Mary Vartanian acknowledges the standing ovation for her in the State House (photo David Medzorian)

109th Anniversary of Armenian Genocide Commemorated at Massachusetts State House

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BOSTON — The commemoration of the 109th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide took place on April 19 at the Massachusetts State House, with keynote speaker Judge Gabrielle Wolohojian. The event, organized by the Armenian Genocide Commemorative Committee of Massachusetts, was well attended, with estimates of as many as 300 present. State Rep. David K. Muradian, Jr., from the 9th Worcester District, served as the master of ceremonies.

Master of ceremonies Rep. Dave Muradian (photo David Medzorian)

It began with the procession of the Homenetmen [Armenian General Athletic Union) Boston Scouts, the sergeant-at-arms of the State House, elected officials and Armenian clergy of the greater Boston area and then the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag of the United States. Children from St. Stephen’s Armenian Elementary School sang the American and Armenian national anthems, after which the audience was welcomed by Representative Muradian. Muradian provided the audience with general information about the Armenian Genocide.

State Rep. Dave Rogers of the 24th Middlesex District recognized guests, elected officials and representatives of community and human rights advocacy groups. Notable was the presence of Consul General of El Salvador Abelino Chicas Hernández, President and CEO of the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action Cindy Rowe, American Jewish Committee New England Regional Director Robert Leikind, the Grand Commander of the Knights of Vartan Hunan Arshakian and members of his executive, and the Director of the National Cinema Center of Armenia Shushanik Mirzakhanyan. State Reps. Priscilla Sousa and Carmine Gentile were also present, along with the Belmont, Mass., Chair Roy Epstein and Vice Chair Elizabeth Dionne.

Rep. Dave Rogers at the podium (photo Ken Martin)

After mentioning the new Massachusetts genocide education law, Rep. Kate Lipper-Garabedian of the 32nd Middlesex District presented the proclamation from Gov. Maura Healey declaring April 24, 2024 Armenian Genocide Commemoration Day in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Rep. Kate Lipper-Garabedian holds up Gov. Maura Healey’s proclamation

State Sen. Will Brownsberger of the Suffolk and Middlesex District presented a joint resolution of the Massachusetts House and Senate commending 109-year-old Mary Vartanian, one of the last surviving Armenians who lived through the years of the Armenian Genocide, for her decades-long contributions to the Armenian-American community. Born in Aintab, she turns 110 this August. (See the October 2022 Mirror-Spectator article about her, interviewed when she was 108.)

109-year-old Mary Vartanian (photo David Medzorian)

Vartanian stood up to acknowledge the standing ovation of the audience. She had been accompanied from her home at the Armenian Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Jamaica Plain to the State House by a special police escort.

109-year-old Mary Vartanian is photographed with state and Boston police after the formal event (photo David Medzorian)

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Brownsberger then presented another joint resolution recognizing the work of the Armenian Tree Project, soon to celebrate its 30th anniversary of efforts to help the environment, which has planted over eight million trees in Armenia. Founder Carolyn Mugar and Executive Director Jeanmarie Papelian were present to accept the commendation.

State Sen. William Brownsberger presents a joint resolution to Jeanmarie Papelian, center, and Carolyn Mugar, at right, of the Armenian Tree Project (photo David Medzorian)

Muradian introduced Cultural Advisor to the Embassy of Armenia to the United States Vicki Shoghag Hovanessian, who read a brief statement of Amb. Lilit Makunts about the significance of the Armenian Genocide as the first documented modern-day attempt to exterminate a people and the importance of official US recognition by President Joe Biden in 2021 of this tragic event for combatting its denial — as well as for relieving the US of a major burden on its conscience.

Cultural Advisor to the Embassy of Armenia to the United States Vicki Shoghag Hovanessian shakes hands with Rep. Will Brownsberger (photo David Medzorian)

Representative Rogers introduced the niece of the late Speaker George Keverian (1931-2009), Lisann Dillon, who in turn presented the George Keverian Public Service Scholarship recipients. Keverian had established the annual commemoration of the Armenian Genocide in the State House in 1985. He had served as speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives from 1985 to 1991. The scholarship annually rewards one student selected by Everett High School and one student of Armenian background selected by the Armenian Students’ Association (ASA). Tina Kurkjian, executive assistant of the ASA, appeared on behalf of the latter scholarship recipient, doctoral student Armine Poghosyan at Virginia Tech.

Tina Kurkjian, left, shakes hands with Lisann Dillon (photo Jirair Hovsepian)

Rep. Lipper-Garabedian introduced keynote speaker Judge Wolohojian of the Massachusetts Appeals Court, who would shortly be sworn into her new position on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. She will be the first person of Armenian heritage to ever sit on that court and the first woman of Armenian heritage to ever sit on any US state supreme court.

Judge Gabrielle Wolohojian (photo Ken Martin)

Wolohojian spoke about how Armenians largely remained outside of the political power structures of the empires in which they lived in the early modern era and gave the example of her Armenian ancestors who fell victim to genocide. In fact, her mother’s grandfather was one of the Armenian intellectuals and leaders rounded up in Constantinople on April 24, 1915.

She stressed that descendants of genocide survivors have a particular obligation to be in public service and to promote and protect the rule of law. Their experiences can give them special insight into its value and the tragic consequences of its absence. She observed that Armenians like her great-grandfather had no recourse to law against the arbitrary exercise of power.

Wolohojian called on more Armenian-American lawyers to become judges. In 2007 when she was appointed to the bench, there was only one other Armenian-American active judge in her home state, whereas today there are six, but she said that Armenians can do better.

Victoria Stepanyan singing (photo Jirair Hovsepian)

Sen. Brownsberger introduced the musical interlude. A young student from Lexington, Mass., Victoria Stepanyan, who trains with Victoria Avetisyan, sang two moving Armenian-language songs, Longing for the Mountain Breeze and Armenia.

Muradian offered the closing remarks, calling for justice not just for the 1915 Genocide, which he called a still-bleeding wound, but also for the heinous crimes that have taken place in Artsakh, in the hopes that the repetition of such crimes can be prevented in the future.

Procession of Armenian priests leaving the State House with scouts on both sides (photo Jirair Hovsepian)

After the Armenian clergy present conducted a special order of intercessory prayer to conclude the formal event, the audience was treated to an informal reception in the Great Hall of Flags of the State House that was catered by Jana Grill and Bakery of Watertown. Buses were provided by the Knights of Vartan Ararat Lodge No. 1 to facilitate travel to and from the State House.

The commemoration this year received coverage by local television stations, including CBS and ABC affiliates, and the Boston Globe and Boston Herald newspapers, with Mary Vartanian a primary focus of media attention.

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