Times Square Commemoration of 96th Genocide Anniversary Draws Thousands


Keynote speaker Dr. Richard Hovannisian

By Aram Arkun
Mirror-Spectator Staff

NEWYORK — The gathering of several thousand Armenians in a public square in one of the most visible sites in the United States seems a fitting way to remember the past, and remind others who want to forget it.

This year because Easter was celebrated on April 24, the Times Square commemoration of the 96th anniversary took place on the following Sunday, May 1. Organizers estimated at least 2,000 people were present, and hundreds of thousands more walked by, or watched it on television. Turkish state television, along with several Armenian television and radio stations, recorded the event.

 

Masters of Ceremony Dr. Mary Papazian and Armen McOmber

New Jersey lawyer Armen McOmber and Dr. Mary Papazian, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Lehmen College of the City University of New York, served as masters of ceremony. Vagharshak Ohanyan led the Arekag Children’s Choir of the Hamazkayin Armenian Educational and Cultural Society of the Eastern United States in several songs as well as the performance of the American and Armenian national anthems. Pianist and composer Karén Hakobyan led the choir in a special premier performance of his piece, Independent Armenia. Five important American politicians gave rousing speeches, along with representatives of four co-sponsoring organizations — Natalie Gabrielian, associate director of education at the Armenian General Benevolent Union; Bryan Ardrouny, executive director of the Armenian Assembly; Doug Geogerian, Armenian National Committee Eastern Region director from 2004 to 2006, and representatives of the Armenian Democratic Liberal Party and the Armenian Rights Council of America.

Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, Primate of the Eastern Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America, and Fr. Vazken Karayan, pastor of Holy Cross Armenian Church of Union City, NJ and representing the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern), offered invocations and closing benedictions. Their institutions were among the participating organizations, along with the Armenian Missionary Association of America, Armenian Presbyterian Church, the Armenian Evangelical Church of America, the Armenian Catholic Eparchy for the US and Canada, Tekeyan Cultural Association, Hamazkayin and numerous Armenian youth organizations. Buses brought Armenians from New York and New Jersey churches, as well as from the Knights of Vartan Boston Ararat Lodge and the Ardashad Lodge of Philadelphia. There were some attendees from as far away as California.

Grand Commander Dennis Papazian at podium

Knights of Vartan Grand Commander Dennis Papazian and Daughters of Vartan Grand Matron Melene Ouzounian introduced members of their grand councils and other important officials who were present. Papazian, also founding director of the Armenian Research Center at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, revealed the theme of the commemoration, that Turkey is guilty of genocide, and denying genocide is a crime. He declared, “When a crime can be committed with impunity, criminals will act with impunity,” and noted that the Assyrian and Greek genocides were also being commemorated along with the Jewish Holocaust. Papazian challenged the Turkish government to allow their people to study their own history without fear of punishment. Ouzounian stressed the importance of educating the young about the great price paid by their ancestors for liberty and their faith. Later she introduced the winners of the Knights of Vartan Armenian Genocide Essay contest, who, in declining order of rank of awards, were Jeremy Majerovitz, Gerard Nelson, and Samuel Levine, three students from the elite public Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, and honorable mention recipient Katrice Karanfilian, from Bergen County Academies in Oradell, NJ.

 

NY Sen. Chuck Schumer

New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, an influential Democrat who has for decades backed efforts at recognition of the Armenian Genocide, which he calls “one of the worst genocides in world history,” stirred the crowd with his words. He declared, “We are here today to tell future Hitlers that we do remember, that they cannot succeed, that they cannot brush history under the rug. We are lighting a candle for truth, not just for those who suffered in Armenia, not just for the Armenian people, but for the world, because in every generation, in every generation, there are those like the Turkish leaders during 1915 and 1916, there are those like the Hitlers, there are those like the Idi Amins, who seek to destroy people simply who they are. History tells us they always arise, but history tells us one other thing, that is, that truth may be temporarily dimmed, but the light of truth, the candle of truth, always burns through, and that’s why we are here today. I say to you my friends, from the day I got into Congress, I was a staunch supporter of the Armenian quest, to remember the Armenian Genocide, the Armenian Holocaust, and I will continue to do that with every atom in my body, until the Turkish government admits the truth, makes reparations for what they have done, and until the Armenian community is vindicated. My friends, I stand with you in solidarity.”

NJ Sen. Robert Menendez

Schumer was followed by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), another fervent and influential supporter of US recognition of the Armenian Genocide, who said, “Now, as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations [committee], I have said that American diplomacy must avoid the euphemisms. To overlook human suffering is not who we are as a people. It is not what we stand for as a nation. We are better than that and our foreign policy should always reflect that goodness. And that is why it is imperative that the president of the United States, of my own party, recognize that this was a genocide and call it as such.” Menendez continued to great applause, “I promise you that for so long as I continue to be a United States senator, sitting on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, that any nominee who comes before the committee having anything to do with Armenia, will have to answer the question, do you recognize the Armenian Genocide. And I will continue to push — as I have held up nominees in the past — I will continue to push the people who we have in place around the world to represent the United States, to recognize the horrific events of 1915 as a genocide, and I will continue to push to make sure that the United States reflects a deep sense of moral outrage with respect to the Armenian Genocide.”

