NEW YORK, NY – The significant theme of “Truth, Recognition and Justice” reverberated throughout Times Square as Armenian Americans commemorated the 108th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, while advocating for the Armenians in Artsakh – who continue to endure the blockade on the Lachin Corridor implemented by Azerbaijan over four months ago – in the annual memorial event in Times Square organized by the Knights and Daughters of Vartan on Sunday, April 23, 2023.

Keynote speakers commemorated the Armenian Genocide, while pledging that the Armenian people will not be victims of ethnic cleansing once again. Majority Senate Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) appreciated the “inspiring” and “resilient” crowd that gathered in Times Square to commemorate the Armenian Genocide.

The first New Yorker to be elected to five terms in the U.S. Senate, Senator Schumer vowed to “work just as hard this term as every other term to fight for the Armenian people both here in America and in Armenia.”

He noted that every genocide has something in common, which is that “the world looked away and turned a blind eye” resulting in a “stain on humanity.”

Senator Schumer highlighted the importance of the act of remembrance to ensure that the “victims did not die in vain.”

“We owe it to all of humanity to remember because a genocide that is not properly remembered always leads to another,” he said, recalling that for years he sponsored Senate resolutions and called on U.S. presidents to finally name the “Medz Yeghern” for what it was – genocide. “Finally these tireless efforts resulted in a huge milestone and success when President Biden recognized the Armenian Genocide and it happened because of you and your hard work.”

While the U.S. did affirm the Armenian Genocide, Senator Schumer emphasized that the hard work must continue as “human rights abuses are happening to the Armenian people today.”

“I stand with the Armenian community in condemning Azerbaijan’s blockade of the Lachin Corridor,” said Senator Schumer, adding that Azerbaijan is aligned with Turkey. “I urge Azerbaijan to lift the blockade now, and I urge the U.S. government to do everything it can to lift the blockade, and I will use my power as Senate Majority Leader to encourage a peaceful settlement as soon as possible.”

Concluding on an uplifting note, Senator Schumer said that Armenia has “outlasted authoritarian thugs in the past and will continue to do so in the future,” while expressing that the 1.5 million Armenian Americans living in the U.S. are leaders in their communities, proof that “the Armenian nation has not just endured but prevailed.”

Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Senator Bob Menendez  (D-NJ), reflected on the “incredible successes” of the Armenian people in the U.S. following the Armenian Genocide and stated he was “proud” of the role he played in U.S. acknowledgement of the Armenian Genocide, as he introduced and co-sponsored resolutions recognizing the Armenian Genocide since his first year in the Senate in 2006.

“Fighting the denial of the Armenian Genocide is not only about the past, it’s about the present as Armenians again face the threat of ethnic cleansing,” said Senator Menendez, referring to Azerbaijan’s unprovoked assaults on the Armenians in Artsakh and the illegal blockade of the Lachin Corridor which has resulted in an acute humanitarian crisis. The U.S., however, continues to send security assistance to Azerbaijan, which Senator Menendez stated was “absolutely unacceptable.”

“We should not be in bed with the government of Azerbaijan as they commit such atrocities because it is inexcusable, it is morally repugnant, and it has got to stop,” said Senator Menendez, emphasizing that he opposes any aid given to a country known for war crimes and aggression against a neighbor state, which he said applies to Turkey as well, where President Erodgan had labeled Senator Menendez as “persona non grata.”

“Now he has elevated me to an ‘enemy of the state,'” said Senator Menendez. “But if standing up for human rights makes me an enemy of Erdogan, if calling out Turkey for arming Azerbaijan and enabling the massacre of innocent Armenian civilians makes me an enemy of Erdogan, if demanding Turkey recognizes its crimes of the past makes me an enemy of Erdogan, then that is a badge I will wear with honor.”

Director of the Program on Peace-building and Rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights David L. Phillips, received the Humanitarian Award from The Knights and Daughters of Vartan Times Square Armenian Genocide Commemoration Committee for his dedication and efforts in human rights and justice.

In his remarks, Phillips said he was grateful to President Biden for acknowledging the Armenian Genocide in his 2021 Remembrance Statement, however, “there is more we must do to prevent a second Armenian Genocide which is underway in Artsakh.”

Steps that could be taken to mitigate future violence include “no more waivers of Section 907, which bans any kind of assistance to Azerbaijan’s government and no more arm sales to Turkey that they’ll use to target Armenians.”

