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Tom Vartabedian

There are two remaining survivors of the Armenian Genocide in my city. One is Hymayag Vosgarichian, a 94-year-old retired shoe worker who introduced me to the Armenian community when I first moved here from Somerville in 1966.

The other is my mother, a 96-year-old resident of Hannah Duston Nursing Home, who continues to wear her lineage proud. She gave me life.

Today — April 24 — marks the 93rd anniversary of the Ottoman Turkish rampage upon our tiny nation. By the time this genocide ended (1915-1923), 1.5 million victims were put to death and another million dispersed.

An entire homeland was reduced to a shambles while the free world did nothing. To this day, the Turkish government denies this genocide and our own country, America, shamefully refuses to acknowledge it.

Mr. Vosgarichian still lives independently under the care of his wife, Sara, due to the loss of his sight. What money he earned in the factories has provided him a meager lifestyle. Much of it was donated to charity, putting the less fortunate before himself.

My mother came from the village of Diabekir. She was 3 when the invading hordes destroyed her home. She and her younger sister watched in horror as their father was corralled into a death march with their mother through the merciless Syrian desert. Along the way, they encountered torment, disease, starvation, exhaustion and indignity.

"Our family was among those devastated by a Turkish bullet," my mother would say, wiping away a tear. "In the round-up of our town, hundreds of men were gathered and executed on the spot.

"Their only crime was that they had been born. Mass graves were dug. We lost our homes but not our dignity. Of course we can forget, but history forgotten is often made to repeat itself. We must prevent further genocides by using ourselves as an example."

The sisters survived the bloody trek and wound up in an orphanage. Like many immigrants, they found their way to Ellis Island and from there to Massachusetts where they opened a candy store in Somerville before marrying off and raising families of their own.

For 30 years, my mother worked side-by-side with my immigrant dad in a luncheonette. When cancer took him at 66, the business was sold, sending my mother off to work for the city of Somerville as an assistant in the medical clinic.

She traveled the city to senior centers taking blood pressures and helping citizens decipher complicated insurance forms.

She was there well past the octogenarian stage before retiring. For the next 10 years, she drove herself to the gym daily and served as a role model. Through shrewd investments and a strong spiritual bond, life was good.

Club members looked admiringly at the petite woman who showed up in her blue sweatpants and sweatshirt. They agreed the 90-year-old could pass for 60.

Her formula was not a simple one but she lived by it. "You'll always stay young if you live honestly, eat slowly, sleep sufficiently, work industriously, worship faithfully — and lie a little about your age."

My aunt died this year in Haverhill at age 94, reducing the number of survivors from 3 to 2. My mother remains the embodiment of spirit, to this day scarred by the horrific past of her childhood. The same could be said for Mr. Vosgarichian.

This week is marked by a series of commemorations throughout the world. In Haverhill, a proclamation was issued by Mayor James Fiorentini and the Armenian colors (red, blue and orange) were flown from City Hall.

The annual gathering of survivors in Merrimack Valley continues to wane due to age. Up until a year ago, my mother stood front and center with the white carnation in her hand, signaling purity.

Her frail condition makes it difficult for prolonged observances. "I'm getting tired," she said. "Every year I go to these programs and every year I hear the same messages. My heart fills with grief."

I took her hand and said, "It's for the children. Your presence will motivate them. You bring history with you to these events."

"In that case, make sure you get me there."

My mother and Vosgarichian were among the fortunate few who escaped the gendarme, living proof that a heritage 2,500 years old cannot be diminished by a single blow.

Their resiliency is a vital trait. By strengthening human virtue and demonstrating the spirit of cooperation, we can make the world a better place where people can live together in peace and harmony.

No survivor would ever deny that.

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