The following keynote address was delivered by Mirror-Spectator editor Alin K. Gregorian at the annual Genocide commemoration in Providence, on April 28.

As most know, we commemorate the date April 24, 1915, because it was the day when the Ottoman government rounded up approximately 250 cultural and political leaders of the Armenian community. Of course, the Genocide had begun much earlier, in the 1880s, and continued until 1922.

After killing 1.5 million Armenians, the Ottoman government and later the Republic of Turkey embarked upon a concerted effort to erase all physical traces of Armenian presence from their historic homeland of Western Armenia. Churches have been destroyed, khachkar stone cross monuments have been pulverized or dismantled and used as bricks in new buildings, erasing these people all over again. We see the once-majestic churches in Ani, the medieval Armenian capital during the Bagraduni kingdom, now just so much rubble.

This attitude, both of rabid anti-Armenianness and destruction of monuments, has been inherited by the Azerbaijani government.

This year, as we mark the 109th anniversary of the Genocide, our worldwide Armenian community has been rocked by yet another ethnic cleansing, this time by Azerbaijan. One major difference between the events of a century ago and now is the smaller death toll in this most recent tragedy. However, as we saw with the events dating back to 2020’s 44-day war, waged by Azerbaijan, the threats didn’t stop until the very last Armenian citizen of Artsakh (or Nagorno Karabakh, as it is officially known) left in 2023. In one short week, September 23 through October 1, 2023, about 120,000 ethnic Armenian citizens of Artsakh poured out into Armenia.

Had those people stayed, their fates would have been similar to those of Armenians a century ago.

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And at the moment, the Armenian leadership of Karabakh, is held as POWs, facing terrible odds.

The pictures from Artsakh were striking on two levels. I remember feeling such helplessness when viewing images of people being erased from their ancient homeland. On the other hand, I was struck by the similarity of the pictures to those of a century before. With the exception of the presence of motorized vehicles as opposed to carts, and modern clothing, their expressions were identical. The same agonized, defeated looks, wondering what was happening, where they would sleep that night and how they would take care of their children. Their homes were gone, as were most of their possessions.

I used to think that had the Armenian Genocide and the forced marches through Deir Zor Desert taken place in modern times, the result would have been different, that, with the proliferation of smart phones and social media, these horrors would have come to light and a global outcry would have put a stop to them.

History, however, has showed us that inaction or indifference seems to be the rule rather than the exception. Sadly, there are so many peoples and countries who have suffered similar fates in the past or current century. Among those that readily come to mind are Yemen. The Assyrians. The displaced refugees of Syria. Rwanda. The Holocaust. The Yezidis in Iraq. Gaza. The Kurds in Turkey.

Do we think about them? I think it behooves us, as a people whose ancestors experienced a Genocide, to raise our voices when it comes to other genocides.

Let’s not forget that in February, an Armenian Genocide survivor who had lost his family and fled to France, Missak Manouchian, received a hero’s sendoff, with his wife, Meline, when their remains were interred in the Pantheon in Paris, the final resting site of French heroes. He was buried as a non-French citizen, an incredible honor, as he had led the legendary French Resistance against the Nazi-installed Vichy government during World War II.

The lightning operation by the Azerbaijani government had been preceded by a six-month illegal blockade of the Lachin Corridor, the enclave’s only connection to the outside world.  To give the Azeris credit, they did not bother to hide their actions. One day, in December 2022, the border was closed and no food or medicine could get in. And that was OK.

The International Court of Justice at the Hague, the legal arm of the United Nations, ruled against Azerbaijan in February 2023 and ordered it to end the blockade but the Azerbaijani government did not comply, nor did it suffer any repercussions.

Similarly, many, many Azerbaijani soldiers posted horrific videos of beheadings and torture of Armenian soldiers and civilians. There was no attempt to hide their actions nor their intentions. Again, no consequences.

In addition, the leader of the country, Dictator Ilham Aliyev, has often resorted to hyperbole and literally dehumanizing insults. He has also said that war and brute force were the only things that worked and he was happy to have employed them. Since winning the war, he has continuously threatened to invade Armenia and his forces have taken around 200 square kilometers of land in Armenia proper. The Armenian government just returned 4 border villages that it had taken from that country in the 1990s.  Azerbaijan, which similarly had taken arable land from Armenia then, is certainly not returning anything.

After the disastrous 2020 war, when Azerbaijani forces took most of Artsakh, with the exception of the capital Stepanakert and its environs, the government started a disinformation campaign of deleting the Armenian past of Artsakh. Overnight, what was Armenian became Albanian, and Aliyev’s government would tear off the Armenian lettering or pulverize Armenian cross stones, and “restore” a fictitious Albanian heritage to the churches and monuments.

Making this horrific episode even more appalling was that during this time, the vice president of Azerbaijan, Mehriban Aliyeva, the wife of the president, was a goodwill ambassador for UNESCO, the United Nations division tasked with protecting world heritage sites.

