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April 25, 2013

The last of a vanishing breed

You might consider Nellie Nazarian a survivor of her cause.

It’s only because that’s what she is literally — a survivor.

The 101-year-old has not only survived the ravages of time, the struggles of family and life, but the eclipse of entire generation.

She survived a genocide.

A genocide that resulted in the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Turkish Government from 1915 to 1923 and threw another million deportees into exile. Gone was half the Armenian population living in Turkey at the time, not to mention the churches and villages that were left in ruins.

It is the week of April 24th in our diverse community when Armenians gather in their churches and public centers to pay tribute to these martyrs.

They will not only honor the dead, but the living. They will pay special tribute to Nellie for an obvious reason. She happens to be the only remaining genocide survivor living in Merrimack Valley and Southern New Hampshire.

The fact that she lives in Methuen and once attended school in Haverhill brings her closer to home, having worked in the shoe shops of Haverhill before starting a jewelry enterprise in these parts.

Nellie used to have company. When she began attending these genocide commemorations in Merrimack Valley, she was joined by 70 survivors. Slowly, those numbers began to dwindle.

Two years ago, my own mother was among the four who remained. They would attend the commemoration, health permitting, look around them, and note the missing. Who would be the last survivor? Not that it mattered to any of them, but to others paying homage.

Who would be the last to have a photo flashed onto the big screen and take a bow before 350 guests?

In a world marked by tragedy, desecration, massacre and violence, a genocide that annihilated the Armenians 98 years ago has almost been depleted from our history books. Very little mention is made of it, thanks to Turkish lobbyists who deny the truth.

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