Genocide survivor Asdghig “Starrie” Alemian with, standing from left, daughter Claire, Rep. David Muradian and Governor Charlie Baker (photo: Jirair Hovsepian)

State House Program Commemorates Genocide Anniversary with Keynote Speaker Afeyan

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BOSTON — The venerable chamber of the Massachusetts State House once again filled with Armenians and their supporters on April 12 for the annual commemoration of the tragedy of the Armenian Genocide. Though 104 years may have passed, the reverberations of this event continue to affect millions of people’s lives, and the pageantry and traditions of the State House make it one of the most impressive places in the United States at which this is manifested.

The morning began with the ceremonial procession of the sergeant-at-arms, elected officials and Armenian clergy of the three main denominations in Massachusetts entering the hall led by the Homenetmen Scouts bearing Armenian and American flags. Rev. Dr. Avedis Boynerian of Armenian Memorial Church of Watertown gave the invocation and Representative David Robertson recited the Pledge of Allegiance. The children of St. Stephen’s Armenian Elementary School sang the Armenian and American anthems.

Rep. David Muradian, the sole Armenian member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, welcomed the guests and served as master of ceremonies. Massachusetts State Senator Will Brownsberger recognized the elected municipal and state officials present.

Speaker Robert DeLeo (photo: David Medzorian)

Speaker DeLeo and Keynote Speaker Afeyan

Sheriff of Middlesex County Peter Koutoujian, a regular presence at important Armenian-American events, introduced Speaker Robert A. DeLeo. He first, however, briefly presented his family’s story of fleeing Marash to the United States. Koutoujian also commented on the recent visit of Anna Hakobyan, wife of Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, to Boston for the City of Smile Foundation banquet, where Koutoujian was master of ceremonies, and noted the encouraging changes over the past year in the Republic of Armenia.

Sheriff Peter Koutoujian, left, and Rep. David Muradian (photo: Ken Martin)

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Koutoujian gratefully declared that DeLeo consistently has encouraged Armenians involved in Massachusetts government like himself, Muradian and former Rep. Rachel Kaprielian (whom Koutoujian pointed out in the audience). Though he does not have a district which is primarily Armenian or has an -ian at the end of his name, DeLeo has participated regularly in the annual commemorations of the genocide, Koutoujian said, not because he has to but because he wants to. Koutoujian exclaimed that DeLeo chooses to never forget, as a supporter of social justice and the Armenian community.

Dr. Noubar Afeyan (photo: Ken Martin)

DeLeo in turn said that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is a place that cherishes freedom. He said that he came to the issue through Speaker George Keverian, who began this commemoration many years ago, and consequently learned about the Armenian heritage and the Armenian Genocide. DeLeo cited Peter Balakian’s book, The Burning Tigris, which informed him about the actions of Americans concerned about the Armenian Genocide as it was happening. He declared his hope that not only the US but the rest of the world can fully acknowledge the events that befell the Armenians during World War I as genocide, and that this would lead to healing. The legacy of those events must not be forgotten, he said, but at the same time, he continued, “as humans and Americans, we must insure that human spirit outshines inhumanity” in today’s world.

Muradian presented the keynote speaker of the program, Dr. Noubar Afeyan, a well-known biotech entrepreneur and philanthropist based in Boston. Afeyan is founder and chief executive officer of Flagship Pioneering. Afeyan noted that though he has given talks around the globe, this was the first time he had spoken in this august setting, close to his residence.

In his broad-ranging talk, Afeyan pointed out that the first Armenian came to America at the start of the 17th century, and the story of Massachusetts and the United States was intimately connected from its beginning with the immigration of many groups, including the Armenians. Afeyan then gave a copy of Hayk Demoyan’s hefty book which documents the Armenian presence in America, the Armenian Legacy in America: A 400-Year Heritage, to DeLeo as a gift.