And let’s not forget that at every step of the way, Turkey’s leaders were by the side of the Azerbaijan, amplifying their threats and seconding their demands.

Even worse, right after Aliyev would make horrific statements and commit those actions, he would be embraced by leaders in Europe as a friend, a true beacon for the West at a time when their oil and gas supplies were in danger because of Russia’s debilitating war against Ukraine.

Right before launching the Karabakh war, Azerbaijan and Russia signed a trade agreement which basically called for the highest level of economic cooperation between two nations. The majority of the gas and oil Azerbaijan sells to the EU is Russian. That is why when the head of the European Commission, Ursula Von Der Leyen, praises Azerbaijan for its cooperation after the Russian gas embargo, it is especially galling.

Again and again, the Azerbaijani and Turkish governments themselves tie this recent chapter, one rightly called genocide by Judge Louis Moreno Ocampo, to that of the previous century.

During the victory parade in Shushi one month after the end of the 44-day war, Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the soul of Enver Pasha was illuminated. The reference was clear as Enver Pasha was a member of the Ittihadist triumvirate, which had planned and put into motion the Armenian Genocide. Another reason was that Enver was killed by the Shushi-born Hagop Melkumyan of the Russian Red Army in 1922.

In addition, Erdogan has called the surviving Armenians “leftovers of the sword.”

Now, the next step is finalizing a peace process but what will that peace entail? Official status for Karabakh? And where are those people going to go? I know there are efforts to reverse the outcome and to fight back for an Armenian Artsakh, but I am not sure I am at all optimistic. Armenians in Artsakh have nothing to negotiate with and yet their land, like Armenia, sits in a global hotspot straddling east and west. In fact, Armenia itself is in the crosshairs of Azerbaijan, facing demands for more and more corridors and lands.

The efforts of our lobbying groups in Washington have led to the US fully recognizing the Genocide. Now, they have to focus on the security of Armenia and the recognition of the ethnic cleansing in Artsakh.

My family does not hail from Western Armenia. My mother’s family was from the ancient Armenian province of Salmast, which is now part of the Iranian province of Azerbaijan, and lived in Russia before fleeing to Iran in the wake of the 1917 revolution. My great-uncle, a doctor, had moved to Baku. There, he was killed by nationalist forces in the hospital where he worked, in 1918, during the pan Turkic movement.

My father’s family had been in Iran for generations, and we believe they arrived from Julfa, in Nakhijevan, another historic Armenian province, during the reign of the Persian Shah Abbas, who forcibly moved the population of that city to Iran, where he founded new Julfa, in order to bring the Silk Road and all its riches, to his country.

Nakhijevan, given by the Soviet leadership to Azerbaijan, is today devoid of any Armenian reference. The cemeteries, monuments and churches, have been systematically dismantled or destroyed by the Azerbaijani government. This is the precursor of what it to come in Artsakh. Just this past week, news came to light of a large cemetery in Shushi as well as a church being razed.

I find it personally so gut-wrenching to witness what is happening in Karabakh. I spent four days there in 2009 exploring Stepanakert and Shushi with my daughter and her fellow fifth grade students and parents from St. Stephen’s Armenian Elementary School in Watertown. I spent hours in the Sourp Ghazanchetsots cathedral in Shushi. I visited the museum dedicated to the heroes of the war of the 1990s. Our guide was a small, elderly woman. She showed our group all the pictures of the soldiers killed. Toward the end of the tour, she pointed to one small photo of a handsome young man. She said, ‘That’s my son.’ There were few dry eyes.

Disinformation by Turkey and Azerbaijan is rampant.  The Azerbaijani government’s use of Caviar Diplomacy is well documented.

The need for louder voices was glaring during the Karabakh war, when there were so few people that could provide correct information on the region’s history, and geopolitical complexities. We have some very good scholars but the number is small. By contrast, the Azerbaijani disinformation machine churned out stories about Khojaly, a false narrative about Karabakh being historic Azerbaijan and more , and the reporters, almost always ignorant of the history of this particular part of the world, did not challenge them. At best, they did what do when they cover the Armenian Genocide: The Armenians claim, etc., while the Azerbaijani government denies….

We need to put money in establishing new and supporting existing Armenian studies chairs, as well as sponsoring the training of more political scientists, sociologists and historians. And we also have to cultivate major players in the media to connect those scholars to news outlets. The Turkish government has put a lot of money behind academic chairs in prestigious universities, pushing an alternative version of history.

The arts can be another way the Armenian issue can be brought to the mainstream.

The film “The Promise” was a great example as was the film “Amerikatsi,” which was able to appeal to mainstream audiences, linking the Genocide with the legacy of Stalin and later the modern Republic of Armenia.

The fact that a century after the genocide and 7000 miles away from Western Armenia, the victims are commemorated and honored by their descendants says something about our people and their indomitable spirit. That we are here before this beautiful monument says exactly why we need to build these monuments and honor our ancient history.


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