The King said… They Shall Not Perish

The Armenian Orphan Rug, a woven crimson and gold traditional rug presented to President Calvin Coolidge

OPINION by Rachel Melikian

President Calvin Coolidge and the World’s Biggest Hand-Woven Carpet

We leave history behind as time passes. Motion pictures move us while books educate us and documentaries inform us, and a picture is worth a thousand words, as the adage says. A 1930 photograph shows little orphaned children huddled together to create the words “America, We Thank You.” With their tiny fingers, the Armenian orphans created the largest carpet in the world, measuring 11.5 feet, 7 inches by 18 feet, 5 inches. A gift to President Calvin Coolidge, they presented the carpet to him in 1925. 

As part of the Centennial Commemoration, Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation in 2015 recognizing April as a special remembrance month for the Armenian Genocide. April has been named the Month of Armenian History by the Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger.

Learning about the genocide is important, but so is learning about history. It is also essential that the news media properly researches the past and accurately reports the news so that the public does not fall victim to misinformation.

A vintage poster from the American Committee for Relief in the Near East with an illustration of a girl with outstretched arms
Lest We Perish campaign poster of the American Committee for Relief in the Near East (public domain) (Source)

US Congress, Two Documentaries and Rescue Efforts

Two documentaries about orphans fleeing genocide and how they were saved are “They Shall Not Perish” and “Crows of the Desert.” 

They Shall Not Perish” details how the US Congress formed the first humanitarian foundation to help Armenian orphans survive by enlisting the help of 100 million Americans in a rescue operation.

Thanks to the help of the American Near East Relief, King Hussein Bin Ahmad, Prince Faisal, and Amir Al Atrash, many orphans were rescued. As a result, the next generation survived. Moving closer to the King and his troops gave the Armenians a sense of security, and the American Near East Relief efforts “saved the lives of nearly a million Armenian, Greek, and Assyrian victims,” all of whom had also been subjected to genocide.

The King’s Sword & Rescue Expeditionary Mission vs. the British

In “Crows of the Desert,” an Armenian survivor works with Prince Faisal to save Armenian orphans in the Arabian Peninsula. The survivors of the Armenian Genocide lived in caves, deserts, and the Druid Mountains, hiding in every crack and crevice to avoid being found by the perpetrators of the Armenian Genocide who wanted to kill them.

Prince Faisal escorted the Armenian Expeditionary Rescue Group to Akaba, Egypt, allowing them to finish their rescue mission. The British were astounded by how Armenians managed to survive and enter civilization despite hiding everywhere, including caves, deserts, and graveyards, and “clinging to life in a cemetery for the sole purpose of survival,” as narrated in the documentary.

Remembering, before King Hussein Bin Ahmad’s proclamation, Armenians had no protection for their lives. “Protect and take care of the Armenian community living in your territory and defend them as you would defend yourself, your properties, and your children because they [Armenians] are the protected people of the Muslims,” the King stated in a decree addressed to his sons, Princes Faisal and Abdullah.

The King’s command enabled Amir Al Atrash to defend Armenians effectively. Because of this, the Armenian Archbishop asked the Armenian Rescue Expeditionary Group to use the King’s order to locate and rescue all abandoned children hiding in the deserts. Despite the King’s directive, the Turks persisted in harassing Amir Al Atrash and dropped flyers from their aircraft, threatening Amir Al Atrash to surrender Prince Faisal’s population and all Armenians to the Turks. Otherwise, they would entirely destroy his village. In response, the King vowed to follow his oath and preserve his honor by using the sword to uphold his promise and commitment to caring for Armenians.

Genocide Recurrences, Ronald Reagan and Justice

To support one another through relief (such as food and shelter) aids in preventing a nation’s eradication or destruction. If we forget history and fail to remember the lessons learned, everyone is vulnerable to genocide. Without justice, history repeats itself, and those responsible continue to commit crimes against humanity. All war crimes, atrocities, crimes against humanity, and genocidal acts must not go unpunished. It must be remembered and never forgotten. The Armenian Genocide was the 20th century’s first genocide, but nothing was done to atone for the perpetrators’ crimes for the first silenced 50 years, and nothing has been done thereafter.

Nonetheless, in the silence, recurrences in the form of genocides and holocausts occurred. The Armenian Genocide was primarily forgotten until President Ronald Reagan, then-Governor of California, spoke out in support of Armenians.

2023 is the 108th anniversary and the end of the centennial countdown of the Armenian Genocide.

Current Threats in 2023

Artsakh is still under siege, and after 40 days of blockage, food is rationed as all supermarket shelves have been emptied.

Due to the nation’s vulnerability to future genocides in the absence of political security and protection, Armenia today needs geopolitical attention. Sadly, that did not transpire, leading to the 2020 44-Day War on the Republic of Artsakh, which is currently experiencing a dire humanitarian crisis and has been blockaded since Dec. 12, 2022. The threat of genocide and ethnic cleansing against Armenians has returned, and the focus of the world’s attention has switched to Ukraine. Our adversaries’ attempts to eradicate Armenia could succeed if the world remains apathetic.

Justice does not consist of acknowledging the victims’ suffering or taking steps to alleviate it. For justice to be carried out, we must ensure the safety and existence of the nation, the Armenian nation. The European Union Parliament only discusses the humanitarian crisis in the Republic of Artsakh. Yet, Mother Armenia has been alarming the world non-stop to rescue her twin sovereign Republics: Armenia and Artsakh, which gained their independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The cover of the book Crows of the Desert by Levon Yotnakhparian featuring victims of the Armenian Genocide

Crows of the Desert & Amir Al Atrash’s Justice

In the film “Crows of the Desert,” Amir Al Atrash, the leader of the Druise, an Arab Muslim tribe in Damascus, declares, “We are willing to defend Armenians even to the last Druise” in response to the threat posed by the Turks. This is how justice begins: defending another vulnerable nation, even if it means death and taking your sword to protect people’s lives, truth, and justice.

Directed by Martha Houske, “Crows of the Desert,” based on Levon Yotnakhparian’s memoirs published in a book, has received over 22 film awards. It has been screened numerous times, notably at the Alex Theatre, with the most recent screening held on Dec 7, 2022, at the Glendale Central Library.

Rachel Melikian is a former GCC Woman of the Year
Also by Rachel Melikian: “Artsakh is Under Siege

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