Afeyan proceeded to summarize the historical events of the Armenian Genocide and the lack of international formal contemporary acknowledgment, which leaves room for denialism. He focused on the birth of saviors and survivors, which he said often have been overlooked in the narrative. Afeyan like Speaker DeLeo referred to Balakian’s Burning Tigris and read an excerpt pertaining to the meeting of American humanitarians in Boston’s Faneuil Hall, only a short walk from the State House.

Armenian clergy praying (photo: Ken Martin)

Afeyan spoke of his grandparents from Adapazar and Urfa, both in the Ottoman Empire, and how his paternal grandfather was rescued by German officers. The stories he heard growing up led him to understand that many survivors owed their lives to saviors. While the survivors could not pay them back, he said that today’s Armenians can do something in their name to help people suffering today in the same way their ancestors did.

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This was the inspiration for the Aurora Initiative, established four years ago by Afeyan, Vartan Gregorian and Ruben Vardanyan. The initiative attracts public attention to the atrocities taking place around the world while seeking to support and inspire modern-day saviors, through “gratitude in action.”

Afeyan said he feels the urgency as an immigrant to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to do something in response to the opportunities given him, as do many other Armenians. They are descendants of Armenians who were given a second chance at life. To best make use of that second chance, Afeyan urged fellow Armenians “to use our past as a force for good, to find a way to express this gratitude by supporting today’s refugees and needy, embracing humanitarian causes just like the ones that saved our lives. And above all, let’s work on making America great, in the way it was when those devoted Americans, some 125 years ago, walked to Faneuil Hall to take up our cause.”

Rep. Jon Hecht (photo: Ken Martin)

Recognitions and Acknowledgments, Musical Inspiration

Rep. Jonathan Hecht of Watertown took the podium to acknowledge the presence of human rights organizations whose representatives were present to support the Armenian event, including the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, the Massachusetts Coalition to Save Darfur, the Anti-Defamation League of New England, and the Watertown Citizens for Peace, Justice and the Environment. Hecht noted the presence of a survivor of the Tutsi Genocide in Rwanda in the audience. He asked for a moment of silence in the audience out of respect for the 25th anniversary of that genocide, and for the audience to rededicate itself to preventing the outbreak of genocide anywhere in the world.

Hecht read a proclamation from Gov. Charles D. Baker proclaiming April 24, 2019 to be Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day and then presented it to Asdghig “Starrie” Alemian, a genocide survivor who turned 109 this March. Despite her advanced age, Alemian has attended all of the recent Armenian Genocide commemorations with her family.

Aurelian and Anahid Mardiros receive the Joint Senate/House Resolution from Rep. Andres Vargas, right (photo: David Medzorian)

Marilyn Devaney of the Massachusetts Governor’s Council, a lifelong resident of Watertown, recalled the terrible stories she heard from Armenian Genocide survivors, and called for a moment of silent prayer for former Speaker George Keverian. She called for each person to lobby Congress to get a resolution passed acknowledging the Armenian Genocide, and then presented the resolution of the Governor’s Council calling for the same.

Rep. Andres Vargas from Haverhill presented the Joint Senate/House Resolution honoring Aurelian and Anahid Mardiros for their contribution to Armenian causes in Massachusetts and elsewhere through philanthropy and leadership. The resolution points out that they are an example of the classic American success story, immigrating from Romania to create A&A Industries, a successful family-run business, now based in Peabody, which manufactures precision machine components.

The Mardiros family with the Joint Senate/House Resolution (photo: Aram Arkun)

Their factory fabricated and donated the monument with its base for Armenian Heritage Park in Boston, which powerfully remembers the Armenian Genocide and celebrates the immigrant heritage in one of the most prominent spots in Boston. Aurelian Mardiros and family members from A&A Industries annually volunteer time to supervise the reconfiguration of the sculpture.

The family quietly supports many Armenian causes in Massachusetts and elsewhere, including schools, scholarships and organizations like the Daughters of Vartan (in which Anahid Mardiros served as Matron), Knights of Vartan, Armenian Relief Society, the Armenian Mirror-Spectator, the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research and Holy Trinity Armenian Church of Greater Boston.

