95th Anniversary State House Commemoration

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Rep. Schiff, Filmmaker Garapedian Delight Capacity Crowd

State Sen. Steven Tolman, Speaker Robert DeLeo, state Rep. Peter Koutoujian and Rep. Adam Schiff

By Andy Turpin
Mirror-Spectator Staff

BOSTON — On April 23, the annual State House commemoration of the Armenian Genocide featured a double-bill of documentary filmmaker and journalist Carla Garapedian and Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D –CA), a member of the House Caucus on Armenian Issues, who for years has supported the passing of the Armenian Genocide resolution in Congress.

“It’s wonderful to be home. I feel at home whenever I’m in the arms of the Armenian community,” Schiff said. It was a true homecoming for Schiff, who hails originally from Framingham, Mass.

He thanked state Rep. Peter Koutoujian (D – Newton) for his support and friendship and spearheading the organizing of the day’s ceremony.

Schiff said of the Genocide’s early days that, “It began with the rounding up of intellectuals in 1915…We can’t imagine the horror, but we can imagine the questions these individuals must have asked, ‘Who will speak for us in the world?’”

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Speaking to the legacy of the denial of the Genocide’s occurrence, Schiff stated, “There is a moral imperative to speak the truth about history.”

Each year there are fewer Genocide survivors. As this year the State House honored survivors Aznive Aznavorian, Naomi Armen, Areka Der Kazarian, Vergine Mazmanian, Charles Mosesian, Mariam Nerkizian and Rev. Barkev Orchanian. Schiff said of their legacies, “Your voices must be heard for all those that perished in the desert and it is my honor to be one of your champions in Congress.”

Garapedian is the director of the film “Screamers,” which was released in 2006 and featured the members of the heavy metal group System of a Down, all of whom are of Armenian descent and vocal about the recognition of the Armenian Genocide, as well as the genocides in Rwanda and Sudan. She spoke about how the information age is disseminating facts about the Genocide worldwide with a ferocity and resonance that is becoming too strong for the deniers, especially reaching the youth in Turkey.

“I hear from younger people daily,” Garapedian said, wanting to know where they can go to do further research on the Genocide after initially viewing her film “Screamers,” “most of these emails are not from Americans but from Europeans.”

Garapedian also spoke to how these kinds of changes in the evolution of the Genocide recognition struggle have been incremental. She recounted that for 50 years after the Genocide in 1915, Armenian survivors were hesitant to speak about their experiences saying, “When they talked about the Turks, they would whisper like they were around the corner.”

That dynamic has changed and Garapedian stated, “Today we are now the politicians, the professors — we’re not victims. We’re here and we’re not going anywhere.”

Armenian-Americans are more active in pursuing Genocide recognition than ever before and are deft at permeating cyberspace with information and facts about the Genocide’s history and Turkey’s denial of it through protest organizations, petitions, editorials, blogs, posts and updates via websites such as Twitter.

“They are part of a revolution. It’s an information revolution in the Armenian Diaspora,” Garapedian said.

She added, “It’s a marketplace of ideas — a kind of popular democracy. These interactions are tipping the world court of public opinion, and the world will respond back to you.”

Garapedian recounted to the audience a Facebook message she had received from a student in Turkey who had watched “Screamers” in an underground venue and wrote to thank her for creating such a film. “Although it’s illegal to show my film in Turkey, he somehow found it. People are becoming very good at sniffing out propaganda,” she noted.

Garapedian stressed that these issues of Genocide recognition and information revolution are far more universal than pertaining to just Turkey and its Genocide denial.

“The only way governments can control the Internet is to block it, and China is doing that right now,” she said. Calling it the “Firewall of China,” she said, “it blocks out certain words like truth, democracy and genocide.”

Garapedian made clear that those who struggle for democracy, truth and recognition of the Genocide and human rights in today’s world face real-life consequences. “A man is imprisoned in Iran for helping me on a story about democracy. I don’t forget that” she said.
Garapedian commented, “Genocides were perpetrated on other groups in the 20th century and we know that; by Pol Pot, the Hutus and the Al-Bashirs of the world.”

Today a majority of Armenian-Americans feel they have an obligation to speak out in some form or another against genocide, their own or others.

Garapedian stated of this feeling of a desire to be a “screamer” in the name of human rights. “To my grandparents I want to say that, yes, I’m going to remember you. But I’m also going to stand up for you. Your generation whispered, my generation shouts. And the world is finally listening.”

The day’s ceremony also included remarks from state Rep. Jonathan Hecht (D-Watertown). Hecht, a longtime advocate for Genocide recognition in Watertown, said of the issue, “Our town is one where the Armenian Genocide is an indelible part of our collective history. Genocide is an unspeakable deed but something we must speak out against.”

Genocide and the genocidal process does not occur in an anarchic vacuum but rather is devised and planned by it perpetrators. Hecht said of this process, “Genocide is a complex logistical exercise. It depends on lessons learned in the past.”

Regarding those in the US Congress and government that refuse to use the word “genocide” on public record when speaking about the subject, Hecht said, “It can only be stopped when we call it by its name and deny denial.”

State Sen. Steven A. Tolman presented Gov. Deval Patrick’s official proclamation of the day as “Armenian Martyr’s Day” stating, “On this day the mass genocide of the Armenian people by the Ottoman Turkish Empire began… the first genocide of the 20th century. Our thoughts are for the memory of the Armenian martyrs of 1915.”

The day’s ceremony also included musical performances by the children of the Armenian Sisters’ Academy and St. Stephen’s Armenian Elementary School, along with performances by the Norazart Vocal Ensemble.

An informal reception followed the ceremony in the State House’s Great Hall.

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