“The pattern of Turkic killings and abuse must stop,” said Phillips, who recalled the 2020 war Azerbaijan launched on the Armenian people of Artsakh by using drones and heavy artillery while backed by the Turkish military.

As a result of the unprovoked violence against the Armenians in Artsakh, Phillips spearheaded a research and documentation project Artsakh Atrocities, in cooperation with Columbia University and the Artsakh Human Rights Ombudsman Office, which documents Azerbaijan’s “systematic effort to drive Armenians from their homeland through killings, ethnic cleansing and deportations.”

Since December 12, 2022, Azerbaijan has blocked the Lachin Corridor, which has led to severe shortages in medication, healthcare, food, energy, and essential goods for the 120,000 Armenians in Artsakh.

“It’s clear from both [Azerbaijan President] Aliyev’s actions and hate speech that a second armenian genocide is underway in Artsakh,” said Phillips, who has compiled extensive documentation of crimes committed by Azerbaijan’s forces and Turkish-backed Islamic fighters. “We document gruesome reports of torture and beheadings, we provide evidence of Armenian cultural destruction aimed at eradicating every trace of Armenian communities, and we hope that the Artsakh Atrocities project will preserve evidence to deter future crimes and hold perpetrators accountable.”

Permanent Representative of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic to the U.S. Robert Avetisyan expressed his gratitude to the U.S. for its swift response during the Armenian Genocide for its diplomatic and humanitarian efforts, as well as for its historic recognition of the Armenian Genocide, “which is another testament of unity between our nations when it comes to matters of truth, justice and humanity.”

Despite the passing of a century, Rep. Avetisyan underscored that “Armenians are again at gunpoint.”

While the 2020 war ended, the “aggression has not stopped and now extends to Armenia proper.”

The blockade of the Lachin Corridor, according to Rep. Avetisyan is a “humanitarian crisis rooted in politics” as the world “witnesses human cruelty by an oppressive regime towards people whose only crime is their desire to live in freedom, dignity and democracy.”

“The ongoing blockade of Artsakh has clear genocidal intent and we will continue our struggle with collective efforts to prevent a second Armenian Genocide.”

Rep. Avetisyan noted that Aliyev “openly ignores” calls from the State Department, White House, Congress, and International Court of Justice to re-open the Lachin Corridor. He stressed the need for “concrete actions” including economic and political sanctions against Aliyev, as well as more humanitarian aid and efforts to ease the suffering of those whose lives worsened under the blockade on a daily basis.

“We have to protect our inalienable rights and liberties,” concluded Rep. Avetisyan. “The Armenian Genocide started in 1915 but it did not end, [therefore] we have to continue to fight together.”

Mexican politician Alejandra del Carmen León Gastélum, who along with Armen Yeritsian were the architects of the Senate of Mexico adopting the unanimous passing of Armenian Genocide recognition on February 8, 2023, shared her remarks in Spanish that were translated into English by historian Vartan Matiossian.

“It is our duty to recognize and commemorate the Armenian Genocide because it is our duty to prevent tragedies like this that are ignored, forgotten and hidden in the sands of time in the complicity of silence,” she said. “To keep silent means to renounce the truth because silence and denial may lead people to march again through the desert or to be concentrated in a camp.”

Gastélum stated the importance of remaining alert before any injustice since history has demonstrated the perils that can occur when people in suffering are abandoned.

She expressed that being a “defender of human rights” is a “lifelong commitment” for her and remarked that Armenians have an “invaluable historical and cultural wealth, and are hardworking people who extend a friendly hand to whoever needs it.”

“May this day serve to commemorate the victims of the Armenian Genocide, give dignity to the Armenian people, strengthen links of cooperation between nations in defense of peace, and protect human rights while relieving the suffering for all those affected by violence and war,” concluded Gastélum before presenting the resolution of the Mexican Senate recognizing the Armenian Genocide to the Knights and Daughters of Vartan.

Grand Commander of the Knights of Vartan, Hunan Arshakyan, as well as the Grand Matron of the Daughters of Vartan, Gloria Korkoian, shared their remarks on the solemn occasion, reflecting on the noteworthy mission of their respective organizations, particularly during this critical time in Armenian history.

