Youth Gather at Heritage Park’s Evening Vigil


SONY DSCBy Aram Arkun

Mirror-Spectator Staff

BOSTON – The afternoon events in Boston were followed by a vigil in the Armenian Heritage Park, with a wide variety of speakers alternating with musical performances, prayer by the Armenian clergy, and multimedia displays. A crowd of approximately 2,000 stood in the cold for several hours beginning at 7:30 p.m. People of all ages attended, but the presence of Armenian youth in great numbers was notable. There were even some representatives of Bostonbul, a supportive Turkish group from Boston, in the audience.

One of the most moving parts of the evening was the talk of 1994 Rwandan Genocide survivor Marie Carine Boggis. She spoke of the fear she lived with as a child, being taunted by other children and having the knowledge that people raped, pillaged and killed. She lost her parents, three sisters, one brother, her grandmother and countless other relatives in the genocide, and every time she thinks about it, she goes back to the eight-year-old she was at that time. She thought at first that perhaps genocide was taking place throughout the world, which was why no one stepped in to stop it. She was shocked later to find out this was not true.

She said, “I cannot emphasize enough how much we need to make sure that no kids see what I saw at that age … We have to be vocal about it, we have to make people uncomfortable that this is happening while so many people are watching and standing by.” Boggis emphasized that genocide can happen to anyone: “How many more times does it have to happen for us to really take it seriously?”

Boggis was pleased with the Armenian commemoration. She said, “I’m so highly impressed that there are so many people here. The fact that it happened 100 years ago, and you are all here, it speaks volumes. It gives me hope that 100 years from now, when I am no longer alive, my grandchildren will carry this on.”

Several public officials with Armenian connections spoke. Congresswoman Katherine Clark, representing Watertown and surrounding areas, praised the strength and perseverance of the Armenian people. She pointed out that “how we recognize the darkest pages of our shared history ultimately defines what lessons we learn and how we approach the future.” Firmly, she declared, “The Armenian Genocide is not an opinion or interpretation of events. It is a widely documented fact, and it is long past time that the United States join other countries in the world … and recognize what has happened. … The lessons of the Armenian Genocide must never be denied, must never be forgotten.”

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey declared that in her job she focuses on law and justice. She said, “Justice means something, doesn’t it. I know that justice begins by calling a crime for what it is. It is genocide, it is genocide and I call upon my federal government, your federal government, to recognize this truth. I call upon President Obama and anyone looking to be president of our country to speak the truth and to recognize this as genocide.” She mentioned that her life partner was a descendant of both survivors and people who perished in the Armenian Genocide.

Healey spoke words of praise about the Armenians: “The Armenian community we know is a high achieving community here in Massachusetts and across this country. It is a thriving community and I commend you and you should feel so good about your contributions to music, to arts, to medicine to commerce and every aspect of our civic life. I know that we all share a collective pride in all that you have achieved. You carried on, you succeeded, you have done everything that they would have wanted you to do, and that is the greatest tribute that you could possibly give to honor your ancestors.”

Anthony Barsamian, co-chair of the Massachusetts Armenian Genocide Centennial Commemoration Committee, opened the vigil, while George Barmakian served as master of ceremonies. He quoted Martin Luther King’s letter from a Birmingham jail: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” He enumerated some of the various genocides the world has experienced, and declared: “Tonight we will honor the memory of those lost souls. We will tell their stories of bravery and resilience, and in doing so we will tell our story. Tonight’s program illuminates the darkness of the past, as we showcase the vibrant global Armenia and its citizens, and expound the possibilities of its future.”

The co-chairs of the evening event, Armine Afeyan, Carnie Armenian and Palig Mouradian spoke briefly. Afeyan pointed out how genocide is by no means extinct, and said, “A genocide forgotten is a genocide repeated. It is for this reason that we, the next generation of Armenians of the Boston community, have come together to create tonight’s candlelight vigil and program.” Noting the many commemorations taking place throughout the world, she concluded, “We have yet to realize to what degree, but this centennial is undoubtedly a turning point.”

Dr. Ara Nazarian, another co-chair of the Massachusetts Armenian Genocide Centennial Commemoration Committee, stressed that building a vibrant Armenia was the “ultimate revenge,” as “The genocide does not overshadow our contributions to the tapestry of world civilizations, nor does it define us. We know how to survive and we know how to thrive.”

Middlesex County Sheriff Peter J. Koutoujian in the second half of the program gave a powerful message with a focus on the Armenian youth. He said that though it was a solemn and mournful occasion, he somehow felt energized and alive thanks to the presence of so many Armenians. He told the story of his survivor grandparents, who, part of the past, like the ancestors of all those present, fought to create their future, today’s present, here in the US. He encouraged Armenians to organize and plan for a 21st century Zartonk (“Awakening”), with a new generation of political leaders building bridges outside of the Armenian community: “We need to have a collective conversation about what to do over the next 100 years, to see what it would look like, as we will not be defined by the Genocide — because we have so much more to offer this world.” Armenians can also help save lives by working against crimes against humanity, “for those who have no voice.”

College student Anahis Kechejian spoke about her project, Stand Up for Your Survivor, to allow descendants of survivors no longer living to make their stories told. She made posters with the photos of faces of survivors, which marchers carry during genocide commemorations.

The Mahrokhian Trio, and the duo of John Baboian on the guitar and Leon Janikian on the clarinet, performed moving traditional Armenian melodies, while Stella Beglaryan, a graduate of Yerevan State Conservatory, performed several violin pieces, including Gomidas’ Groong, courtesy of YerazArt. The American-born Baboian spoke a few words about the Genocide and his pride in the Armenian heritage. He concluded “Our culture will never die.”

Several interesting videos were screened, which provided basic information about the Armenian Genocide, genocides in general, and Armenian identity in the US. These included “A Genocide Forgotten is a Genocide Repeated” by the Armenian Genocide Museum of America; “Armenian Genocide History,” by Viasat History; “Genocide Education” by the Institute for Armenian Studies; and “Perspectives on Armenian Identity” by Taline Avakian, which featured interviews with various American-Armenians.

After closing remarks from Barmakian, the evening closed with a joyful circle dance led by Sayat Nova dancers at the center of the park. Many audience members joined in to celebrate the survival and bright future of the Armenians.

Afterwards, Vigil co-chair Afeyan declared for the Mirror: “The Vigil’s success is a testament to the teamwork of Greater Boston’s next generation of Armenians, working together to create an event worthy of our ancestors’ memory.” She and her team are already looking forward to what the next year can offer the vibrant and engaged Armenians of Boston.