Medz Yeghern: Setting the Record Straight

Vartan Matiossian
Too much fuss has been made about the use of the expression Medz Yeghern instead of "Armenian Genocide" since His Holiness John Paul II used it, for the first time by a foreign dignitary, when visiting Armenia in 2001. You can stretch it as much as you want, but the fact is that it literally means "Great Crime" (or whatever synonym of "crime" you may like) and nothing else. It is synonymous with Medz Vojir (a term also used in the years after the Genocide; Aram Andonian gave this title to his book in Armenian, the original to the book known in English as "Memoirs of Naim Bey"), and yeghernakordz means exactly the same as vojrakordz, namely, "criminal." Neither "cataclysm," nor "catastrophe," nor "calamity" (the one preferred by Turkish writers; I wonder who was the Armenian author of this mistranslation) will do justice to its meaning.
It is an interesting fact that the monument to the Genocide in Yerevan, on the hill of Dzidzernagapert, is called Medz Yegherni hushartzan ("monument to the Great Crime"; see the homonymous entry in the Armenian Abridged Encyclopedia, vol. III, Yerevan, 1999, p. 666) or Medz Yegherni zoheri hushahamalir ("memorial complex to the victims of the Great Crime"), while the museum founded in the same complex in 1995 is called Hayots tseghasbanutian institut-tangaran ("Institute-Museum of the Genocide of the Armenians").
It is incorrect that Armenians use this term in Armenian much more than in the Diaspora, as Dr. Dennis Papazian recently stated (C. K. Garabed, "Medz Yeghern Revisited," The Armenian Weekly on-line, June 2, 2010). Open any Armenian-speaking newspaper from Lebanon to Argentina and from the United States (yes, the U.S.!) to France and you will find the word profusely used for many, many decades until... this same moment. If anybody wants to imply that Armenian Americans who do not read or speak Armenian were almost ignorant of the term until Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama "reminded" them of its existence, so be it. But the Armenian-American community, especially its English-speaking section, is not the entire Diaspora.
Mr. Garabed has a point in his commentary: I would like to think, even to the risk of uttering a heresy to some readers, that it is ironic that President Obama used the word that we, Armenians, use as synonym for "Armenian Genocide." There is no doubt that his intention was/is just to avoid the use of a term charged with legal consequences (he is a lawyer, after all) and replace it with something less "offensive" to Turkey. But the fact that, instead of using any kind of term in English, he chose that particular Armenian expression Medz Yeghern, makes it impossible for him to go back. Perhaps in 2009 our activists should have made a wiser choice and start to trumpet the fact that Obama had tacitly recognized the Genocide by using the same word we use. Instead, they have chosen since then to ignore their own language, if they know how to speak it, and reject the word like it had been unearthed from some arcane dictionary. Ironic again, not to say tragic...

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