By Florence Avakian
NEW YORK — The 28th anniversary of the Sumgait pogroms was remembered and commemorated on February 28 at St. Vartan Cathedral. It was sponsored and organized by Marina Bagdasarova of the Brooklyn Armenian Mission Parish, and Dr. Svetlana Amirkhanian, president and founder of Direct Help for Armenian People (DHAP).
Following a solemn requiem service after the Holy Badarak service at St. Vartan Cathedral, more than 100 people, many former residents of Azerbaijan, congregated at Kavookjian Hall, for a special commemorative program of poignant remarks, poetry and music.
Starting off with a minute of silence for the hundreds of Armenian victims who were brutally massacred in Sumgait on February 27 to 29, 1988, Bagdasarova related that in addition to the actual murders, another 18,000 fled to Armenia, many of whom were killed in the December 7, 1988 earthquake in Armenia.
Sumgait was not alone, related Bagdasarova. The violence continued until 1992 in Kirovabad, Baku and Maragha by Azeris using axes, knives, crowbars, clubs and hammers, cutting Armenian victims to pieces, raping, torturing, and throwing men, women and children off balconies. These acts of such perverse cruelty were reminiscent of the 1915 Genocide of the Armenians by Ottoman Turkey.
“We will never forget. We will never forgive,” declared Bagdasarova. Genocide and massacres must not be forgotten. We must attempt to achieve recognition, justice, and punishment of the perpetrators. Our hope and legacy for the future is to stop violence for future generations,” she said.
Dr. Svetlana Amirkhanian noted that though she has never been to Sumgait or Baku, she felt “very close to them.” The massacres in Azerbaijan brought another wave of immigrants to the US, she said, and was instrumental in organizing an Armenian school in Brooklyn for the Armenian newcomers. “The preservation of our Armenian school is very important so that our history, culture, language will never be forgotten or lost. We’re few but we are strong, and we will survive,” she said with great emphasis.
Michael Abagyan, born in Azerbaijan, stressed the importance of informing members of the U.S. Congress of the crucial issues. A group of Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) members did just that in December. “We went to members of the House of Representatives and the Senate, and asked for help with our issues,” he reported.
Representing ANCA, Dr. Artur Martirosyan pointed out that dozens of ANCA members demonstrated in front of the Azerbaijani Mission to the United Nations on Friday, February 26. “We must work together for Artsakh’s independence. We should be more proactive,” he declared.
Yuriy Tsaturyan revealed that Artsakh being so small “has more intellectuals than any other piece of territory.” And Vitaliy Atamalyan, spoke of coming to the US and working to get the Armenian refugees together in order to “advance out history and culture among the young.” Both speakers were former residents of Azerbaijan.
With great pathos and emotion, Eugenia Sarian performed Sayat Nova’s Tamam Ashkhar. And 16-year old Zovinar Aghavian, a soloist of the St. Vartan Cathedral Choir, sang Komitas’ Groong with poignant feeling.
The seven young members of the Arminstring Ensemble, under the musical direction of Diana Vasilyan offered heartfelt performances of compositions by Khachaturian, Tchaikovsky, and E. Hovhannisyan’s Yerevan Erebuni.
And the 15 youngsters of the Astghigner Music Ensemble, from ages seven to teenage years, offered several heartwarming selections under the baton of their musical director Maria Sahakyan. These children hail from the Brooklyn Armenian parish made up of mostly immigrants from Azerbaijan. Their rendition of the soul-searing and mournful song Adanyi Voghb brought tears to many in the audience. The song was accompanied by two of the older girls, dressed in black and red doing a slow tribute dance dedicated to the martyrs of Adana.
The Very Rev. Mamigon Kiledjian, Dean of the St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral, expressed appreciation to organizers Bagdasarova and Amirkhanian, as well as to the speakers and performers. A special thanks was voiced to Ara Manoukian, director of the Ardzagang Armenian TV for advertisement and promotion. A prayer for the Sumgait martyrs, and the singing of the Hayr Mer concluded the memorable event.