“As we remember our martyred saints who gave their lives to our country and faith during the Armenian Genocide, we think of our fellow Armenians today in Armenia and Artsakh who are still suffering and fighting for their right to exist and their right to live as Armenians and be free from ethnic cleansing,” said Arshakyan.

He stated that the Knights of Vartan is now in its second century of service to preserve the Armenian homeland, church and culture, and that “Armenians around the world carry the same responsibility to keep our people and heritage alive and to tell our story,” said Arshakyan. “We must never stop serving our people and fighting for truth and freedom.”

The Daughters of Vartan aided the Armenian people in the aftermath of the Armenian Genocide, according to Korkoian, who noted that they helped the “Armenian people rise to reestablish communities, to help build and rebuild churches and schools, and preserve our families and our culture.”

Alongside the Knights of Vartan, Korkoian said that the Daughters of Vartan aim is to “champion the Armenian cause, alleviate the suffering of the Armenian people, ensure the safety of displaced Armenians, and to train leaders to serve the religious, cultural, educational and charitable needs of the Armenian people.”

Statements by Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), were read, as well as the Proclamation by Eric Adams from the Mayor’s Office of the City of New York.

Huyser Ensemble, featuring Harout Barsoumian, Karine Barsoumian, Maria Barsoumian, Ara Yegoryan, Diana Vasilyan, Michael Sarian, performed patriotic songs for the audience.

His Eminence Archbishop Anoushavan Tanielian, Primate of the Eastern Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America, delivered the Invocation, and
Very Rev. Fr. Mesrop Parsamyan, Primate of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, delivered the benediction. Aram Bashian, pastor of the Armenian Evangelical Church of New York City, and Rev. Richard Shackil, Parochial Vicar of Holy Cross Armenian Catholic Church of Little Falls, NJ, shared remarks and prayers.

The Holy Martyrs Armenian Day School students sang the Armenian and American anthems and God Bless America.

The 108th Armenian Genocide Commemoration in Times Square, New York, was broadcast live by the Armenian Radio Hour of New Jersey’s Parev-TV YouTube Channel, as well as by David Medzorian on the Knights of Vartan YouTube Channel, and Karine Kocharyan’s Voice of Armenians TV.

The Knights and Daughters of Vartan have sponsored the Times Square Armenian Genocide Commemoration since 1985, along with the support of a multitude of Armenian American community organizations. This year the event was co-chaired by Haig Gulian, Ari Minnetyan, and Christopher Artun, under the guidance of Chairman Emeritus Hirant Gulian.

Armen McOmber, Esq., Diran Jebejian, Chantelle Nasri served as MCs and masterfully led the program, while Bryan Ardouny, Executive Director of Armenian Assembly of America served as media spokesperson.

For this year’s Knights & Daughters of Vartan Annual Essay and Visual Arts Contest, high school students were asked to listen to survivor testimonies offered through the USC Shoah Foundation and describe through writing or an art form how an Armenian Genocide survivor’s experience can serve as an inspiration to make meaningful change in today’s society. The winners included 1st Place: Nara Zakarian (essay – Tampa, Florida); 2nd Place: Emily Maremont (essay – San Francisco, California); 3rd Place: Aiki Kassabian (visual art – Los Angeles, California), and runner-up Emily Dzhulfayan (visual art – Los Angeles, California).

This event was made possible by co-sponsoring organizations in the Armenian America community, including the Armenian Assembly of America, represented by Bryan Ardouny, Executive Director; the Armenian General Benevolent Union, represented by Natalie Gabrelian, Director of Districts, Chapters, and Central Board Administration; the Armenian National Committee of America; ADL-Ravgavar Party, represented by Norair Megeurditchian, Chairman of the Eastern District USA; Tekeyan Cultural Association, represented by Hilda Hartounian, Member of the Tekeyan Cultural Association Board of Directors of US and Canada and Chair of the Tekeyan Cultural Association Greater New York Chapter; Armenian Bar Association, represented by Chair and Board of Governors Member Taline Sahakian; the Armenian Missionary Association; and the Armenian Council of America.

Participating organizations included the Armenian Network of America, Armenian Youth Federation, Homenetmen Scouts of NY & NJ, Armenian Relief Society, Armenian Church Youth Organization of America, AGBU Young Professionals, Armenian Students Association, Hamazkayin Cultural Association of NY & NJ, tri-state Armenian college and university clubs.

-Taleen Babayan
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