Armenian Americans Celebrate Barack Obama Inauguration

By Thomas C . Nash
Mirror-Spectator Staff

WASHINGTON — Barack Obama made history on Tuesday when he became the 44th president of the United States, the first African- American to be elected to that office.

However, it was not only the African-American community that was rejoicing; Americans across the country had celebrated for a week before, regardless of ethnic, religious or political background. The nation’s capital was so choked with the estimated 2 million supporters that movement was practically impossible there. Security was tighter than ever, as the throngs of stars, as well as political and social dignitaries flocked to the city to share this historic moment.

In fact, even online, demand for live broadcasts was so high thatmany sites would freeze for brief periods. Obama spent much of his inaugural speech addressing the economic and security challenges facing the country, saying, “Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.”

While focusing on the issues facing the US, Obama noted the historic implications of an African American becoming President.

“This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed — why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.”

Many members of the Armenian-American community were among those who offered words of support and encouragement to the new administration.

Aram Goudsouzian, assistant professor of African-American history at the University of Memphis, said the nation’s first black president taking office will bring dramatic changes to his field.

“I think when scholars look back we’ll see this as the beginning of a new chapter, that this is something that is fundamentally shifting the place of African-Americans,” Goudsouzian said.

The inaugural celebration began last Sunday, when many of the estimated two million who ventured to Washington came to see performances on the Mall. Among the performances was the Arax Dance Ensemble at the National Museum of the American Indian, led by Carolyn Rapkievian, as a part of the “Out of Many” festival. Rapkievian is the assistant director of the museum.

Just before Obama’s inauguration, a group of 20 Armenian-American organizations sent a letter sent to the president-elect asking him to remember his campaign promise to work for Armenian Genocide recognition.

“As a community, we have been proud that you have stood with us as we have worked toward Congressional commemoration, Presidential recognition and Turkish acknowledgement of the Armenian Genocide,” the letter stated. “As you have you have stated so eloquently and repeatedly, the facts of this crime are undeniable.”

The letter, signed by 20 organizations, also asked Obama to foster a peaceful resolution to the Nagorno Karabagh conflict and for more attention to be brought to the ongoing genocide in Darfur, stating, “The enthusiastic and broad-based support the Obama-Biden ticket received from Armenian Americans during the campaign … reflects our community’s confidence in your leadership and ardent support for the real change that you have pledged in how our government acts on all these issues.”

Obama was accompanied to the West Front of the Capitol by President George W. Bush and sworn in by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. Obama took the oath by stating his given name, the one he said opponents once used to try to make him seem apart from mainstream America.

It was the first time the chief justice administered the oath — indeed, the first time any chief justice had sworn in a man who voted against his confirmation — and both men stumbled over the words. But the sight of the two youthful leaders — Roberts, 53, the second-youngest chief justice, and Obama, 47, the fourthyoungest man elected president — underscored the theme of generational change.

So did the presence of the youthful Michelle Obama and the couple’s two grade-school daughters, Malia and Sasha, dressed in candy tones of blue and pink.

Continuity was marked by the swearing-in of former Delaware senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. as vice president, the oath administered by 88- year-old Justice John Paul Stevens, a Republican appointee who is now the leader of the court’s liberal contingent and the secondoldest man to serve on the court.

Obama laid his hand on the burgundy-velvetcovered Bible that was used by Abraham Lincoln in 1861, and history again trembled. The chief justice that day was Marylander Roger Brooke Taney, the author of the Dred Scott decision that said blacks could never be citizens. The Constitution, Taney said, recognized blacks as “beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations.”

Obama called it the “meaning of our liberty and our creed” that those days are no more: “Why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent Mall, and why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.”

(The Washington Postcontributed to this report.