When I saw the news last week that President Joe Biden had used the word genocide to describe the Armenian massacres that happened more than a century ago, I thought about Moderna. I remember sitting in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. I had gone there to cover a convening of humanitarians. I met Noubar Afeyan then, interviewed him and wrote a couple of stories.
Afeyan is the grandson of an Armenian who escaped slaughter during the genocide. He was rescued by German army officers and made his way to Lebanon, where Afeyan was born. The family eventually emigrated to Canada. Afeyan went on to found Moderna. Where would we be without the Moderna vaccine today? This story makes me think about those German soldiers, and about the power of individual action in the face of evil.
You might ask, who cares what we call the events of more than a century ago (many reputable sources name it a genocide). But people of Armenian and Turkish descent do care, deeply. No president since Reagan has had the courage to name the massacres as a genocide for fear of angering the Turkish government, and Turkish diplomats responded last week with wounded anger. The journalist Ted Koppel, whom I met in Armenia, told me a report on the genocide on Nightline received more mail than any other in his long career.
Was Afeyan lobbying for the acknowledgement? He has the ground to do so now, and perhaps the recent death of Vartan Gregorian, another leader of Armenian descent who was president of the Carnegie Corp., weighed on the scales, as well.
Finally I though of that Martin Luther King quote popularized by Obama. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”