she had to become part of 3 Generations’ End of Atrocity series, where leaders and activists share their vision for a world free of crimes against humanity.

Unfortunately, Lama’s trip to New York was short, and we didn’t have a chance to film her.  However, I couldn’t let this opportunity get away.  End of Atrocity needed an infusion from an energetic young person who is active in the fight against crimes against humanity.

Using my connections in Beirut, I found a camera crew, a producer, and set a time to interview Lama.  I had no idea how this was going to work, but early in the morning on a Friday in late March, everything came together.  My good friend and talented producer, Joe Mokbel, was on hand at the Human Rights Watch offices in Beirut and, despite Lebanon’s famously atrocious Internet, was able to video-call me using Skype. It was like I was there in the room.  We did a 30 minute interview, the cameraman sent me the files via an online shared server, and we downloaded them here in New York to cut together what I think is a fantastic addition to our series.

Take a look at the result: a powerful two-minute video of Lama Fakih’s vision for a world without atrocity.

Thank you Lama, Joe, and the whole Beirut team.

-Elizabeth Woller

lama

Sarah’s Home
Lincoln and Jenny Smith

A place of safety and rest for young victims of sex traffickingkitchen

“Aww, are you crying?  Do you need a hug?”

These are the words coming from 14-year-old Tessa*, spoken to her foster mom as they walked out of church last night.  I was moved because this is a girl who 6 months ago was being trafficked on the streets, escorted from motel to motel, sold for sex to strangers each night.  This is a child who has experienced unmentionable trauma and pain.  Every relationship she’s ever known since birth has been dysfunctional and hurtful.  She has every right to recoil at the thought of touching another person.  No one would blame her for wanting to crawl into a closet and cry herself to sleep, far away from any other human being.  Yet here she is, attuned to the pain of another person, empathetic towards the emotions of her foster mom.  It might seem like a benign comment, but it’s a key indicator that this traumatized girl is healing.

Today thousands of children are being sold for sex right here in the United States.  Thirteen-year-old girls are marketed online and delivered to motel rooms to service men old enough to be their fathers.  Children who should be listening to the latest pop sensation with their friends and giggling while learning to put on make-up are instead learning how to properly pleasure a man.

The majority of kids sucked into commercial sex trafficking come from single-parent homes, abusive and neglectful homes, state care (foster or group homes), or they are runaways living on their own or with friends or other families.

In other words, when families are unhealthy and broken, kids are vulnerable to exploitation.

If we recognize that vulnerable children are being sold for sex in our communities and we choose to engage the issue, we must answer the question, “What is the best way to help these children heal?”

Sarah’s Home is a long-term safe home located in Colorado Springs for juvenile girls rescued out of the forced commercial sex trade in the U.S.  Our restoration program includes therapy sessions 3 times a week.  Two teachers are in the home each day working one-on-one with the girls to bring them up to speed with their education.  We have a small group of mentors that work with the girls on empowering activities.  Right now at Sarah’s Home, we have one home that is up and running with 3 girls and their foster mom.  Our second home will be ready to open as soon as we find the right fit for a second foster mom (or foster couple.)  Each home is licensed for 4 girls, allowing us to help 8 kids.

The path to healing for our girls is exceptionally complicated and multi-faceted.  But at the heart of each necessary healing element are relationships; relationships with family, friends, community, faith, education, etc.

At Sarah’s Home we have learned that trauma happened in the context of broken relationships, and healing will happen in the context of healthy relationships.**

Before you gloss over that concept, pause and think about it.

Healing comes from relationships.

If you accept that premise, you have to then ask, “Who is going to have a healing relationship with this child?”  Is it going to be the night shift worker at the state run detention center or group home?  Is it going to be the social worker or parole officer?  Is it going to be their teacher or coach or neighbor?  All of these are important relationships for the child.  But these people all have one thing in common, they go home at the end of the day or at the end of their shift, and the child is left alone yet again.  By necessity these relationships end up being compartmentalized and shallow because a child can’t be emotionally close to someone who is not present with them.

This is why we choose to run Sarah’s Home as a foster home.  One of our core values is that we want our girls to learn to build healthy relationships.  Our foster mom works hard to build relationships that prove that the girls are worth loving through the good and the bad, the pretty and the ugly.  Our girls need a person who is willing to listen to their pain and endure their defense mechanism of lashing out at those around them; a person that can experience their anger and their hurt without recoiling.

The girls are longing for unconditional love and this only happens if you are present . . . a lot.  Present when she is crying in her closet, when nightmares keep her awake at night, when she is getting her STD report at the doctor, when she discovers she is actually 3 years behind where she thought she was in school.  The same person needs to experience all that with her, and still love her.  And then that same person also gets to experience the straight A’s in school that are the fruit of diligent studying, the thrill of learning to bake her first cake, the joy of completing her first long hike, and the confidence that comes from testifying against her trafficker in court.

Because she’s been through the good and the bad with the girls, it’s the foster mom that gets to hear the words, “Aww, are you crying?  Do you need a hug?”

* Name changed to protect the child’s identity.
** Our friend, mentor, and colleague, Debi Grebenik was instrumental in teaching us this philosophy.  Learn more at: http://www.traumatraininginstitute.com

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