By Alin K. Gregorian
BOSTON — On Sunday, April 24, hundreds of members of the local Armenian community gathered at the Armenian Heritage Park to pay tribute to the victims of the Armenian Genocide and demand justice at a program organized by the Massachusetts Armenian Genocide Commemoration Committee.
Under clear skies, speaker after speaker recited history, combining optimism about the community’s strength with concern about the situation in Artsakh (Nagorno Karabagh) as well as the plight of forced immigrants around the world. Many speakers referred to the symbolic location of the park, in a city that had so many ties to the early promoters of democracy in the US as well as people who helped Armenians during their darkest times.
Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian paid tribute to the unity and the strength of the Armenian community which had led to the taking down of an anti-Armenian billboard right outside the park only days before.
Angrily, he accused various newspapers where just this week full-page ads were placed with the same design as the billboard, as having taken “blood money.”
“It all started with the billboard here,” he said.
The area, Koutoujian said, twins Armenian history with that of the progressive Bostonians who in nearby Faneuil Hall, during the days of the Genocide, had advocated for and succeeded in sending help to the victims.
“The park is a testament to our survival, to our saints and martyrs,” he said. He added it was a special place visited by President Serzh Sargsyan (alternately spelled Serge Sargisian) and Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II during their visits to the US.
He said the ties between Boston and Armenia were strengthened by the work of the Cambridge Yerevan Sister City group as well as the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy where about a dozen diplomats from Armenia come to study regularly.
Koutoujian stressed that Armenians, along with Assyrians and Greeks, all Christian minorities, were decimated by the Ottoman and later Turkish authorities.
He gave a special thanks to the North End community and former governor, Deval Patrick, for their support for the creation of the Armenian Heritage Park.
Adam Strom, director of scholarship and innovation at Facing History and Ourselves in Brookline, spoke about the importance of the recognition of the Armenian Genocide, not just for Armenians, but for people everywhere.
“I am not Armenian yet this history affects me profoundly,” he said. “It is an Armenian story and a human story.”
Strom said that he regards himself as a human being “who lives on this planet with responsibilities.”
He added, “Some acts are so terrible that all of us are injured” as a result, and the Armenian Genocide is one such act.
Strom then recited the story of how attorney Raphael Lemkin, himself the son of survivors of the Holocaust, came up with the word “genocide” to describe what had happened to the Armenians.
Dr. Suzanne Moranian, the president of the Armenian International Women’s Association, combined history, psychology and poetic imagery in her comments. She said her talk was in memory of her family, many of whose members had perished in Aintab.
The genocide has left a lingering affect, an “intergenerational trauma,” as psychologists refer to it, she explained.
As a result of this trauma, she said Armenians must choose to be “upstanders” rather than bystanders. Thus, she explained, we must take the paradoxical position of keeping the Genocide memory alive within us, so that we can hold onto the empathy needed to help other peoples who have similarly suffered.
She quoted Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “ Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
“Armenian ghosts are wandering and haunting Anatolia,” she noted.
She then asked, “We know when it [the Genocide] began, but the question is, when does a genocide end?”
Armenian arts, industry and language, all are vanishing from Turkey to this day, she said. Thus, she said, “I would suggest that it has not ended.”
The final speaker, Shant Mardirossian, Near East Foundation Board Chairman Emeritus, spoke about the history of the Armenian Genocide, the Near East Foundation and New England.
Several women from the region, he said, were instrumental in helping Armenian orphans. In addition, he said it is important to remember the legacy that those Armenian survivors conveyed to those who came after them. “They taught us how to laugh, sing and pray again,” he said.
The day’s activities had started with several hundred young people protesting in front of the Turkish Consulate on St. James Avenue at 1.30 p.m., before making their way to the Heritage Park, walking all the way with their signs and flags. The protest had been organized by the local Armenian Revolutionary Federation and Armenian Youth Foundation chapters.
While the Armenian Heritage Park program hit many somber notes, Armenian music, poetry and dance brought a smile to all and injected a dose of energy into the day.
Several young girls next recited a poem by Gevork Emin, titled “Zarmanali Hay,” or wondrous Armenian. In addition, two girls sang patriotic songs about Armenia and Artsakh. And finally, the Sayat Nova Dance Company performed three energetic numbers.