A Centennial Celebration of Hope and Survival

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By Edmond Y. Azadian

Edmond Azadian
Edmond Azadian

The centennial of the Armenian Genocide in Armenia came and went. The mood is anything but anti-climactic; on the contrary, the atmosphere in Armenia as well as around the world was upbeat and positive. The commemoration became a celebration of survival and hope. The world had converged on Yerevan. The momentum leading to the centennial was sparked by Pope Francis’ unequivocal statement about the Armenian Genocide.

On April 23 and 24, Yerevan was the focus of world news media. The organization by the government was outstanding. Armenians are not noted for their organizational skills. Individually they demonstrate a superb degree of discipline and management skills, but collectively their performance fails most of the time. However, the centennial commemoration functions restored this writer’s confidence in the Armenian collective strength.

The organization had many facets: the World Forum, Beatification of the Martyrs at Echmiadzin, the commemorative event at the Tzitzernakabert Memorial Monument and two concerts.

The Forum had attracted members of legislative bodies from 50 countries. They all called for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide, including the member from Turkey’s National Assembly.

To recruit members from the parliaments of 50 countries was a daunting challenge and it was not achieved overnight. Certainly two or three years of diplomatic work was invested in order to achieve this impressive outcome.

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The theme in Armenia was not the Armenian Genocide singularly, like we myopically focus on most of the time. Some Jewish groups also fall in that trap periodically, ignoring the other cases of mass murder.

During the centennial commemoration, the Armenian Genocide was treated on the universal level, along with the other instances of mass murder. As Prof. Israel Charny, director of the Holocaust and Genocide Institute from Israel noted, the Rwandan Genocide was cited first. The Rwandan case was further elaborated by one activist survivor, Ester Mujawayao-Keinter, when she took to the podium twice, both at the forum and at the Tzitzernakabert ceremony. The Cambodian and Darfur genocides were also highlighted on the same high level.

The policy of giving equal treatment to the other tragedies was based on the principal that if we don’t share other nations’ trauma, how could we expect other people to share our pain?

The ceremony at Tzitzernakabert was extremely moving. Each member of Tigran Hekekian’s Children’s Choir, which also performed the national anthem, was holding the hand of a leader of one country, on the other hand, as well as holding the flag of that country, leading to a huge wreath. Each representative added a flower to that wreath.

Four presidents were in attendance: Francois Hollande from France, Vladimir Putin from Russia, Tomislav Nicolic from Serbia and Nicos Anastasiades from Cyprus.

Turkey, driving its denialist frenzy to crisis levels, had decided to become the spoiler, by artificially moving the Gallipoli campaign celebration to April 24. Certainly, there were more presidents attending the Gallipoli affair, but the presidents of Djibouti, Mali and Somalia could hardly serve as a counterweight to the ones that attended the commemorations in Armenia.

Additionally, Sergey Lavrov, the Foreign Minister of Russia, who was not scheduled to participate, had joined his boss, Putin.

Although the US disappointed the Armenians with President Obama’s message, which did not include the “g” word in his annual message, the US was represented by the Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew and four legislators, while the US participation in the Gallipoli commemoration was on the ambassadorial level. That, perhaps, was a subtle message.

Armenia’s only Christian neighbor, Georgia, was represented by the lowest level delegation, while they set their top tier to Gallipoli, headed by the Minister of Defense.

Taking into consideration of relative clout of Turkey and Armenia on the world political scene, the latter fared much better because justice was on its side, to outweigh Ankara’s dishonest — and frankly silly — games.

The ceremony at Tzitzernakabert was perfectly choreographed to impress all participants. The seats had a blanket with them and plastic raincoats were distributed. Only space heaters were not considered and all those heads of state and audience members were shivering in the bitter cold. Charles Aznavour was bundled in a blanket. President Putin gave the impression that he was frustrated with the cold and he jumped a few pages in his speech, leaving out the word genocide. Burt the Turks were angry at him anyway because his website mentioned that he was on a trip to Armenia to take part in the centennial commemoration of the Armenian Genocide.

Although the beatification ceremony at Echmiadzin was heart warming, the religious segment was overplayed at the Genocide monument.

The weather was not cooperative for two days. That did not dampen the enthusiasm of the youth who attended the concert of System of a Down at Republic Square. They were singing and dancing in the pouring rain, echoing the pulse of the young generation around the world. The lead singer, Serj Tankian, did not fail either to dispense a political message in his typical style and language.

The concluding concert was also scheduled to be performed outdoors at Republic Square where a huge stage had been built, but because of the inclement weather, it was moved to the Opera House, with only one hour’s delay. All the background video presentations and lighting functioned perfectly in the new venue.

The concluding classical concert, which was titled “Renaissance,” was a huge feat of organization, in addition to its success as a fantastic music.

Hundreds of musicians were assembled from around the world to rehearse in a very short time and move up with superb music under the baton of four world-class conductors, Mikhail Yurowski (Germany). Hovhaness Chekijian (Armenia) Gianluca Marciano (Italy) and Garen Sempatyan.

Armenia has a wealth of musicians who perform on the most prestigious stages around the world. This time around, they had served as a network to enlist musicians from 43 countries to participate in this unique concert.

The centennial proved to be a celebration rather than mournful. It was a celebration of life. It created a tremendous momentum around the world.

What we need to do on the 101st anniversary is to build on that momentum, politicize the masses, preserve unity and move on.

 

 

 

Edmond Azadian
Edmond Azadian

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