Ever since I can remember, I’ve been sharing bits and pieces of my Armenian heritage to anyone who would listen, whether it was in a classroom, casually mentioning that Armenia was the first nation to accept Christianity, or when I was with my non-Armenians friends, regrettably explaining why I can’t hang out on Friday nights because of weekly rehearsals with my Armenian dance group.
This dance group, the Shushi Armenian Dance Ensemble, has now been an important part of my life for 15 years. I’ve created lifelong friends through it, and it’s one of the several ways I have proudly showcased my Armenian patriotism and culture. More recently, I was cast as “Lara,” the conflicted bride-to-be in friend and playwright Taleen Babayan’s comedic play, “Where is Your Groom?” and invited friends and family to see the show and learn something new about modern Armenian culture. I’ve made an effort to stay involved and share the Armenian story, both the beautiful and painful, in any way I can.
But I recently realized that there was something I never really shed light on before, a significant part of my personal story that is at the core of my cultural foundation, before the fun hobbies and social gatherings came around. My maternal grandfather, Apraham Achdjian, was an Armenian activist in Lebanon during the Lebanese Civil War in the 1970s and early 1980s, who fought for the Armenian cause with a clear objective and a humble mindset. He worked to protect the Armenian community in Beirut, which was in a vulnerable state during the chaos of the war, and sought to make sure the Armenian voice was heard in the midst of conflict. He was a prominent advocate and fierce about his beliefs, but was still respected by so many during a very difficult and fearful time.
Unfortunately, he was abducted in December 1982 and was never seen or heard from again. The details are still a mystery, so the entire topic always seemed too vague, and more importantly, too sad, for me to ever really talk about. He was an activist, but he was also a caring husband to my grandmother and a loving father to my mother and uncle. He was a family man who simply never came home one day because he was a target. How would I even begin to share that story with anyone, whether Armenian or not, when there was so much personal pain involved in it?
However, over the years, I started noticing the endless tributes and dedications my grandfather would receive in his posthumous honor. In 1993, eleven years after his abduction, fellow activist and singer Karnig Sarkissian released the patriotic song “Enger Apo” in memory of his fallen friend. In 2008, the ARF Sardarabad Center in Bourj Hammoud, Lebanon named their main hall Apo Achdjian Hall. And most recently, in December 2017, on the 35th anniversary of his abduction, a street in Bourj Hammoud was named Apo Achdjian Street, along with the debut of a sculpture made in his honor, and a ceremony to commemorate the proud occasion.
And so today, as we honor the meaning of April 24th and remember the 1.5 million lives lost during the Armenian Genocide, I’d like to take the opportunity to also remember my grandfather and thank him for the sacrifices he made, not only for the Armenian community in Lebanon, but for our cause worldwide. Like our ancestors who suffered at the hands of Ottoman Turks during World War I, my grandfather’s life was also cut short too soon. He was unable to see his children or grandchildren grow up, because he was passionate about his beliefs and put the liberty of the Armenian people first. His humility and strength are exemplary traits for all Armenians to follow as we aim to have the Armenian Genocide recognized around the world.
Though I never had a chance to meet my grandfather personally, I feel like his spirit lives in me today, and the same determination to protect and preserve our culture carries on as well. Whether it is through dancing, acting, or writing, I feel he would be proud, and in some way, his story finally comes full circle as I share it with a new generation of Armenians and youth from all walks of life. Rest in Peace, Enger Apo, and thank you.
“Enger Apo Ashjianin” – Karnig Sarkissian
Xx – Raele