By Taleen Babayan
The towering tenor voice of Elie Berberian reverberated among the thousands gathered in Times Square, echoing the unveiled pain and fighting spirit of Armenians throughout centuries as the 103rd anniversary of the Armenian Genocide took place on Sunday, April 23, 2018 in New York.
As the colorful flags of the Armenia and Artsakh Republics waved among the city’s skyscrapers, elected officials, artists and educators took to the stage to reaffirm their commitment to Armenian Genocide recognition around the world and their continued stance of solidarity with their fellow Armenians in the homeland.
“The size of this crowd, your energy and your spirit show that deniers of Armenian Genocide will never be able to kill the truth,” said Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who speaks dutifully at the commemoration every year.
A co-signer of Senate Resolution 136 in support of U.S. recognition of the Armenian Genocide, Schumer said “it’s time for President Trump to publicly and officially acknowledge the Armenian Genocide as every good Democrat, Republican and Independent should do, because it is the American thing to do.”
Schumer highlighted the leadership and strength of Armenian community leaders who “kept the Armenian spirit alive.” He honored the memory of Sam Azadian, a genocide survivor and the founder of the Times Square Armenian Genocide Commemoration, who taught him about the “Armenian history and culture and encouraged me to be a strong advocate for human rights.”
“Sam, I will never forget your words or the efforts to get the Armenian Genocide recognized,” vowed Schumer.
The current Senate Minority Leader, Schumer said many wondered if the Armenian nation could recover from the massacres of 1.5 million, but a century later, he remarked that 1.5 million Armenians live in America alone, conveying the remarkable vigor of the people.
“The Armenian nation has endured and prevailed and the Armenian Empire lives on,” concluded Schumer. “Getze Hayasdan!”
Sponsor of Senate Resolution 136, Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), spoke out against the suppression of truth and the importance of standing up to the revisionists of history.
“The intentional and highly organized systematic extermination of a people has one word and one word only, and that is genocide,” said Senator Menendez. “The Turkish lobby and all the money in the world cannot deny the truth of the Armenian Genocide.”
Senator Menendez reaffirmed his commitment to passing legislation for the United States to recognize the Armenian Genocide while also scrutinizing nominees selected to serve in the post of U.S. Ambassador to Turkey.
“I have held nominees whose views of the Armenian Genocide are problematic,” said Menendez. “If you do not know basic historic facts, then you should not be representing the United States.”
Denouncing Turkey’s attempts to halt freedom of speech in the country as it continues to jail journalists, Menendez called for the government to face historical truths.
“Portraying the extermination of one and a half million Armenians as nothing more than a consequence of World War I is a distortion of history and a callous reaction to human suffering,” he said.
Calling attention to the documentation of the Armenian Genocide by eyewitnesses, Senator Menendez said U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Henry Morgenthau observed the atrocities of the Young Turk Government in 1915 and said they “signed a death warrant to a whole race and made no attempt to conceal it.”
Reflecting on Morgenthau’s words, Menendez urged politicians today to take the same position and “have an honest accounting of human rights abuses and ethnic cleaning because we cannot turn our backs on the victims of the Armenian Genocide.”
Co-founder of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues, steadfast supporter Congressman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), applauded the “persistent and vigilant” efforts of the Armenian-American community.
“I’m so pleased to see the young people here today, the next generation who will further the Armenian cause,” said Congressman Pallone. He highlighted current issues facing Armenia, from the ongoing Azeri-Artsakh conflict to the exodus of Armenians from Aleppo, Syria, once an important Diasporan center.
“Your work supporting the Armenian and Artsakh Republics, which will one day hopefully be one nation, have to be protected,” said Pallone, who traveled to Armenia this year with the Congressional Caucus, which now has 125 members.
“We want to work together to strengthen ties between the U.S. and Armenia,” said Pallone. “We’ll continue until the U.S. recognizes the Armenian Genocide.”
A member of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) applauded the Armenian community on their rich legacy as the first Christian nation in the world.
“I’m proud to stand with you as we remember the inhumanity of the Armenian Genocide,” said Maloney, who has co-sponsored Armenian Genocide recognition legislation. “We have to teach our children that genocide doesn’t go unpunished and I will not stop fighting for the recognition you rightfully deserve.”
Los Angeles-based celebrity attorney Mark Geragos encouraged exercising first amendments rights in New York, “while your brethren in Armenia are doing the same.”
Geragos reminded the audience that President Reagan recognized the Armenian Genocide during his presidential term in 1981, and since then the Turkish lobby has spent millions of dollars so the U.S. not to acknowledge it again.
“We’re going forward with our mission,” said Geragos, who successfully pursued a class action suit against New York Life Insurance for unpaid insurance policies to survivors of the Armenian Genocide. “Now it’s about restitution, not recognition.”
Assuming a witty play on Saroyan’s words in “The Armenian and the Armenian,” Geragos reinforced that Armenian literature and music continues to flourish, while its wars continue to be won.
