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Greater D.C. Community Commemorates Armenian Genocide through Protests and the Arts

Honoring the Past, Demanding Justice for the Future

WASHINGTON—Armenian Americans from throughout the Maryland, Virginia, and Washington D.C. area joined human rights advocates and public policy leaders in marking the 102nd anniversary of the Armenian Genocide through a diverse array of political and cultural events honoring the memory of the 1.5 million martyrs and the tenacious resilience of the survivors, all the while demanding justice for a crime still denied by an unrepentant Turkish Government, aided and abetted through U.S. complicity.

Armenian Americans march to the Embassy of the Republic of Armenia, led by the Greater Washington D.C. Homenetmen Scouts and Drum Corps. (Photo: Armenian Genocide Commemorative Committee of Greater Washington)

Each of the month-long series of activities—from the annual Congressional Observance of the Armenian Genocide to the White House vigil and Turkish Embassy protest, a commemorative concert at the National Gallery of Art to cultural events held at our local churches and community centers—shared a common theme of remembrance, renewal and rededication to the universal campaign to end the cycle of genocide.
Members of Congress #KeepThePromise; Pledge to U.S. End Complicity in Genocide Denial

Commemorative programs began in March with a special Capitol Hill viewing of the Armenian Genocide-era epic “The Promise,” which drew a capacity crowd of Members of Congress, senior Congressional aides, coalition partners, and a broad cross-section of the Washington D.C. foreign policy community.  Hosted by Survival Pictures, Open Road Films, the Congressional Armenian Caucus and the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), the event featured introductions by legislators and a question and answer session with Oscar Award winning director Terry George and producer Eric Esrailian.

On April 21, Members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives joined with Armenian American community leaders, genocide-prevention coalition partners, and diplomats representing Armenia and Artsakh in a standing-room-only Capitol Hill remembrance of the Armenian Genocide that featured strong bipartisan calls on the President and Congress to reject the gag-rule that Ankara has long enforced against honest American commemoration of this still-unpunished crime against humanity.  The annual Capitol Hill Armenian Genocide commemoration was sponsored by the Congressional Armenian Caucus, in cooperation with the Embassy of the Republic of Armenia, Office of the Artsakh Republic, and Armenian American organizations.

 

National Gallery of Art’s “Musical Dialogues” Spotlights Armenian Genocide

The Armenian Genocide-era humanitarian efforts of Norwegian diplomat Fridtjof Nansen and missionary Bodil Catharina Biorn took center stage at a special National Gallery of Art Easter Day concert, titled “Musical Dialogues,” highlighting the important role of music in conflict resolution and healing following political upheaval. Nansen and Biorn’s selfless actions during the Armenian Genocide saved over 300,000 orphans from death and starvation. Nansen’s efforts later inspired the Nansen Dialogue Center, a Norwegian cultural organization established in Bosnia and Herzegovina following the wars in the Western Balkans in the 1990s.

Mariam Kharatyan performs (Photo: Armenian Genocide Commemorative Committee of Greater Washington)

The National Gallery concert featured Armenian and Bosnian classics as well as contemporary Norwegian pieces dedicated to Nansen and Biorn. The concert included performances by: Mariam Kharatyan, piano; Adema Pljevljak-Krehic, soprano; Maja Ackar Zlatarevic, piano; Vincent Kok, flute Adam Gruchot, violin; and presentations by: Randi Margrethe Eidsaa and Jorn E. Schau.

“History is full of political and social triumphs, violent conflicts, and human tragedies,” explained Kharatyan, in her program note accompanying the concert.  “We have developed the concept of this concert to mirror historical turning points, to pay homage to those who dedicated their lives to helping people, and to standing strong together in demanding situation.”  Kharatyan and her musician colleagues chose Armenian folk melodies including “Shushiki” from Komitas’ “Folk Dances,” the instrumentals “It’s Spring” and “Crane” (Kroonk).  She dazzled audiences with her interpretation of Aram Khachaturian’s Adagio from the ballet “Spartacus,” and several other Khachaturian pieces.

