As Hurricane Maria bears down on Puerto Rico, and Florida and Texas clean up from Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, it’s worth reflecting on why it takes disasters to bring Americans together. Hurricanes are natural disasters. Others are man-made. Genocide is a man-made disaster bred from the hate and fear of one people for another. As with any disaster, the human community must come together to overcome it. But unlike natural disasters, we can do something to prevent genocides.
The year 2015 marked the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide in Ottoman, Turkey, a slow-motion catastrophe that played out over fifteen years. I am a grandchild of refugees who fled this genocide. My grandparents left Harput, Turkey, as hostilities were just beginning. They came through Ellis Island and settled near Houston, Texas. I do not know what happened to family members who stayed in Turkey. Records were destroyed, and I have never met any survivors other than descendants of my own grandfather and that of his brother.
I have but one physical remnant of my Armenian family history – a hand-drawn family tree tracing the origin of the Gourhigian family back to Istanbul in the 1800s. But despite having lived in Utah for over thirty years, I was unaware until recently that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints played a major role in helping the Armenian people. The Church ran the Armenian Mission from the village of Aintab, where there was a large Armenian population. Upon hearing of the genocide, the President of the Church, Heber J. Grant, enjoined Joseph W. Booth, President of the Armenian mission, to “go to Turkey to help the Saints there.” On December 9, 1919, the Armenian Saints left Aintab in a caravan and eventually reached Aleppo, Syria, 75 miles away. Booth declared upon arrival, “We offer thanks to the Lord that our lives have been spared. You would fairly shudder and turn sick at heart to listen to some of the stories they tell of the terrible days they have seen.”
Like members of the LDS Church, Americans from every state came together under the aegis of the Near East Relief organization (NER) to provide relief. Through their efforts, and those of the federal and state governments, over one million refugees and 132,000 orphans were rescued, fed, clothed, and educated.
In today’s divided America, it seems to take a disaster to bring us together. We create arbitrary divisions of gender, race, religion, and all the niches of identity politics that we carve out along the political spectrum. Candidates are actually criticized for being “too bipartisan.” If bridging the ideological divide to find consensus and compromise is actually regarded as a character flaw, one wonders how America’s problems will ever be solved.
My campaign for Congress is about harnessing the same spirit of cooperation that we use when we confront a disaster—natural or man-made—to find solutions to our complex problems. If we cannot value competing points of view, we are setting ourselves up to fail. America is at a crossroads. It’s time for all of us to roll up our sleeves, put on our wading boots, and make the trek to the high ground of compromise. It’s time to work together—as neighbors and as fellow Americans.
About the author:
Dr. Kathie Allen lives in Cottonwood Heights, Utah and is the Democratic nominee for the 3rd Congressional District seat. You can learn more about her at her website, https://www.drkathieforcongress.com/.
Cover photo credit: MrJamesBarker (Photopin.com)