Alma Hosts ‘Genocide: A Joint Commemoration’

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By Gabriella Gage

Mirror-Spectator Staff

WATERTOWN — On Sunday, April 21, the Armenian Library and Museum of America (ALMA) hosted a joint commemoration to remember the 98th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, the 38th anniversary of the Cambodian Genocide and 10 years since the beginning of the ongoing genocide in Darfur.

More than 60 people attended the program, which began with opening remarks from the chairman of ALMA’s Board of Trustees, Haig Der Manuelian, followed by a benediction by Rev. Aram Stepanian of Soorp Asdvadzadzin Armenian Apostolic Church. Event chair and president of the Armenian Heritage Foundation, James Kalustian, served as moderator for the event.

Cambodian Genocide survivor, Kowith Kret, the first of the guest speakers, shared his own story of surviving the Khmer Rouge era atrocities (1975-1979.) He described his experience as a young man, marching with his entire family of 11 children  — including a 28-day-old brother — under threat of violence by the Khmer Rouge soldiers. Before his father was taken away from the march to be executed, he took young Kret aside and said, “You are the oldest son. You take good care of your mother and your 10 siblings. Don’t give up hope.”

Kret, a community activist and the visionary behind the ALMA exhibit, “More than a Number,” also offered a historical perspective of the Cambodian Genocide, along with his personal story of survivor. While playing a recording of John Lennon’s Imagine in the background, Kret said, “We are the survivors. We cherish every moment in life. We have an obligation to make sure such manmade catastrophes do not happen again.”

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Following Kret, Eric Cohen, president of the Massachusetts Coalition to Save Darfur, presented his talk and accompanying slideshow, “The Genocide in Darfur: 10 Years and Counting.” Referring to the recent attacks in Boston and the capture of the remaining suspect, Cohen began by saying, “It’s a privilege to be here in Watertown this week, every week, but especially this week.”

Cohen told the survival story of activist, Hawa Abdallah Mohammed Salim, a woman beaten, raped and tortured by members of the Janjaweed militia and the Sudanese government under leaders such as Ali Kushayb of the Wadi Salih in West Darfur. Cohen called her a “fierce advocate for justice and peace,” and noted that in 2012 she was awarded the International Women of Courage Award.

Cohen also showed through his visual presentation that 3,020 Darfur villages have been destroyed and spoke of the thousands of Nuban children who continue to be displaced, starved and murdered. “Ask yourself: How many genocides from the same regime will the world watch without acting to stop them?” said Cohen.

Prof. Armen T. Marsoobian of Southern Connecticut University presented, “The Armenian Genocide and the Aftermath of Cultural Destruction.” Marsoobian, the son of Genocide survivors, offered an extensive historical perspective of the Armenian Genocide. He noted, “The Turkish patterns marking the Armenian Genocide as a genocide began in a variety of ways long before 1915.”

Marsoobian also discussed the eight stages that are signature of all genocides, and noted that many would argue that the Armenian Genocide is still in the eighth stage — denial. “It will never end until Turkey acknowledges the Genocide.”

Marsoobian also discussed the aftermath of cultural genocide on Armenians through destruction of heritage and assimilation, as well as attempts by Armenians to reverse cultural genocide. He said, “This cultural erasure also makes it easier for Turkey to keep its citizens in the dark.”

A brief question and answer period followed the presentations, as did a performance by violinist Levon Chilingirian of Groong (The Crane) and a closing prayer by Rev. Stepanian.

Refreshments were served. In addition to ALMA’s permanent Armenian Genocide exhibit on the second floor, exhibits “More than a Number” on the Cambodian Genocide and “10 Years of Darfur” were on display on the third floor of the museum.