 

Demanding Justice and an End to US complicity in Genocide Denial

The Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) “Ani” chapter was joined by Armenian Americans throughout the Greater D.C. area and as far away as California for an April 22nd candlelight vigil at the White House, commemorating the Armenian Genocide and calling on President Trump to properly commemorate that crime.  The program, moderated by AYF Ani Chapter Treasurer Sevan Yedigarian, included remarks by chapter representative Ruben Sahakyan and ANCA Capital Gateway Program intern Sipan Ohannesian, as well as recitations and songs by AYF Sevan Junior Chapter member Sune Hamparian, the Holy Martyrs Ferrahian Armenian School 8th graders, the Homenetmen of Washington Scouts and a convocation by Soorp Khatch Armenian Church pastor, Fr. Sarkis Aktavoukian.

A scene from the vigil (Photo: Armenian Genocide Commemorative Committee of Greater Washington)

“We are here today to show our respect to our forbears, to those brave souls that made the ultimate sacrifice to ensure our survival,” explained a passionate Sahakyan. “And here, in front of the White House, it is about America. An America which sent over $2 billion in assistance to save Armenian, Greek and Assyrian genocide survivors from 1915-1923.  An America which recognized the Armenian Genocide in 1951, in 1975, in 1981 and 1984.  An America which has since fallen prey to Turkey’s threats and become complicit in its Genocide denial,” noted Sahakyan who went on to call on President Trump to follow the lead of Ronald Reagan, America back to the side of truth regarding this fundamental human rights issue.

‘Turkey Failed’ (Photo: Armenian Genocide Commemorative Committee of Greater Washington)

On April 24, Armenian Americans were joined by the Greek, Assyrian, Yezidi and Kurdish communities in demanding justice and spotlighting Turkey’s ongoing repression at home and aggression abroad at the annual AYF organized protest at the Turkish Embassy.  A small group of pro-Erdogan counter protesters unsuccessfully hoped to drown out calls for peace a justice by blaring loud dance music in an apparent celebration of the murder of over 2.5 million Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians. Those tactics only served to strengthen the resolve of the rallyers for truth.

AYF Washington “Ani” chapter Chairman Aram Tramblian offered a powerful message of unity in the face of Turkey’s worldwide campaign of genocide denial. “It’s been 102 years since the Ottoman Empire began its attempts to wipe out all Armenians and all other Christian minorities from their borders. And Turkey failed – because we are still here, here protesting their crimes year after year until we get justice.”

Following the rally, Armenian Americans marched to the Embassy of the Republic of Armenia, led by the Greater Washington D.C. Homenetmen Scouts and Drum Corps, American and Armenian flags held high. There participants joined in the Embassy of Armenia’s annual Armenian Genocide memorial event at the “Khatchkar” monument dedicated to the eternal memory of that crime.

Scenes from the Embassy of Armenia (Photo: Armenian Genocide Commemorative Committee of Greater Washington)

The prayer service, wreath laying ceremony and program, organized by the Embassy of the Republic of Armenia, featured remarks by His Excellency Grigor Hovhannessian, Ambassador of Armenia to the US, ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian and Armenian Assembly Executive Director Bryan Ardouny. Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, Diocesan Legate of the Diocese of Armenian Apostolic Church Eastern US was joined by Soorp Khatch Armenian Apostolic Church pastor, Fr. Sarkis Aktavoukian and St. Mary’s Armenian Church pastor Hovsep Karapetyan in offering a community prayer for the sainted victims of the Armenian Genocide. Hamasdegh Armenian School teacher and AYF member Galin Tanashian served as Mistress of Ceremonies, with Vivian Chakerian and Emma Soghomonian offering moving renditions of the American, Armenian and Artsakh anthems, respectively. The program concluded with song and poetry recitations by the Hamasdegh Armenian School students and remarks by principal, Hovsep Avakian.

Participants joined in the Embassy of Armenia’s annual Armenian Genocide memorial event at the ‘Khatchkar’ monument dedicated to the eternal memory of that crime.

At the beginning of the program, Washington, D.C. Homenetmen Scouts stood at attention, in tribute to the 1.5 million victims of the Armenian Genocide and the survivors who helped rebuild the Armenian nation and participated in a special flag-raising ceremony. Following the program, Armenian Americans were invited to a reception by the Armenian Embassy.

