Protestors hold signs at the Michigan State Capitol Building in Lansing.

Michigan Armenians Rally For Artsakh

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DETROIT/LANSING — The Michigan Armenian community rallied in support of Artsakh on the steps of the Michigan State Capitol Building on Sunday, October 11. A crowd of about 100-150 people congregated at Michigan’s capital, Lansing, coming from Metro Detroit’s large Armenian community, as far as away as Grand Rapids as well as the small but proud Armenian community in Lansing itself.

Edmond Y. Azadian speaks at the Lansing event.
Protestors in Lansing

The event, though not drawing a large turnout, was symbolically important and was actually more successful than expected since it was not explicitly backed by any Armenian organization and was pulled together by one man — Metro Detroit Armenian community member George Kurajian — in less than a week. Speakers included State Representative Mari Manoogian (D-Birmingham), Armenian Democratic Liberal Party Supreme Council member and president of the Central Board of the Tekeyan Cultural Association of the US and Canada Edmond Azadian, Fr. Armash Baghdasarian of St. John’s Armenian Church, Armenian Assembly leader and former State Representative John Jamian, and representatives of the Lansing Armenian community.

Detroit protestor

Local Tekeyan Cultural Association leader Diane Alexanian served as MC and read a poem by Vahan Tekeyan in English translation, and her husband and fellow TCA/ADL activist and leader Hagop Alexanian assisted behind the scenes.

Samvel Arakelyan, classical violinist, performed Ara Gevorgyan’s piece, Artsakh. Azadian gave the most in-depth speech of the event, explaining in detail the political and humanitarian situation of Artsakh and Armenia to the crowd and urging them to support the cause. His in-depth analysis including historical background was especially valuable given the presence of local news teams from WILX-10 (Lansing’s NBC affiliate) and WLNS-6 (Lansing’s ABC affiliate).

Michigan is one of the few state governments to recognize the independence of Artsakh and call on the Federal government to do the same, an achievement that took place two years ago. The most poignant moment of the gathering was when the microphone was declared open to anyone who wanted to speak. Several individuals who were natives of the Republic of Armenia and/or the USSR came forward, pleading emotionally with the Diasporan crowd to continue to give money to aid the homeland during this crisis. “Give, until giving becomes financially difficult for you,” one speaker implored. A large percentage of the crowd was composed of young people, from both Armenia/former Soviet and Diasporan backgrounds, holding signs and flags. George Kurajian, whose grandfather, Mesrob Kurajian, was a notable ADL activist born in Palu, Western Armenia, must be commended for carrying on his grandfather’s legacy of organizing and putting this event together in an extremely short period of time.

Clergy at the Detroit protest

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Just four days prior, on Wednesday, October 7, a crowd of some 400 mostly local Metro Detroit Armenians gathered in a large and lively demonstration in the heart of downtown Detroit. Attendees also came from as far away as Grand Rapids and Chicago. The demonstration was positioned in the large traffic island in the middle of Jefferson Avenue, where Detroit’s main street, Woodward Avenue, meets the Detroit River. This symbolic central location is flanked by the statue of the “Fist” of Joe Louis, the Detroit native African-American boxing legend, and directly across from that, the Gomidas Vartabed statue which was erected by the Armenian community many years ago in commemoration of the 1915 Genocide.

Scores of motorists drove past and witnessed the demonstration which took place at 5 p.m., at the height of the in rush hour.

The demonstration, though organized and led by the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF), took on a unified community tone as members from all Armenian churches, political groups, organizations, and backgrounds were present. A large number of more recently arrived natives of Armenia stood proudly in the back, visibly moved as Diasporans carried signs and shouted slogans.

Protest in Detroit

Speakers included Mari Manoogian as well as representatives of the AYF, Armenian Revolutionary Federation, Armenian National Committee of America, and Homenetmen. Clergy from the Prelacy and Armenian Catholic Church led prayer along with Fr. Armash of the Diocesan St. John’s Armenian Church, and Der Voghormya (Lord Have Mercy) was movingly sung. Local AYF chapter Chairwoman Talar Baghdasarian organized and led the proceedings and must be commended for setting a tone of Armenian unity both in the content of her remarks as well as the emotional tone as she stated “Armenians United, We’ll Never Be Divided” – one of the many chants with which she led the crowd to protest the Azeri attacks, most notably “Stop Azeri Aggression,” “Artsakh is Armenia,” and “Armenia Wants Peace,” which along with the flags and signs, attracted the attention of Detroit commuters.

As members of all organizations and churches attended both rallies, the comments on all sides were positive and even emotional as to the unity that was displayed at both events by Michigan’s and particularly Metro Detroit’s longstanding Armenian community.

For this writer, a Metro Detroit native, as well as others, the connection between Diaspora and Homeland has never been stronger than right now, as 4th generation Diasporans, whether from an American or Middle Eastern background, stood shoulder to shoulder with natives of Armenia as well as refugees who fled the Baku pogroms 30 years ago, in a display of complete solidarity with the plight of our brothers and sisters in Artsakh.

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