By Alin K. Gregorian and Aram Arkun
BOSTON — A sea of American and Armenian flags rose atop the throng of three-thousand-strong Armenians and their friends who were commemorating the centennial of the Armenian Genocide on Friday, April 24.
The program, which started at the Massachusetts State House on Beacon Hill followed by a solemn procession to the Armenian Heritage Park on the edge of the North End, was notable for the size of the crowd as well as for drawing the highest levels of state officials.
Participating outside the steps of the State House was Gov. Charlie Baker.
Both of the state’s senators, Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren, spoke firmly in favor of the US recognizing the Genocide. Markey, the state’s junior senator, said he was proud as a US Representative to represent Watertown and to have been present during the dedication of the Armenian Heritage Park in 2012. He paraphrased Holocaust Survivor Simon Wiesenthal, who had said that a survivor has the obligation to carry on the memory for those who are no more. “One of our obligations is to acknowledge the Genocide,” Markey said.
“In the Senate I have not stopped [working for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide.] I am proud to have cast a historic vote last year in support of the Genocide resolution. It is always the right time to tell the truth,” he said, in response to what he often hears from the administration, which is that now is not the right time.
“The US must be the moral leader of the world,” he said. “President Obama has still not said the word and he must. Our president should call it a genocide. We risk the same fate befalling new populations” if we don’t. “Turkey is wrong and the Armenians are right. We stand with our ally, Armenia.”
Warren, who spoke briefly, concurred with Markey. Wearing a purple shirt in solidarity with the purple forget-me-not flower logo of the centennial, she said, “The genocide of 1.5 million Armenians is an atrocity that we must never forget. If we do not recognize the lessons of the past, we are destined to repeat it.”[CHECK—we risk seeing them repeated??]
She added, “The centennial commemoration helps us come together to celebrate the survivors.”
She also spoke about the importance of the Armenian Heritage Park in the heart of the city. “It is a permanent memorial to the Genocide and a tangible memory.”
She concluded, “To everyone who has worked to bring recognition to the Genocide, I commend you for your efforts. I make one promise: we will not forget.”
State Rep. Jonathan Hecht (D-Watertown/Cambridge) was the master of ceremonies for the program outside the State House. “We are in the open air before the world. One hundred years is far, far too long” for the lack of recognition by Turkey. He called for the US government to recognize the Genocide officially.
Also speaking was Harriett Chandler (D-Worcester), the state Senate Majority Leader. She praised the Armenian community for its great resilience and contributions to the state.
“Until the Genocide is recognized, the Armenian people will lack closure,” she said.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo paid tribute to his forerunner in that post, George Keverian, who had started the annual commemoration in the 1990s. “He had the courage to speak up with others did not,” he said.
Baker, who received an enthusiastic welcome from the crowd, said, “I stand with the Armenian-American community on this issue. We will never forget that 100 years ago, over 1 million Armenians were killed by the Ottoman Empire.”
He finished by saying, “God bless your Armenian saints,” in reference to a ceremony in Echmiadzin the day before in which the martyrs were officially canonized.
State Rep. David Muradian (R-Grafton), the newest Armenian-American House member, recalled how he grew up on the stories of his uncle, who was an Armenian Genocide survivor. “His father was killed in front of him for his slippers,” he recalled. “It is a disgrace that maintaining relations with Turkey are more important than honoring our history. Mr. President, I implore you.”
He added, “Just 100 years ago, our culture was almost wiped out. Today we are those doctors, lawyers, teachers and intellectuals” who were singled out on April 24.
Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian said he had “never been more moved to see the sea of flags than today. It is an amazing day for our people.”
He said the day was somewhat different for him as this was the first Genocide commemoration without his father, who had passed away earlier this year. He thanked two notable leaders for their support of the Armenian community, Pope Francis and Patriots Coach Bill Belichick for their support. The latter, he said, “may not be the pope, folks, but almost,” to the roar of the crowd.
A solemn procession led by the Homenetmen Scouts and members of the clergy wended its way through Boston’s streets to reach the Armenian Heritage Park, where more national leaders spoke.
The Heritage Park component of the program featured musical performances from the Zankagner Choir and duduk player Martin Haroutunian, as well as dance performances from the Sayat Nova Dance Company and the Erebuni Armenian Dance Ensemble.
Rep. Michael Capuano (D-MA 7th District) thrilled the assembled by saying, “You have many, many friends in Congress. To me, this is an easy issue.”
James Kalustian, one of the co-chairs of the Massachusetts commemoration group, served as master of ceremonies of the park program. He expressed his pride in the community as well as the creation of the park.
Former Governor Deval Patrick also praised the community for the creation of the park as well as the general success of the community in the Commonwealth, saying “this is a living tribute to those who were lost.”
Boston Mayor Martin Walsh recalled his trip to Jerusalem’s Armenian Quarter with Koutoujian and paid tribute to the Armenian presence in the city as well as American aid during the time of the Genocide.
Three survivors of the Armenian Genocide, among the very last living in the United States, were recognized for their presence at the park. Several religious leaders from other communities attended.
Prof. Dikran Kaligian delivered a fiery address, in which he chided Turkey for trying to sow dissent within Armenian communities as well as between the diaspora and the Republic of Armenia. He also called out “Turkey’s denial factory at the University of Utah,” which publishes subpar academic books with a definite denialist bias and sends them for free to libraries across the country.
However, he said, “their wall of denial is cracking. … The State Department should stop being an accomplice to this cover-up.”
He expressed the need for reparations, restitution and the return of lands, properties and wealth taken from Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, in essence the seed money for the modern Republic of Turkey.
“Armenia will never be safe next to the unrepentant denier,” he said.
The march in Los Angeles on April 24 may have been the largest Armenian commemorative event in the US in terms of size, but relatively few high-ranking officials attended. Despite the smaller size of the Massachusetts-Armenian community, a great number of statesmen, including many of national stature, participated in the Boston events. In addition to the individuals mentioned earlier, Massachusetts Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, Auditor Suzanne Bump, State Senator William Brownsberger, and US Department of Health and Human Services Region 1 Director Rachel Kaprielian were in the audience. Furthermore, diplomatic representatives of a number of foreign countries came. Either the consul general or vice consul of Israel, Germany, France, Poland, Greece, Italy, Denmark, Canada, Lebanon and the United Kingdom attended one of the commemorative events.
The Boston events received wide coverage in local newspapers and television.
After the events concluded, the three co-chairs of the Boston commemoration, Anthony Barsamian, James Kalustian and Ara Nazarian, jointly declared: “We were honored to co-chair the 100th Commemoration of the Armenian Genocide here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Our ancestors would have been proud to see the community come together in affirmation of the Armenian Genocide and our continued quest for justice on their behalf. It is a privilege to have led the community and we thank all faith and political leaders, affiliate organizations and the people of Massachusetts for standing up with us as one and saying, “never again.”