Remember, Regret, and Resist—or Repeat

Commemorating Genocide

Although unique in its scale and intensity, the Holocaust was not original. Less well known, contemporaneous actions by Stalin in the USSR sought to eliminate entire groups of people (specifically Ukrainian peasants by means of  well-orchestrated famine) to accomplish the goals of the state. After the Holocaust, many have offered the twin vows “never again” and “never forget.” Yet, ever again, people seem to forget. 1970s Cambodia.  1980s Iraq. 1990s Bosnia and Rwanda. Early 2000s Sudan. Late 2010s Iraq (again). Today Myanmar—or, if not yet, probably soon. At least in the short-run, it is more comfortable for many of us to forget, to ignore, and to avoid learning such things in the first place.

Just as the Holocaust was not unique, neither was it original. As a vivid reminder of the “forgotten genocide,” the monoliths of Boston’s Armenian Heritage Park stand on a modest parcel of the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, sandwiched between the north and southbound lanes of Atlantic Avenue. If you blink, you will miss it.

The inscription: “Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts have offered hope and refuge for immigrants looking to begin new lives. This park is a gift to the people of the Commonwealth and the City of Boston from the Armenian-American community of Massachusetts. The sculpture is offered in honor of the one and one-half million victims of the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923. [The Turkish government still denies complicity in this.] May it serve in remembrance of all genocides that have followed, and celebrate the diversity of the communities that have re-formed in the safety of these shores.”

Many displaced Armenian families established new lives in Boston. Their descendants came together to build a reminder of hope for all immigrants. The sculpture is a dodecahedron broken in two. Like those forced from their homes, the pieces will never know their original, unbroken unity. They nonetheless remain strong and can stand together in new ways, as long as they keep adapting. Every spring a crane reconfigures the pieces.

A labyrinth invites visitors to linger in contemplation. A metaphor for life’s journey, the path circles toward the center past inscriptions representing fields of human endeavor: “art,” “service,” “science,” “commerce.” Children run around it in warmer months.

The park’s architect, Donald Tellalian, and his wife Barbara explained their vision to a dozen of us gathered from the Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality (SSCS). Their sculpture towered over us as a November wind swept in from the Charles, losing itself in the even colder wind rushing in from the Bay against our upturned collars. I fumbled with the growing hole in my pocket. This was supposed to be the last winter coat I would ever need. After we dispersed, I began to pace the labyrinth. By the time I was halfway around, the wind and my impatience urged me onward.

Stepping fast to the waterfront, I hoped for one last glimpse of the Atlantic for a while. Before crossing the avenue, I passed the Greenway Carousel. A peregrine falcon sat sideways, frozen in midflight. From hidden speakers, Joni Mitchell’s “Circle Game” echoed into the dying light. Maybe the seasons will keep going around, I mused. But this is no game. May even the stones cry out to teach us, to remind us, and to spur us to action.

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