Armenians Gather in New York City for Commemoration of Armenian Genocide

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By Taleen Babayan

NEW YORK — Hundreds of Armenians crowded into Kavookjian Hall in New York on Sunday, April 25, to observe the 95th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. Intermittent rain compelled the organizers to forgo the traditional locale of Times Square.

Attendees crowded the standing-room-only hall, spilled into the vestibule, stood on the marble staircase and filled the upstairs lobby. People came on hired buses from as far away as Boston and Philadelphia and from all the Armenian churches in the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area. A large contingent flew in from California to support the event. Especially prominent was the presence of a vast multitude of Armenian youth from various schools and colleges on the East Coast.

The event was once more supported by all the major Armenian-American organizations in the United States as well as by all Armenian churches of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and their pastors, many of whom were present and introduced as a group.

Emcee Dr. Mary Papazian, senior vice president of academic Affairs and provost of Lehman College, City University of New York, introduced Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, Prelate of Armenian Church of America (Eastern), who gave the invocation. “Ninety five years ago, the Armenian nation went through ‘the cruel valley of death.’ We lost our mother soil which we had defended with our blood and cultivated with our sweat,” he said. “The wounds of genocide never heal since a nation can never fully recover, but penance by the perpetrators and acts of reparation can diminish the pain.”

The Very Rev. Vazken Karayan, pastor of the Holy Cross Armenian Church in New Jersey, representing Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church (Eastern), gave the benediction.

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Speakers included significant political figures such Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY); Representatives Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Anthony Wiener (D-NY). Featured Armenian speakers were publisher Harut Sassounian and activist and attorney Mark Geragos.

The political speakers all reiterated in the strongest possible terms their support of the Armenian community in the United States, their pledge to champion US affirmation of the Armenian Genocide, and support for the Republics of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabagh.

Grand Commander of the Knights of Vartan Haig Deranian, and Grand Matron of the Daughters of Vartan, Melene Ouzounian, thanked the participating organizations, and praised the organizers for a successful event. “We have used Times Square, the nation’s heart, as the center for our national commemoration for 25 years thanks to the foresight, enterprise and the dedication and sacrifice of all those individuals, known and unknown, who make such a vast enterprise a success. I cannot name you all, by thank you from the bottom of my heart,” said Deranian.

Shakeh Kadehjian introduced the two Armenian survivors of the Genocide, Oronik Eminian, born in 1912, and Perouz Kalousdian, born in 1909. Aghavni (Aggie) Ellian, executive director of the Flushing Home for the Armenian Aged, accompanied them.

Keynote Speakers

Publisher of the California Courier, Sassounian, whose column appears in many Armenian weekly newspapers, said that President Barack Obama broke his promise to the Armenian people when he again used the Armenian words Metz Yeghern (the great catastrophe) instead of the internationally-known word, genocide. He argued that the community is past the quest for recognition since most significant countries have already reaffirmed the facts of the Armenian Genocide, most recently Sweden and Canada, as well as more than 40 states in the United States, the US Congress in 1975 and 1984, President Ronald Reagan in 1981, the US State Department in 1952 in a brief before the International Court of Justice, The International Association of Genocide Scholars and nearly every genocide scholar in the world.

“Let us move onto the next step,” he said, “and let us pursue justice for our cause instead of just genocide recognition. Turkey must be held accountable. … Armenians are entitled to just compensation of homes, land, and houses of worship.”

Geragos, the famed criminal defense lawyer, concurred, saying that the “r” word that matters to the Armenians is not “recognition,” but “reparation.”

“Yesterday was the insurance companies who paid off, next it will be the banks and tomorrow it will be the Republic of Turkey. Give us a down payment. Give us Mt. Ararat back and we’ll start talking,” said Geragos, referring in part to his victory in the Armenian class action lawsuit against New York Life Insurance for insurance proceeds of Armenian killed in the Genocide. He also derided members of Congress who are receiving “blood money” from the Turkish government to deny the Armenian Genocide, in particular Jean Schmidt (R-OH) who is running against an Armenian, David Krikorian, for Ohio’s 2nd congressional district. Geragos is defending Krikorian in a lawsuit Schmidt filed in the Ohio Elections Commission against Krikorian for defamation.

Menendez, a co-sponsor of the Senate Resolution 316 affirming the Armenian Genocide, said that the American State Department must stop its diplomats from using euphemisms that gloss over the Armenian Genocide.

“To overlook human suffering is not who we are as a people or as a nation,” said Menendez. “And if Sweden can recognize the Armenian Genocide, so can the United States.”

A longtime supporter of Armenian issues, he emphasized that the events of 1915-1923 were genocide, and there was no other word to describe it. “Those who forget the past are destined to repeat it,” said Menendez. “And I will not rest in the US Senate until our country remembers the Armenian Genocide once and for all.”

