With Our Tears, Let Compassion Flow: Remembering the Armenian Genocide by Laura Shannon

Today, April 24, is the worldwide day of remembrance for the Armenian genocide of 1915. On this day three years ago, marking the centenary of the genocide, I wrote about dance as an expression of solidarity with the Armenians people, and with all victims of genocide throughout history and throughout the world. You can find that piece here.
Now as then, I am encouraging my students to dance Armenian dances with their groups this week, or even simply to light a candle, listen to Armenian music (some recommendations are listed at the end of this post), with an open heart. How better to heal the wounds of history than with such tiny and intimate acts of compassion?
The root of the word ‘compassion’ essentially means ‘to suffer with’, and I think that one of the gifts of our own suffering might be that we can begin to have sympathy for those who have suffered like us.
Through compassion, our own heartbreak helps our hearts to be broken open. Although suffering can cause us to feel terribly isolated and utterly alone, at the same time, our pain opens our hearts in sympathy for the pain that others feel. To paraphrase Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa, this enables us to ‘reach out to help others… to discover a greater universe and a fuller and fuller broken heart. This is not something to feel bad about; it is a cause for rejoicing.’

In my most recent post on FAR, ‘Opening Our Hearts Through Armenian Dance‘, I described how traditional Armenian circle dances open our hearts to the vitality and life force of the cosmos.  While most traditional circle dances are joyful, the circle can also help us hold the pain which is too much for anyone to bear alone.
Remembering and witnessing the Armenian genocide, our tears of sorrow flow. Remembering all the other massacres, exiles, genocides and wars, and all those who have been targeted because of race, religion, or ways in which they are judged as different, our tears become a veritable river.
Yet these endless tears are the wellspring of compassion, and in compassion we find the key to understanding our common humanity. In sharing our suffering, in ‘suffering-with’, we share also the deep desire to prevent further war, to prevent future genocide.
This is a great and awe-inspiring mystery: that the pain of our own suffering can inspire us to work to bring an end to further pain. The flow of compassion can serve to unite where there was division before, and to sow love where there was hatred. This is indeed the water of life. Compassion can rekindle in us our desire for life, even our passion, and as Frida Kahlo said, ‘Passion is the bridge that takes you from pain to change’.
I see this in the ceremonies led by my friend Shakeh Major Tchilingirian, inviting Armenians, Turks, Kurds and Assyrians to dance together for reconciliation. A touching film, Circle of Life, documents one of these events, for which Shakeh prepared 50 paper butterflies, each representing a distinct ethnic group targeted by genocide within the last century.
I see this in the ‘Women Wage Peace’ project and the ‘March of Hope’, when thousands of Jewish, Arab, and Christian women walked together to Jerusalem in a common call for peace. Yael Deckelbaum’s beautiful anthem for this movement, ‘Prayer of the Mothers’, is a deeply moving example of forgiveness and the healing of past trauma on the path to a better future. Watch the inspiring video here.
The water of life, the water of tears, brings life to the desert, life to the ruins. In Armenian culture, water is precious. In Armenian folklore, the dragons (vishaps) guard water, not gold. Armenian mediaeval miniatures depicting the Annunciation often show Mary with her water jug, standing at the spring.
Armenian miniatures from an illuminated medieval manuscript: Annunciation, with Mary at the spring
We cannot erase the genocides of the past, but we can make choices in the present to choose a better direction for our future.  Each of us, as compassion fills our ‘fuller and fuller broken hearts’, can make that choice and model it for others. The tears we shed together remind us that we are all sisters and brothers in the human family.
Compassion, born of shared pain, has the power to unite us, rather than divide. This is the water of life, restoring bounty and beauty to the garden of the soul. When we dance, when we weep, when we smile with knowing eyes at those who have also suffered, when we open our hearts to one another and allow our shared sorrow to unite us, then we return to the divine garden, the diverse garden, the undivided garden, well-watered with our tears.
Armenian miniature from an illuminated medieval manuscript: pomegranate tree
Genesis 2:10–14 describes how ‘A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers.’  The rivers named – the Pishon, the Gihon, the Tigris, and the Euphrates – indicate that the original Garden of Eden (whose name means ‘fruitful’, ‘abundant’, ’well-watered’)  may have been located in ancient Armenia.
By chance, as I was writing this post, a friend reminded me of Judy Chicago’s Merger Poem, inspired words with which I would like to close:
And then all that has divided us will merge
And then compassion will be wedded to power
And then softness will come to a world that is harsh and unkind
And then both men and women will be gentle
And then both women and men will be strong
And then no person will be subject to another’s will
And then all will be rich and free and varied
And then the greed of some will give way to the needs of many
And then all will share equally in the Earth’s abundance
And then all will care for the sick and the weak and the old
And then all will nourish the young
And then all will cherish life’s creatures
And then everywhere will be called Eden once again
© Judy Chicago, 1979. www.judychicago.com

