Martyrs Remembered At Statehouse Program

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By Thomas C . Nash
Special to the Mirror-Spectator

BOSTON — The Armenian-American community gathered at the Massachusetts Statehouse on April 15 to commemorate the lives lost — and those that thrived — in the wake of the first genocide of the 20th century.

The ceremony, headed for the first time by Watertown state Rep. Jonathan Hecht, focused on the lives built after the events of 1915 in a new country.

The diaspora “rose from the ashes of genocide in a remarkable testament to the spirit of the Armenian people,” Hecht noted.

Hecht stressed the importance of meeting in the Statehouse, in the House of Representatives, as a chance to show a new generation the importance of remembering what occurred.

“It is through educating future generations that we maintain the truth of the Armenian Genocide,” Hecht added.

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The day’s program was titled “Honoring the Truth by Educating the Next Generation,” paying tribute to the two Armenian schools in the state.

State Sen. Steven Tolman presented both the Armenian Sisters’ Academy and St. Stephen’s Armenian Elementary School with Joint House/Senate Resolutions commending them for their work.

Armenian Sisters’ Academy principal, Sister Cecile Keghiayan, speaking in Armenian, exhorted all Armenians to speak their native language and never to forget it.

St. Stephen’s Principal Houry Boyamian noted it was her father’s experience escaping the Genocide as a child of 5 that inspired him to go into education, and which eventually led to him being a principal of a prestigious school in Beirut.

“The only way for the Armenian people to avoid total annihilation is to keep the language and culture alive through education. My father is my hero, and I tried to follow in his footsteps,” she said.

Gov. Deval Patrick attended the program, as he has done every year since his election, and shook hands with the surviviors as well as the excited students who surrounded him.

New Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian introduced House Speaker Robert DeLeo, who was joined by several other government officials for the ceremony.

DeLeo noted that Armenians, like many other immigrant groups, have enriched the history of Massachusetts despite the trauma they had endured.

“We are truly a Commonwealth of immigrants,” he said. “Thank you for keeping all those lost alive in our memories, our thoughts and our prayers.”

The keynote address was given by American University of Armenia Law School Dean Tom Samuelian.

“That the Armenian Genocide happened is not really in question. President Obama said as much during his historic visit to Turkey. In fact, all US presidents have condemned it. Turkish oppression and mistreatment of the Armenians has been on the US foreign policy agenda since the late 19th century,” he said.

He continued, “As eyewitnesses to the crime, the United States and many countries in Europe have all the evidence they need, beyond a reasonable doubt. Some, impelled by the evidence, have drawn the legal consequences that flow from that evidence. They condemn it as genocide and make Turkey’s redemption a condition of admission into the EU. Sometimes, as in the case of Germany, they are compelled to draw the legal consequences just to live with themselves, because of their own complicity. Others, like the US, UK and Israel, balk at drawing legal consequences for fear of retaliation by their unrepentant Turkish allies.

“The court of public opinion is a large, interminable brawlroom where the truth is among the least important factors. Distraction and confusion are highly effective tactics, as amply shown by the history of tobacco or the global warming coverup. All it takes is creating controversy — enough reasonable doubt so that reasonable people have an excuse to avoid making a decision or taking action. Since there is no closure in the court of public opinion, the talk keeps going.

“The Armenian Genocide is not an Armenian or a Turkish issue. It is a community of nations issue. It is about community norms that have been violated. And even if, for whatever reason on whatever terms, the perpetrators and victims reconcile, the crime against humanity remains to be addressed. This is not a commercial dispute that can be put behind us, swept under the rug or haggled away. Humanity was violated by the 20th-century Turkish destruction of the Armenians. Humanity was humiliated by its impotence to prevent it. The Turks lowered the bar on barbarity and the community of nations is still smarting from it.”

He added, “The Armenian Genocide is not a tiff between neighbors. It is violation of community norms. Even if the Armenians and Turks could wish away their differences, the condemnation by scores of eyewitnesses and countries and international institutions will not vanish. Nor, even more importantly, will it stop haunting the Turks.

“Today I stand before you as an American and as an Armenian. I will now speak as an Armenian, a descendant of Genocide victims and survivors, who has made my home and living in Armenia for the past 13 years. Until Armenians make clear what needs to be done, people will just keep talking. In this crisis-weary world, simply repeating a tale of woe and complaining about one’s plight will not produce results. That was perhaps the only option when the Armenians were a people with no state and no standing in the community of nations. That changed with Armenia’s independence. Armenians are in a different legal position compared to 20 years ago, when indeed, the court of public opinion was effectively the only accessible forum. Political and legal reality has changed, but our mentality has not yet caught up. The Armenian nation, those living in the diaspora and those living in Armenia, have not yet figured out how to pursue national goals in a coordinated, effective manner.

“Make no mistake, the reason we are here today is not because of special interests or the clout of an ethnic lobby, but

because the Armenian Genocide is quintessentially and inescapably an American issue, and Armenian-Americans have expertise and knowledge to solve it.

“It’s not easy for the United States to exercise world leadership, but if a country takes that mantel, it also assumes the corresponding duties to the community of nations. This is a lesson and a value system that both my classmate Barack Obama and I learned, even took for granted, as law students at Harvard, and which he, disappointingly, seems to have forgotten.”

Also, Rabbi Howard Jaffe, who along with Lexington resident Laura Boghosian, launched the Coalition to Recognize the Armenian Genocide, was recognized by the organizers for his efforts.

The Erevan Choral Society of Holy Trinity Armenian Church of Greater Boston performed. A reception in the Great Hall followed the ceremony.

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