Schumer said that the truth always prevails and as a Jewish-American he can relate to the Armenians in their efforts to have the genocide be recognized.

“Again I say to the Turkish government, give up your losing battle to deny the Armenian Holocaust,” urged Schumer. “When you deny that evil has occurred, it paves the road for evil to occur again.” He also stressed his interest in helping Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.

Pallone, co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Affairs, said he was speaking at the commemoration with a heavy heart because for years efforts have been made for the US to recognize the Armenian Genocide without what may appear like much success. “Yet,” he said, “The tireless efforts of the Armenian community have achieved progress. We must note the recognition of many US states as well as countries worldwide who accept that the genocide occurred.” “In the past” he said, “those in Congress argued against the Armenian Genocide resolution by saying there was no genocide. This year they only argued that the resolution was not good for Armenian-Turkish relations.

“We are close to Genocide recognition,” said Pallone. “Please continue your efforts, continue writing letters, sending e-mails and making phone calls, because if we can come up with a majority it is possible the resolution can pass this in this session of Congress.”

Maloney vowed to not allow the Armenian Genocide to remain in the shadows of history and demanded that the Turkish and US governments finally acknowledge the Armenian Genocide.

“The time is now on this solemn day and our message is clear,” said Maloney. “The world remembers the Armenian Genocide and the governments of US and Turkey should declare that they do too.”

Weiner said that as a Jewish American he knows that there will always be people who will try to deny history. He spoke about his efforts to tell Turkish-Americans, in particular, to join with him in saying that the Armenian Genocide happened so as to relieve public opprobrium and correct their history. “By acknowledging the Genocide,” he said, “Turkey will become a more democratic and more respected country.”

“I did not know about the Armenian Genocide before I ran for Congress,” asserted Weiner, “but I learned the history, and I have been a friend and ally to the Armenians ever since.”

New York City comptroller John Liu said the fight has to be continued until Armenians receive an apology. “When 1.5 million people are killed, you can’t pretend it didn’t happen,” said Liu. He spoke about his visits to the survivors who currently reside in the Armenian Home in Flushing, and said that they carried the memory of what happened which cannot be denied.

Galen Kirkland, New York State Commissioner of Human Rights, represented Governor David Paterson and brought a proclamation from the governor.

Curtis Sliwa Stirs Audience

Curtis Sliwa, radio personality and founder of the Guardian Angles, said there is no freedom for Armenians in Turkey, yet the Turkish government pretends to be progressive in its bid to join the European Union. He said Armenians have been patiently waiting for each of the Presidents to respect their word and promises they make during their campaigns to accept the genocide, yet recognition has never materialized. “I suggest to you, enough of the politicians. You never get your due. Never accept their excuses.”

“I don’t always agree with everything Curtis Sliwa says,” said Dr. Dennis Papazian in an interview, “but I love the ways he says it and honor his intentions.”

The 95th Commemoration was organized by the Mid-Atlantic chapters of the Knights and Daughters of Vartan, and was co-sponsored by the Armenian General Benevolent Union, the Armenian Assembly of America, the Armenian National Committee of America, the ADL-Ramgavars, and the Armenian Council of America. Participating organizations include Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, Prelacy of the Armenian Church, Armenian Missionary Association of America, Armenian Presbyterian Church, the Armenian Evangelical Church, the Armenian Catholic Eparchy for US and Canada and numerous Armenian youth organizations.

These youth groups include the Armenian Church Youth Organization of America, the Armenian Youth Federation, the Tekeyan Cultural Association, Homenetmen Scouts, Hamazkayin Cultural Association, Shushi Dance Ensemble, Akh’Tamar Dance Ensemble, Noyan Tapan of Brooklyn, NY, Rutgers U. Armenian Club, Fordham U. Armenian Club, Columbia U. Armenian Club, New York University Armenian Club, Hunter College Armenian Club and the Armenian Students Association.

Hirant Gulian was chairman of the organizing committee, and co-chairmen were Dr. Dennis R. Papazian, academic advisor, and Sam Azadian, one of the originators of the event. Armen McOmber, New Jersey attorney, was associate MC.

The winners of the essay contest of the Knights of Vartan were announced at the program: Ani Papazian, a junior at Pascack Hills High School, NJ, first place; Alex Tavlian, a high school senior from Fresno, Calif., second place; and Talin Baghdadlian, a freshman at George Washington University, Washington, DC, third place, and honorable mentions to Katrice Karanfilian, a high school student from NJ. Taleen Babayan was head of the selections committee.

Nanor Haroutunyan and Ani Djirdjirian sang the national anthems of the United Sates and Armenia.