Representing the educational non-profit organization Facing History and Ourselves, senior program associate David Schwartz said the organization “assists teachers with opening conversations about a difficult subject.”
The core mission of Facing History & Ourselves is to empower teachers and students to learn history in more critical terms, offering ample resources to instructors about how students should study the Armenian Genocide and the subsequent topics of genocide prevention, justice, international law and human rights.
“We commit to bringing the Armenian Genocide to our students as active citizens,” said Schwartz. “We have to oppose destructive forces who deny genocide.”
Taking center stage was renowned singer Berberian, who spiritually moved the thousands of spectators through his illuminating rendition of Gomidas’ “Horovel,” his uplifting new single, “Hayer Jan” and the patriotic “Kedashen,” alongside members of his band, pianist Paul Malakhanian and duduk player Vagho.
Grand Commander & Matron of the Knights & Daughters of Vartan, Dr. Gary Zamanigian and Diana Tookmanian stressed the importance of genocide commemoration in order to “pass on the Christian faith and tragic history and to make our voices heard until justice is served.” The Knights & Daughters of Vartan have sponsored the Times Square Armenian Genocide Commemoration since 1985. This year the event was chaired under the tutelage chairmen Hirant Gulian, Tigran Sahakyan and Ari Minnetyan.
In his powerful invocation, Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, Prelate of the Eastern Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America, marked the day as one of “solemn remembrance as we raise our voices for truth, justice, recognition and reparations.”
He spoke of the destruction of the Armenians by the Ottoman Empire, a failed attempt to exterminate a people.
“The world thought this was the end of Armenians and of Armenia,” said Archbishop Choloyan. “But a nation that does not want to die will not die.”
He praised the strong faith of Armenians who “picked up the remnants of a scattered nation, creating a resurrection of the spirit that survived the genocide.”
In his benediction, Very Rev Fr. Mesrop Parsamyan, Director of Ministries at the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern), said the Armenians remain “strong and defiant in the face of denial,” and gave thanks to the opportunities America provided for survivors.
He remembered the Armenian Genocide victims as “holy saints, who teach us the power of faith and the indestructible quality of the spirit.”
Fr. Parsamyan encouraged the descendants of survivors to carry on the torch and follow the example of the faithful martyrs.
“This is the power of the spirit, the power of renewal, the power of faith, which gives the deepest meaning to our gathering today.”
Official media spokesperson Bryan Ardouny, Executive Director of the Armenian Assembly of America, spoke of recognizing the past and also remaining aware of the current issues that face Armenia and Artsakh.
“April is not just a historical event where the very existence of the Armenian people was threatened 103 years ago,” said Ardouny. “It was only two years ago this month that Azerbaijan launched a brutal attack against Artsakh and Armenia, killing innocent civilians.”
He encouraged unification among Armenians to “pay tribute to the martyrs and renew our commitment to their legacy and the hope of a bright future for all Armenians.”
International jazz singer Marine Hakobyan performed “Karabakh Horovel” and “God Bless America” during the program.
The results of the Knights & Daughters of Vartan annual Armenian Genocide Essay Contest were announced: first-place, Gregory Chamessian, Tappan Zee High School, New York; second-place, Zhanna Astvatsatrian, Hambardzum Galstyan School, Yerevan, Armenia; third-place Haykanoush Kirakosyan, Yerevan Brusov State University, Yerevan, Armenia.
Gregory Chamessian appeared on stage to receive his prize while an excerpt of his essay was read, in which he responded to Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Nicholas Kristof’s quote: “You will be judged in years to come by how you responded to genocide on your watch.”
“When we fail to educate ourselves on the horrors of genocide and how it has affected populations throughout history, we are just as guilty as those who committed the crime itself, because it will only happen again if we keep our ears shut and voices down,” wrote Chamessian.
Four special “Knights & Daughters of Vartan” medals were distributed during the commemoration to Artsakh War Hero Major Sargis Stepanyan, Elie Berberian, Marine Hakobyan, and Maria Sahakyan.
Also recognized was Don Boyajian, who is running for Congress from the state of New York and Armenian Genocide survivor Arslan Seraydarian, 100 years old of Pennsylvania.
Armen McOmber, Esq. and Professor Nvair Beylerian, seamlessly and ably guided the program.
Astghikner Junior Ensemble of St. Gregory the Illuminator Mission Parish in Brooklyn, New York, sang the Armenian and American anthems and Hayr Mer, under the leadership of Maria Sahakyan.
Remarks by sponsoring organizations were made by Steven Mesrobian, Armenian National Committee of America, Bryan Ardouny, Armenian Assembly of America, Natalie Gabrielian, Armenian General Benevolent Union, Shoghig Tarpinian, ADL-Ramgavars, Chris Garsevanian Armenian Council of America, and Zaven Khanjian, Armenian Missionary Association of America.
Other clergy in attendance included Bishop Anoushavan Tanielian, Vicar General of the Eastern Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America and Nurhan Becidiyan, of the Roman Catholic
Armenian Eparchy of America and Canada.
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 103rd 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.