Earlier, on Sunday April 23, community members also participated in the “Walk to End Genocide,” organized by the Darfur Interfaith Network and Jewish World Watch, an annual event bringing together genocide survivors and human rights advocates from throughout Greater Washington region, calling attention to the importance of speaking in a unified voice to end the cycle of genocide.
Community Cultural Programs Spotlight Stories of Survival; Lives and Works of Martyred Armenian Writers

On Sunday April 23, the Hamasdegh Armenian School students presented a moving program of Armenian Genocide commemorative poetry recitations, songs, and readings to a capacity audience of parents, classmates, and community members gathered at the Soorp Khatch Armenian Church Arabian Hall.

Hamasdegh Armenian School students commemorate the 102nd anniversary of the Armenian Genocide (Photo: Armenian Genocide Commemorative Committee of Greater Washington)

The program opened with the singing of U.S. and Armenia national anthems by the school chorus, under the direction of music teacher Tamar Kolejian Penenian. Remarks by Hamasdegh Armenian School principal Hovsep Avakian and Soorp Khatch Armenian Church pastor, Fr. Sarkis Aktavoukian.

Avakian gave special thanks to the Hamasdegh school teachers, PTA and parents for their devotion to the Armenian education of our community youth.  He offered heartfelt condolences in memory of Hamasdegh school, Homenetmen and AYF alumna Maral Melkonian Avetisyan, in whose honor Mr. and Mrs. Ara and Haygo Melkonian founded a special fund to assist in the Hamasdegh School’s Armenian educational mission.  Avakian described the 102nd anniversary of the Armenian Genocide as a day of victory for the Armenian nation, which had overcome Genocide and its aftermath, and raised a generation of youth singing the praises of an independent Armenia, demanding justice for the Armenian nation, and advancing our culture and heritage through education.

The event continued with songs and recitations—beautifully presented by students of all ages—in memory of the sainted martyrs of the Armenian Genocide.  The program was creatively narrated by the Hamasdegh School eighth graders, who each individually shared stories of their ancestors’ harrowing escape during the Genocide, paying homage and expressing their gratefulness to their heroism.

Earlier in the day, Fr. Sarkis Aktavoukian led a Holy Badarak in honor of the Holy Martyrs of the Armenian Genocide.  Similar services were led by St. Mary Armenian Church pastor, Fr. Hovsep Karapetyan, followed by a musical memorial program entitled “They Were Sanctified and Resurrected … They Left Us A Legacy to Live by Faith…” performed by the Shnorhali School Students under the leadership of Naira Tashjian.

On Friday, April 28, the Greater Washington Hamazkayin Armenian Educational and Cultural Association, capped off the month-long series of commemorative activities, spotlighting the life and works of six titans of Armenian literature—Roupen Zartarian, Taniel Varoujan, Roupen Sevag, Yeroukhan, Yervant Odian, and Siamanto—whose lives were tragically cut short during the Armenian Genocide.

On Friday, April 28, the Greater Washington Hamazkayin Armenian Educational and Cultural Association, capped off the month-long series of commemorative activities, spotlighting the life and works of six titans of Armenian literature (Photo: Armenian Genocide Commemorative Committee of Greater Washington)

Community leader and Armenian literature scholar Garo Armenian offered an overview of the Western Armenian literary scene in the years leading up to the Armenian Genocide and the central role that each of the authors played, followed by presentations of a sampling of works from each author by some of the community’s most powerful orators, including Garbis Muradian, Shoghik Aguilian, Tamar Kolejian Penenian, Galin Tanashian and Garbo Afarian.

Hamazkayin Chairwoman Shooshik DerHakoupian warmly welcomed attendees and thanked all who offered beautiful renditions of the authors’ greatest works.

The Hamazkayin cultural evening as well as the Hamasdegh School commemorative program was live-streamed through the leadership and expertise of Dr. Zareh Soghomonian, and can be viewed online at: http://www.soorpkhatchchurch.org/?page_id=4791

The Hamazkayin literary evening as well as the various vigils and protests were held under the auspices of the Armenian Genocide Commemorative Committee of Greater Washington, which includes the participation of Soorp Khatch Armenian Apostolic Church Der Hayr, Board of Trustees and Ladies’ Guild; Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) Sebouh gomideh; Armenian National Committee of Greater Washington; Armenian Relief Society Satenig Chapter; AYF “Ani” Senior and “Sevan” Junior chapters; Hamasdegh Armenian School; Hamazkayin Cultural and Educational Association; Homenetmen Athletic and Scouting Organization; and Soorp Khatch Armenian Apostolic Church Senior Citizens.

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