Armenian-American Community Remembers Senator Kennedy

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Mirror-Spectator Staff

BOSTON — The Armenian-American community joined the rest of the country last week in mourning the loss of Sen. Edward Kennedy, a larger-than-life political figure and liberal stalwart.

Kennedy, 77, died of brain cancer at his Hyannis Port home on August 25. He had been diagnosed in May 2008.

After a week of mourning that saw his body taken from Cape Cod to lie in repose at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, with the motorcade passing thousands of mourners, his funeral was held at the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Boston on August 29.

He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia as night fell, after a final trip past the US Capitol where hundreds of current and former staffers said farewell.

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Armenian-American community leaders joined the thousands of well wishers in expressing appreciation for the efforts Kennedy had made to help Armenian causes over the course of his almost five decades in the US Senate.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Kennedy family,” Armenian Assembly of America Board President Carolyn Mugar said in a statement. “Throughout his career, Senator Kennedy embodied the principles we hold dear — promoting democracy, championing civil rights and human rights, and standing up for those in need.

“His support of the Armenian people and contributions to reaffirm the US record on the Armenian Genocide are invaluable. We thank him for his extraordinary service to this great nation and the cause of freedom and democracy around the world. Senator Kennedy will be greatly missed.”

“Since his election in 1962, Senator Kennedy has been a fighter for Armenian Genocide recognition, supporter of an independent and prosperous Armenia and a defender of the right to self-determination of the people of Nagorno Karabagh,” Armenian National Committee of Massachusetts Co-Chair Dikran Kaligian said in a statement.

Worldwide Grief

Kennedy’s advocacy for issues close to Armenian Americans also created a connection with Armenia itself, as shown by the outpouring of grief from throughout that country.

“It is with deepest regret that I learned of the death of the American statesman, Sen. Edward Kennedy,” President Serge Sargisian said in a statement. “His efforts in recognizing the Armenian Genocide, assistance in the liberation of Artsakh, rendering humanitarian aid to Armenians after the [1988] earthquake and military involvement are indisputable. His memory will always dwell with all Armenians.”

Kennedy’s relationship with the Armenian government goes back to the beginning of the republic. In August 1994, he hosted President Levon Ter-Petrosian during his visit to Boston at the John F. Kennedy Library with a banquet, inviting hundreds of bankers and industry leaders to get to know Armenia.

In 1996, Kennedy also hosted a banquet for then-Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin I during his pontifical visit to Boston.

When war broke out in Nagorno Karabagh, Kennedy became an early supporter of the independence movement. He spoke out against Azeri violence against Armenian communities in Sumgait and Baku, Azerbaijan.

“These latest attacks have brought new tragedy and suffering to the Armenian people,” he said in a 1991 floor speech. “America has always stood for human rights and human dignity, for our citizens and for all peoples throughout the world. We must not now ignore the plight of the long-suffering Armenian people.”

During the commemoration of the 85th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide in Boston, Mugar introduced Kennedy to a crowd of 2,000 at Copley Square’s Trinity Church.

“It is time for all governments, political leaders and peoples everywhere to recognize the Armenian Genocide,” Kennedy said. “These annual commemorations are an effective way to pay tribute to the courage and suffering and triumph of the Armenian people, and to ensure that such atrocities will never happen again to any people on earth.”

‘He Was More than a Supporter’

Former California State Assembly member Walter Karabian, who had known Kennedy since 1962, wrote that while many senators have taken strong stances on Armenian issues, Kennedy’s influence gave the issues more weight.

“He was more than a supporter, and much more than someone who mouthed the words ‘never again’ at the anniversaries of the Armenian Genocide,” Karabian wrote. “When he raised his voice it meant so much more than other public personalities because what he said was usually more perceptive and important.”

After five years of struggle to put an Armenian Genocide memorial in the Armenian Heritage Park on the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway in Boston, it was Senator Kennedy’s nod in November 2007 that led to the allocation of a parcel to be dedicated to the Armenian community.

On August 26, the Greenway and the Armenian Heritage Park were among the sites the Kennedy motorcade passed on its way to the John F. Kennedy Memorial Library, where visitors waited in line for hours to say goodbye.

A motorcade carrying Sen. Edward Kennedy's casket passed Boston City Hall on its way to the John F. Kennedy Memorial Library August 26. Thomas C. Nash/Mirror-Spectator Photo
A motorcade carrying Sen. Edward Kennedy's casket passed Boston City Hall on its way to the John F. Kennedy Memorial Library August 26. Thomas C. Nash/Mirror-Spectator Photo
Sen. Edward Kennedy spoke at the 1987 Armenian Assembly National Conference and Tribute Gala in Boston. Also pictured in the photo, seated from left to right, former First Lady Barbara Bush, Assembly Board of Trustees Chairman Hirair Hovnanian and Assembly Board of Directors Chairman Jirair Haratunian.
Sen. Edward Kennedy spoke at the 1987 Armenian Assembly National Conference and Tribute Gala in Boston. Also pictured in the photo, seated from left to right, former First Lady Barbara Bush, Assembly Board of Trustees Chairman Hirair Hovnanian and Assembly Board of Directors Chairman Jirair Haratunian.
Senator Kennedy with Naz Aftandilian and Gregory Aftandilian (right), who is currently on Sen. Paul Sarbanes’ staff.
Senator Kennedy with Naz Aftandilian and Gregory Aftandilian (right), who is currently on Sen. Paul Sarbanes’ staff.