Every year they appear, flags with three equal stripes of cardinal red, bright blue and goldenrod. Draped over fences, hung in shop windows, wrapped around rearview mirrors, and mounted on little sticks, they flutter in the breeze as drivers pass. If you aren’t looking for them, they easily escape your notice.
Some may raise patriotic questions. Shouldn’t all Americans fly one flag, the stars and stripes?
But if you are familiar with their people and history, the flags warm your heart, as they do mine. The flags of April are the flags of Armenia. Since I am not Armenian, it took some effort to learn even that. Armenian history was not part of the curriculum, so I didn’t learn it in school.
The history of Armenians as a distinct people goes back 4,300 years. Armenia became the first officially Christian state in the world in 301, beating Constantine to the punch by about 12 years. Ancient Armenia was invaded frequently and battled fiercely with numerous other nations. Invasions by Arab nations started in the 7th century, coincident with the establishment of Islam. Then came a dizzying roster of invasions, battles, defeats, concessions and occasional victories.
Over and over Armenians were abducted and slaughtered, their towns destroyed, then painstakingly rebuilt by survivors. To stand there, until the next time. Sometimes Armenians formed alliances with European co-religionists, to find any help short-lived or worse, predicated on unreasonable sectarian demands. This went on for hundreds of years.
The Armenian Genocide, which started on April 24, 1915, and continued into the early 1920s has been not just neglected but actively denied, a cause of great anguish. But to focus exclusively on that disaster would be grossly incomplete. In fact only 20 years earlier, approximately 250,000 Armenians were massacred in anti-Christian pogroms in the Ottoman Empire.
The Armenian diaspora was slow. For centuries fast travel was by horse cart. Later there were ships and trains. Yet emigration meant you would never again see those you left behind — extended family, friends, acquaintances and rivals.
Centuries of life under the boot heels of conquerors is difficult for many to understand. Imagine the agony of defeat, followed by grim subjugation and frequent reprisals for achievements made against the odds. Although every nation has suffered privations and wars, rarely has there been such consistent hardship.
So with a history like that, why April? Perhaps because that genocide was so lengthy and methodical. Perhaps because technology has made information more available since then — radio, films and television. And perhaps because of another genocide a generation later, the brain child of a dictator who famously remarked: “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”
Here is what the flags of April say to me: “We are still here. You did not destroy us.” The flags of April seek no villains; they only celebrate life. The flags of April inspire me. Trust me: You don’t have to be Armenian to relate and to rejoice.