Governor’s Presence, Armenian-Jewish Cooperation Highlight 93rd Anniversary Commemoration of the Armenian Genocide

By Daphne Abeel

Mirror-Spectator Staff

BOSTON — The personal presence of Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and Lt. Gov. Tim Murray and keynote speech by Nancy Kaufman, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, highlighted the 93rd Anniversary Commemoration of the Armenian Genocide at the Massachusetts State House, on Friday, April 18.

It was the first time in recent years that a governor had attended the commemoration in person and the choice of Kaufman as main speaker emphasized the cooperation between the Armenian and Jewish communities in the wake of many Massachusetts communities’ decision to divest themselves from the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) program, No Place for Hate (NPFH). While the national ADL has refused to fully acknowledge the Armenian Genocide, many local Jewish groups have expressed support for Genocide recognition.

State Rep. Rachel Kaprielian (DWatertown), in welcoming and opening remarks, paid tribute to the towns that have cut ties with NPFH. “We are joined by city councils, select boards and commissioners who stood up for what is truth, what is right. We welcome our friends and compatriots in the Jewish community, especially Nancy Kaufman, who have stood for justice and against denial of the Genocide. We salute you.”

Kaprielian also paid tribute to John Baronian, Tufts University trustee emeritus and Armenian activist, who died recently. “We honor him, son of survivors, and we are sure he is looking down on us. We remember our past and salute our future as we continue to write our chapter of Armenian history.”

In his invocation, Rev. Stepan Baljian, of St. Stephen’s Armenian Church in Watertown, asked for prayers for “all those treated unjustly, and for all those fallen to Genocide, Holocaust and massacres, and especially for those Armenians who fell victim to the atrocities of the Ottoman Empire.”

State Sen. Steven Tolman then led the pledge of allegiance to the flag and introduced the students from St. Stephen’s Armenian Elementary School and the Armenian Sisters’ Academy who sang America the Beautiful and the Armenian National Anthem. A special contribution by one of the youngest in the audience was the reading of a poem in Armenian by Christian Koutoujian, son of state Rep. Peter Koutoujian (D-Waltham).

Peter Koutoujian then introduced Lt. Gov. Tim Murray, noting that his hometown, Worcester, is home to a significant Armenian community and the location of the first Armenian church in the United States. Said Koutoujian, “We are fortunate to have Tim Murray as an advocate. He has worked with representatives in Washington, stressing the issue of Genocide and other issues of importance to our community. We are grateful for his dedication to the Armenian-American community.”

Murray said he began to learn about the lessons of the Armenian Genocide when he was an elementary school student in Worcester. “We must continue to make sure that future generations understand what happened as we celebrate and recognize three remarkable women who survived the Genocide. Together, we mourn for the families as we hear the stories of survivors and continue to be moved by the depth of their loss. We must continue to teach Armenian history in the Commonwealth. The history of the community here is long and rich. We must continue to educate everyone so that there are no future genocides.”

Patrick opened his remarks with the wordsm “Bari Louys,” and uttered a warm welcome to the audience. “We welcome you to your house. The State House is your house on this solemn occasion and it warms me to see citizens laying claim to your house and your government.”

Patrick continued, “We are here today to recognize together an unspeakable tragedy. On behalf of myself and all of Massachusetts, I offer condolences to all who suffered in the Genocide. But as we mourn, we also have something to celebrate, the presence of these children who are here as examples of a tradition of perseverance and mental toughness that make success and survival possible. We honor your tradition as these survivors have.”

Patrick then officially proclaimed April 24, 2008 Armenian Martyrs’ Day and presented individual proclamations to Genocide survivors Vergine Mazmanian, Ojen Fantazian and Almas Boghosian. Koutoujian commented, “Governor Patrick doesn’t just understand the meaning of the Genocide, he feels it. He sees the connection in the history of slavery, where people were uprooted and forced to come to a new land. Many don’t make this leap between what happened to Armenians and others. Our governor never had to make that

Koutoujian then spoke briefly of the effort to establish the Armenian National Heritage Park on the Rose Kennedy Greenway and praised the governor and lieutenant governor for their support of the project. “We have fought against many odds, but we continue to fight, educate, to teach and to present this beautiful park to America so that we never forget. We had two friends who stood with us — the governor and the lieutenant governor. If it were not for them, we would not have this park.”

Prior to the presentation of a resolution recognizing Massachusetts towns’ decision to sever ties with NPFH, Kaprielian stated, “There was a collective concern in the Jewish community, elected officials and ordinary citizens who said ‘no’ — that it was not possible to ignore the Genocide. This fever spread to many towns in the Commonwealth and also most recently to the Massachusetts Municipal Association (MMA), which decided not to be part of denial. And it is why we have called this ceremony today ‘Deny Denial.’”

Watertown Councilor Jonathan Hecht then received a joint House/Senate Resolution on behalf of all the Massachusetts towns and the MMA for their decision to sever ties with the ADL-sponsored program NPFH. Watertown was the first to take this step and in his remarks, Hecht particularly mentioned Watertown Town Council President Clyde Younger and Councilor Marilyn Devaney who spearheaded the fight.

Hecht said, “The events of the last year brought home to many people the truth of the Armenian Genocide. Knowing that truth, speaking that truth is how we show our respect for the victims and make sure that we do our part to prevent this ever happening again.”

In introducing keynote speaker Nancy Kaufman, Koutoujian recalled his trip to Israel with Kaufman and her strong support for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide.

“She did not hesitate, she knew what was right. This woman is a mensch, a strong, powerful and good friend to all of us here.”

Kaufman, in her speech, stressed the bonds between the Armenian and Jewish communities. “As Passover approaches, I want to talk about the experiences of our two peoples. Two of the most horrendous events of the 20th century were the Armenian Genocide at the hands of the Turks and the Jewish Holocaust at the hands of the Nazis. To tell these stories is to bear witness to the dark chapters of our history.”

She added, “For Armenians, continuing denial has worsened. There hasn’t been recognition by the perpetrators. It is important for Jews to speak out and fight this denial. The Jewish Community Relations Council has affirmed the Armenian Genocide for many years.”

She noted that the Nazis learned from the Turks about the methodical and systematic extermination of a people. She also pointed out that it was a German-born Jew, US Ambassador Henry Morgenthau, who tried to draw international attention to the Genocide of the Armenians.

She concluded, “Let us act to stop genocide. Let us turn to the children. We know for the dead it is too late, but for the children it is not too late. We must all be reminded of the Genocide so that it will not happen again.”

Fr. Vasken Kouzouian of Holy Trinity Armenian Church in his requiem prayer asked for special remembrance of “the Armenian martyrs who died in 1915.” The commemoration ceremonies were brought to a close by the singing of three Armenian anthems by the Erebuni Armenian Chorus of Greater Boston, conducted by Artur Veranian.

In a closing statement, Koutoujian said, “This is an important moment for us to reflect. Each year, Rachel [Kaprielian] and I worry whether we will meet expectations, but as we go through each year, this commemoration becomes more powerful. We have many clergy here and our amazing and beautiful children. You are the most important thing we have. God bless the younger generation. God bless you, and let us get back together next year.”

A reception in Nurses Hall followed the ceremony, where Apo Torosyan’s “Voices,” a video of survivors’ statements, was shown.

The State House Genocide Commemoration Committee sponsors the ceremony.