Many members of the Mardiros family were present in the audience to witness the presentation of the Resolution to the Mardiros couple.

The program then turned to music to inspire the audience. State Rep. David Rogers introduced clarinetist Narek Arutyunian. He was born in Armenia and raised in Moscow, where he soon became a prize-winning musician. He moved to the United States to attend the Juilliard School and obtain a master’s degree from the Manhattan School of Music. In addition to solo recitals, he has performed as a soloist with many orchestras throughout the world.

Arutyunian performed two pieces: the hymn Wonderous It Is to Me, written by the 8th century Khosrovidukht, one of the earliest known Armenian women composers, and the festive Spanish Caprice by Ivan Olenchik. He introduced both pieces succinctly.

 

Second Annual Keverian Public Service Scholarship

George Keverian’s name over the years has been mentioned again and again at the State House commemorations by both officials and Armenian community members. This is not a coincidence, as Keverian was the one to initiate the commemoration while he was in office as Speaker of the House of Representatives in 1985. The next part of the program perpetuated Keverian’s memory.

Keverian Scholarship recipients Joshua Powers, left, and Maxwell James Fathy, right, with Alfred Lattanzi (photo: Ken Martin)

The Keverian family, joined by the family of Alfred Lattanzi, a close friend of Keverian, created the Honorable Speaker George Keverian Public Service Scholarship to keep Keverian’s legacy alive and use the lessons of his life to inspire new generations of young leaders. The scholarship is “supporting the work of students who strive to create positive change by helping individuals reach their potential, communities achieve their goals, and society advance the principles of democracy.” Alfred Lattanzi himself emotionally presented the second annual George Keverian Memorial Scholarship recipients, quoting Keverian, who declared, “Service should not be rendered as a favor conferred or as a debt, but as a simple, natural devotion to our fellow man.”

Diane Keverian, Ani Keverian, Jack Keverian, Maxwell Fathy (Armenian scholarship recipient), Dorothy Keverian, Kenneth Keverian, Bob Avakian (ASA committee member), Niari Keverian, Alfred Lattanzi, Lori Keverian, George Keverian, Lisann Dillon (photo: Ken Martin)

Lattanzi thanked the Armenian Student Association (ASA) and Everett High School for selecting the two recipients of the scholarship, who each were awarded $5,000. Maxwell James Fathy was selected by ASA not only for his impressive accomplishments but because he wishes to pursue a career in public service to enact meaningful change in society. Born in Newton, Mass., he graduated Newton North High School in 2010 and then Tufts University (Cum Laude) in international relations. He is currently studying at the Fletcher School at Tufts for a master’s degree in law and diplomacy.

The second recipient, Joshua Powers, is a graduating senior academically ranked 5th in his class of 515 at Everett High School. He has held positions of leadership and service including president of the Student Council and president of the National Honor Society. He aspires, he said, to increase “the connection between different types of people and create a more welcoming and tolerant society.”

To learn more information about the scholarship email gkeverianscholarship@gmail.com

Governor Charlie Baker with students from St. Stephen’s Armenian Elementary School (photo: Ken Martin)

Conclusion and Reception with Governor Baker

Muradian in his closing remarks declared that Armenians must not forget what happened in the past, for it formed those alive today. Instead, he said, “We can use education, and educating individuals that we come across, to change the planet one person at a time.” One day what happened to the Armenians will achieve recognition and genocide will never happen again to people of any race, religion or nation.

Muradian thanked Michael Demirjian as chair of the Boston Armenian Genocide Commemorative Committee. After the Order of Intercessory Prayer was conducted by the Armenian clergy present, the crowd of attendees went downstairs for light refreshments. Governor Baker arrived there, and mingled with the crowd, including many of the speakers and program participants.

Clarinetist Narek Arutyunian (photo: David Medzorian)

 

 

 

 

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