Armenian Genocide Memorial, Yerevan, with flowers placed in remembrance.
Dancing Armenian candle dances, with hearts full of compassion. Findhorn Sacred Dance Festival, 2015. Photo by Hugo Klip.
See these additional resources to learn more:
Website: The Armenian Genocide Centennial site has links to stories and information on many worldwide events taking place this month.
Film on Youtube: Shakeh Tchilingirian’s Circle of Life in Commemoration of the Armenian Genocide and Atrocities around the World.
The Guardian articleBarack Obama will not label 1915 massacre of Armenians a genocide.
BBC News articleArmenian tragedy still raw in Turkey 100 years on, by Mark Lowen (22 April 2015, Istanbul) and The Armenian Rugs that Tell Two Stories
NPR StoriesFriday Marks Centennial Of Armenian Mass Killings During World War I and Turks And Armenians Prepare For Dueling Anniversaries On Friday
MuseumArmenian Library and Museum of America in Watertown, Mass.
Dance: Armenian Lyrical Dances with Laura Shannon this summer at the Findhorn Sacred Dance FestivalJuly 25-31, 2015.

The Crossing Place: Journey Among the Armenians, by Philip Marsden
The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, by Franz Werfel
Armenian Folk Arts, Culture, and Identity, by Levon Abrahamian, Nancy Sweezy, Sam Sweezy

Gorani: Traditional Dances from the Armenian Homeland

Shoghaken Ensemble: Traditional Dances of Armenia
Djivan GasparyanI Will Not Be Sad in This World; Moon Shines at Night, Apricots From Eden, etc.
Norayr Kartashyan: Tsarastan
Khatchatour AvetisyanOratorio in Memory of the Victims of the Armenian Genocide of 1915
Lusine Zakarian
Haig Yazdjian
Night Ark
Kardes Türküler
Erkan Ogur and Djivan Gasparyan: Fuad


 Laura Shannon has been researching and teaching traditional women’s ritual dances since 1987. She is considered one of the ‘grandmothers’ of the worldwide Sacred / Circle Dance movement and gives workshops regularly in over twenty countries worldwide. Laura holds an honours degree in Intercultural Studies (1986) and a diploma in Dance Movement Therapy (1990).  She has also dedicated much time to primary research in Balkan and Greek villages, learning songs, dances, rituals and textile patterns which have been passed down for many generations, and which embody an age-old worldview of sustainability, community, and reverence for the earth. Laura’s essay ‘Women’s Ritual Dances: An Ancient Source of Healing in Our Times’,  was published in Dancing on the Earth. Laura lives partly in Greece and partly in the Findhorn ecological community in Scotland.

Categories: Ancestors, Breaking News, Community, Dance, Feminism, Feminism and Religion, General, Healing

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8 replies

  1. Please allow me to thank you for sharing about the Armenian Genocide, the recognition of 1.5 million were killed and mascaraed is deeply essential.


  2. There’s a big Armenian demonstration here this afternoon. i completely agree that “never again” means “never again to anyone” rather than only “never again to us”.


  3. Thanks you for this beautiful post Laura and for the links on sacred dance … it is the eve of Australia’s public holiday ANZAC Day – were we pay respect to our forefathers and mothers who died defending their rights in times of war … I honour this day for the millions more who die because of war – the innocent women, men, children and elders….. a deep reflection day …. thank you for sharing how the circle of dance, song and silence can heal and reconcile us and which can convey so much more …peace and compassion…blessed be.


  4. The Ottomans slaughtered Armenians and other ethnic minority groups. My grandparents left Smyrna/Izmir during that time. I repeat their thanks for America as a home for those seeking a chance to work and thrive, not merely survive. Thanks!


    • I went on a tour of Turkey a few years ago with someone whose Greek grandparents had been expelled and ended up in the US. The town mayor greeted us, showed us around, gave us gifts, and had a reconciliation ceremony.


  5. “Through compassion, our own heartbreak helps our hearts to be broken open. Although suffering can cause us to feel terribly isolated and utterly alone, at the same time, our pain opens our hearts in sympathy for the pain that others feel.”

    I could have commented on every other sentence of this essay. Compassion is the key and cultivating it as a way of life is “the way through” our own pain creating a universal path to all sentient beings…

    If only… we could.


  6. I recently listened to a discussion (I believe it was NPR) about the Nazis when making their war plans and their considerations of whether to proceed with their eradication of the Jews. They finally decided that they would have no long-term consequences from the Genocide because of the precedent set by the Armenian massacre. The popular saying of the day amongst the military was ”Who remembers the Armenians?” The opening atrocity of the 20th Century had been conveniently disappeared.

    Hmmm. I smell something.


  7. History seems to keep repeating itself and my heart continues to break today for all the people being slaughtered, threatened, abused, conned.


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