By Taleen Babayan
The vow to Keep the Promise was in full effect on Sunday, April 23 as an impressive number gathered in Times Square to remember the 1.5 million martyrs and pay homage to their legacy, proving that the Armenian Genocide commemorations have only gained momentum since the centennial.
The relevant and inspiring program, organized by the Knights and Daughters of Vartan since 1985, once again attracted thousands of supporters who waved the vibrant tricolor flags of Armenia and Artzakh in the heart of New York City as the past was remembered and a renewed effort was made to strengthen the Armenian Diaspora and the homeland.
Steadfast supporters of the Armenian Genocide were once again in attendance to speak, particularly committed elected officials, including Congressman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), who acknowledged the accomplishments of the Armenian Diaspora in championing genocide recognition around the world.
“Recognition will happen if all of you continue to march, write letters and take action,” said Pallone, founder of the Congressional Caucus of Armenian Issues, who recently introduced a new resolution for the U.S. Congress to recognize the genocide.
Pallone remarked that conflict in Armenia and Artzakh is ongoing, recognizing the war there last year and warned that although the genocide was over 100 years ago, violence is still being used against the Armenian people.
“Continue your efforts,” urged Pallone. “You being here today helps with genocide recognition and we as a people must speak out against genocide wherever it occurs.”
A fellow member of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian issues, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) promised to “confront a stubborn resistance.”
She said all nations have a responsibility to recognize the systemic extermination of the Armenians and that until the resolution is passed to recognize the Armenian Genocide in the U.S., “we will not stop.”
Appearing every year without fail, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who is the current Senate Minority Leader, pledged to “stand with all of you in acknowledging the Armenian Genocide and nothing less.”
He praised the energy and collective spirit of Armenians a century after the massacres and hailed the production of the major motion picture, The Promise that “finally shines a light on this story and puts it in the mainstream for all to see.”
Honoring the memory of his late friend Sam Azadian, founder of the Armenian Genocide Commemoration in Times Square, Schumer said he attends the commemoration every year “because I believe it is our duty to speak out for the innocent victims of the Armenian Genocide.”
“The Armenian Genocide was the first Holocaust of the 20th century but not the last,” said Schumer. “These events are a stain on humanity and I stand with all of you today to remember the pain of the past.”
Scholar David Phillips, who worked towards reconciliation with Armenia and Turkey as former chair of the Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission, said he always believed that “hard problems can be solved through hard dialogue.”
“But dialogue is impossible if one side wants to humiliate the other,” said Phillips, noting the efforts of Armenia’s President Serge Sarkisian towards reconciliation, while Turkey’s then Prime Minister Recep Erdogan reneged on their discussions.
“It takes two to talk,” said Phillips, who is currently the Director of the Peace-building and Rights Program at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights. “But Erdogan is not reconciliatory,”
He called for Washington to investigate Erdogan for war crimes “to lay the groundwork for accountability.”
“Your work and presence here today is so important,” said Phillips. “For the Armenians today in Nagorno Karabakh, for the Yazidis in Iraq and for all who suffer from crimes against humanity.”
Urging the next generation to take genocide recognition into their own hands, celebrity attorney Mark Geragos told the thousands of young people at the commemoration to “go outside the political process to create a movement to never forget.”
“If you as the next generation don’t keep the promise, we are doomed to repeat it.”
Geragos remarked that Turkey spends millions of dollars to “cover up and perpetuate a lie” and the following generations need to do their part to continue the fight for justice and remembrance.
Knights of Vartan Grand Commander Steven Kradjian and Daughters of Vartan Grand Matron Sona Manuelian recognized and honored Olympic wrestler Migran Arutyunyan and MMA champion Albert Ghazaryan, along with their coach Hayk Ghukasyan with special Knights of Vartan medals for their accomplishments in sports.
Dr. Rachel Goshgarian, Professor of History at Lafayette College and Armen McOmber Esq., New Jersey attorney, ably served as MCs for the program.
Remarks by sponsoring organizations were made by Steven Mesrobian, Armenian National Committee of America, Talin Yacoubian, Armenian Assembly of America, Natalie Gabrielian, Armenian General Benevolent Union, Shahe Sanentz, ADL-Ramgavars, Souren Israelyan, Esq., Armenian Bar Association, Natalie Sarafian, Armenian Council of America, Shant Mardirossian, Near East Foundation and Rev. Haig Kherlopian, Armenian Missionary Association of America and Armenian Evangelical Union of North America.
Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, Prelate of the Eastern Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America, gave the invocation and Very Rev. Fr. Vazken Karayan, pastor of Holy Cross Armenian Church, representing Archbishop Barsamian, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern), offered the benediction. Other clergy in attendance included Bishop Anoushavan Tanielian, Vicar General of the Eastern Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America.
The winners of this year’s Knights of Vartan Essay Contest were announced at the program: Raffi Salbashian, 1st place, Stephan Havatian, 2nd place, and Samantha Khorozian, 3rd place.
The Hovnanian Armenian Day School students sang the national anthems of the United States and Armenia, as well as “God Bless America.”
The Armenian Radio Hour of New Jersey, led by director Vartan Abdo streamed the event live in video format worldwide, reaching more than 50,000 people, with the assistance of his dedicated volunteer staff.
The 102nd Armenian Genocide Commemoration in Times Square was organized by the Mid-Atlantic chapters of the Knights and Daughters of Vartan. Co-sponsors included the Armenian General Benevolent Union, the Armenian Assembly of America, the Armenian National Committee of America, the ADL-Ramgavars, and the Armenian Council of America. Participating organizations included the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern), Prelacy of the Armenian Church, Armenian Missionary Association of America, Armenian Presbyterian Church, the Armenian Evangelical Church, the Armenian Catholic Eparchy for U.S. and Canada and numerous Armenian youth organizations, including the Armenian Church Youth Organization of America, the Armenian Network of America, the Armenian Youth Federation, Homenetmen Scouts, Hamazkayin Cultural Association, Tekeyan Cultural Association, Noyan Tapan of Brooklyn, Armenian Students Association, Akh’tamar Dance Ensemble NJ, NY Armenian Old Age Home, AGBU Young Professionals, Armenian Youth Talent Association, tri-state Armenian college and university clubs, including the Cornell Armenian Student Organization, Princeton Armenian Society and Yale Armenian Network.
Photo Credits: Albin Lohr-Jones & Anoush Gulian