By Aram Arkun
NEW YORK — It was 1985. The 75th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide was approaching. Usually commemorative events were held in the halls of Armenian churches on April 24, with the exception of demonstrations in front of the Turkish embassy in New York every five years or so on “major” anniversaries. The Knights and Daughters of Vartan up until then would support existing commemorations. Sam Azadian suggested that Armenians needed to get out of their own halls and hold events in public places so that non-Armenians could learn about the Armenian Genocide. Hirant Gulian, who closely worked with Azadian, said, “Sam was involved in city government. He worked for four different mayors and served as a commissioner, and so was very well connected. As a result, he was able to reserve the location of Times Square in the heart of New York City in 1985. That’s how we started.” The Knights and Daughters of Vartan for the next 25 years organized commemorations in the same place, creating a tradition which continues this year. It will take place one week later than usual, on May 1, in order not to conflict with Easter.
Gulian, a successful jeweler in New York, was one of the initial organizers together with Sam Azadian, and today and for the last five years has served as the chairman of the commemorative committee for the Knights. He explained that the event for the first few years was solely under the banner of the Knights and Daughters of Vartan. The goal was to obtain recognition for the Armenian Genocide. Many individuals were financially and morally supportive, and volunteered personally. For example, at midnight before the event, Hratch Kaprielian and his 30 employees were busy putting up signs throughout New York to announce the forthcoming commemoration.
Beginning in 1989, all the Armenian church denominations became involved (including both the Eastern Diocese and Prelacy), and in the last five years, all the traditional Armenian political parties began participating along with the Armenian Assembly of America, which was supportive from the early years. In the past few years, various Armenian youth organizations, such as university Armenian clubs, the Armenian Church Youth Organization of America and the Armenian Youth Federation have become involved. Gulian said, “No one disagrees that we Armenians should be all working together at least in this area. Especially over the past five years, the Knights of Vartan has finally succeeded in bringing together all our organizations and groups. The Knights and Daughters of Vartan have no political agenda beyond Genocide recognition from the Turkish government, and our organizations understand this.”
The event garnered great attention. The street would be closed from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. On the average from 80,000 to 100,000 people would pass by the important central location of Times Square on that day, according to the reports of the New York City police. Two to three thousand people on average have attended each year’s event, making for a total of as many as 75,000 attendees over the last quarter century.