NJ Rep. Frank Pallone

Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), founder of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues, and one of the most active initiators and sponsors of legislation favorable to Armenia and Armenians in Congress, stated that he was frequently asked why one should focus on the Genocide when contemporary Armenia and Karabagh have so many problems. Pallone’s answer was that both were crucial and interconnected issues: “People don’t seem to understand — I know that you do — that this is an ongoing effort, an ongoing effort to basically destroy the Armenian people.” The denialist rhetoric from Turks and Azerbaijanis has become more aggressive recently, Pallone said, “We will be here every day and will continue to agitate until the commemoration in Congress takes place. We do it for Armenia, we do it for Karabagh and we do it for those who suffer human rights violations anywhere on earth … I worry every day. The United States needs to be supportive of Armenia and Karabagh militarily, economically. We need to continue to provide humanitarian and military assistance to both countries.” He urged the Armenians and their sympathizers to be optimistic, concluding, “We will succeed, because we have right on our side.”

Rounding out the group of supportive national politicians who have year after year participated in the Times Square commemoration, New York Rep. Anthony Weiner strode out and said, “I say to all Turkish Americans, to all residents of Turkey today: This is not intended to be an exercise in finger pointing, but this is an exercise in making sure that the pages of history are not defiled by blank spaces, black marks, Xs where there should be circles. The only way we can become a more perfect union in the United States, and a more perfect people of the globe, is by speaking truth even of the atrocities.” Weiner pointed out that there are people even today who deny the Holocaust ever took place, as well as the Armenian Genocide. Consequently, he said, “So as long as those people are allowed to crawl along the surface of the earth, to crawl out from their rocks every so often, none of us can be safe to make sure that those atrocities don’t happen again. ..What we seek is the truth from the people who did the atrocities…My name is Anthony Weiner and I will never forget the Armenian Genocide.”

New York City Comptroller John Liu, one of the city politicians who back the Armenian cause, stated, “Here we are at the crossroads of the world, Times Square, we celebrate our diversity, but the diversity that we have here is strong only in recognition of where we came from, our roots, our heritage, our culture and our history; and the history that has happened with the Armenian people is a history that is undeniable.” He added, “Keep up the fight — we won’t let you down.”

A proclamation from Mayor Michael Bloomberg was read, proclaiming May 1, 2011 as Armenian Genocide Commemoration Day in the City of New York. Rep. Scott Garrett (D-NJ) also sent a statement which in part read: “While it is painful to commemorate these terrible acts each year, we must remember and must learn from the past. The Armenian Genocide serves as a powerful example of what can occur when governments persecute citizens based on ethnicity or religious affiliation.”

Keynote speaker Dr. Richard Hovannisian, holder of the Armenian Educational Foundation Chair in Modern Armenian History and professor of Armenian and Near Eastern history at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) for several decades, has edited many volumes on the Armenian Genocide. He said that the trauma of genocide was passed on to the following generations, compounded by continuing Turkish denial. Armenians and others ask for reaffirmation of what originally was recognized and then deliberately forgotten.

Homenetmen flag-bearing scouts with a model of Yerevan’s Dzidzernagapert Genocide Monument

However, Armenians must now not only focus on the lost dead, as so many were killed in the 20th century, but stress the loss that Raffi Hovannisian, Richard’s son, has focused on — hayrenazrgutiwn, or national dispossession. Richard Hovannisian felt “the loss of a civilization, the loss of a homeland, the loss of a way of life of 3,000 years is the major continuing traumatic aspect of 1915.” The Armenian Genocide in many ways is a prototype for later genocides. For this genocide to be remembered, Hovannisian said, it must be integrated into the history of mankind; otherwise it will be lost and truly forgotten. Gathering in Times Square is also part of the struggle for memory against forgetting. Dr. Joan Rivitz, associate director of the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education and chair of the New Jersey Commission on Civil Rights, a daughter of Holocaust survivors, said, “Armenians and Jews of the diaspora, survivors, second generation, third and fourth generations, and those yet to come, we must continue in solidarity to remember the true, undeniable facts of the dark parts of our parallel histories. …The world community simply stood by and watched….If Turkey had been held accountable for the Armenian Genocide, Hitler might not have been able to plan and execute the Holocaust. ”

The three Genocide survivors brought before the crowd

Three survivors of the Armenian Genocide, 101-year-old Perouz Kaloustian, 99-year-old Arshalouis Dadir, and 98-year-old Charlotte Kechejian, were wheeled out to receive the respect and applause of the audience, escorted by Aghavni “Aggie” Ellian, executive director of the New York Armenian Home in Flushing, NY.

Olivia Katrandjian made a powerful appeal for registration with the Armenian Bone Marrow Donor Registry for the sake of her mother Irene, stricken with Non-Hodgkin’s Peripheral T-Cell Lymphoma, as well as for other ill Armenians (see www.abmdr.am).

Hirant Gulian was chairman of the organization committee for one of the largest events organized by the East Coast Armenian community, Papazian co-chairman in charge of academic affairs, with Tigran Sahakyan as vice-chairman. Taleen Babayan coordinated public relations and the essay contest. Members of the Armenian American Health Professionals Organization of New York and New Jersey under the chairmanship of Dr. Larry Najarian were present in Times Square to provide any necessary first aid.

Those who missed it can see the recording at http://www.armenianradionj.com/.