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Truth, Justice, and Reparations: Detroit Commemorates with Garo Paylan and Fethiye Cetin

Special for the Armenian Weekly

DETROIT, Mich. (A.W.)—April 29 will go down in Metro-Detroit’s Armenian history as an evening of extreme importance and interest—the commemoration of the 102nd anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. It was a feather in the cap of the sponsoring Armenian Genocide Committee of Greater Detroit under the leadership of Chairman Raffi Ourlian.

Garo Paylan with members of the Homenetmen scouts (Photo: Armenian Genocide Committee of Greater Detroit)

Welcoming remarks by Master of Ceremonies Miss Helena Bardakjian was an affirmation that Armenian youth are taking up the mantle of the survivor generation.

Featured guest speakers were Fethiye Cetin, lawyer, writer, human rights activist and the 2015 winner of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) Eastern Region Freedom Award, and Garo Paylan, an Armenian Member of Turkish Parliament. They are admirable examples of activists devoted for justice and human rights.

The event was slated for 7 p.m. but the auditorium of Berkley High School began filling up shortly after 6 p.m. This enclave, always a hotbed of Armenian nationalism in the country lovingly adopted by the survivor generation, in anticipation of an informative and exciting evening, filled the 700 seat auditorium with standing room only status.

The Homenetmen Scouts did the presentation of flags and National Anthems.

Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) Eastern Region Central Committee member Hayg Oshagan greeting Paylan and Cetin

A moment of silence was observed for 1.5 million Armenian martyrs who fell victim to the Genocide of 1915-1923. One of the evening’s more powerful and beautiful dances was performed by 24 Armenian young ladies dressed in cream color apparel in tribute to those whose lives were cruelly ended by disease, thirst, starvation, nakedness, and torture on the death march to the desert of Der Zor.

The Hamazkayin Arax Dance Ensemble now numbers 135 members, some of whom performed “Zartonk,” to immense applause.

Cetin’s bloodlines were inherited from her grandmother Heranus Gadaryan whose Turkish Muslim name was Saher. Grandma Heranus was born to Hovannes and Isguhi Gadaryan and was taken from her mother’s arms during a death march of the Armenian Genodice. Heranus, (Saher) gave us the gift of Fethiye. The confession of Heranus when near death that she was a Christian Armenian led Fethiye to write My Grandmother, which has been translated into more than a dozen languages.

This book was instrumental in hundreds of formerly Islamized Armenians to openly reveal their Armenian heritage. Their forced conversion to Islam is just one of the negative aspects of being a
Turkish minority for whom it was “Turkey for Turks: convert or die.”

People in the know commented “Fethiye is Armenian.” Her soft cultured voice delivered in Turkish was translated by Ani Kasparian. Cetin said “the U.S. President my not acknowledge the genocide, and the Turks deny what they did—regardless, Armenians never quit, never give up until justice is theirs.”

Both speakers said that Turkey is now in a “dark place.”

(L to R) Garo Paylan and Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) Eastern Region Central Committee member Hayg Oshagan

Cetin is recognized as being the foremost human rights lawyer in Turkey. One of whom she defended before his death was Agos newspaper editor Hrant Dink, who the Turkish government claimed “insulted Turkishness.”

After Dink’s cowardly assassination, she represented his family in the murder trials, which still remain unsolved. This resulted in her writing the book I Am Ashamed: The Trials of the Hrant Dink Murder Case. While in the U.S., she has lectured in Los Angeles, Fresno, and Detroit. She participated in the march for justice along with 40,000 people. Her heart is in the right place.

Garo Paylan was presented by Raffi Ourlian. Paylan is a Turkish politician of Armenian descent, as a member of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey for the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).

Paylan greeted the audience “Parev tdez, thank you for inviting me, my uncles, brothers, and sisters.” He immediately endeared himself to everyone with those warm, sincere words.

“Our country is again living very dark days because of the coupe against [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan. Thousands of soldiers and civilians have been arrested and jailed. My hopes are behind the mountains. They are again doing crimes against everybody,” he said.

“Say sorry to our grandparents. In Turkey Armenians have to remain silent. We have tried to seek justice but we are still bleeding, we want to heal,” he continued. Overall, he expressed himself in English very well.

He and a coalition group attempted to join forces, but were met with opposition. “They started a war against us, but we succeeded in getting the sympathy of the Turkish people. The use of the word ‘genocide’ is forbidden. Use of that word will sentence you to jail. Erdogan offered condolences to genocide victims on April 24, but he did not use the word Genocide and afterword he ordered bombing of Isis in Syria… If you see a crime and do nothing you too are guilty. The Turks will never acknowledge the Genocide. Erdogan is a cruel leader. Sultan Hamid was gotten away with. It is up to us make it a democratic country. We are so far away from that habitat. We carried this wound for four generations,” he said.

It is impossible to not realize the bravery of Fethiye Cetin and Garo Paylan for publicly speaking their convictions. The Armenians who came to hear them speak were full of gratitude and admiration for our fellow brave Hyes. We pray for their safety. It is the year 2017 and Turkey continues to deny their crime. As it was said this evening “The roses are dead, the Armenians are gone.”

During this memorable historic evening, we were heartened to bear witness to youth community leaders Helena Bardakjian, Alexandra Hachigian, Helen Attar, Ani Kasparian. and the Homenetmen Scouts for becoming active for Armenian justice.

The words of chairman Raffi Ourlian are etched in stone: “Our revenge will be our survival. We demand reparations. Garo Paylan stood up for justice when he spoke of the genocide.”

On this evening of survival of the Armenians, over a million and a half stars shined and twinkled brightly over Berkley High School and all of Metro Detroit representing just a smattering of Armenian lives put to bloody death by the Turkish government. For this, we bless America—the adopted country of the exiles of 1915—who gave their children and grandchildren the blessing to live, worship, and breathe freely in a true democracy. Our quest for justice moves forward with continued impetus.

Gov. Rick Snyder sent a Proclamation declaring April 24 Armenian Genocide Day.

The Benediction was given by Rev. Fr. Hrant Kevorkian of St. Sarkis Church, Rev. Fr. Shant Barsoumiian and Rev. Dr. Vahan Tootikian of the Armenian Congregational Church, Rev. Fr. Mikael Bassale of the Armenian Catholic Church, and Rev. Fr. Daron Stepanian of St. Hagop Armenian Church (Racine, Wis.).

The event was followed by an afterglow dinner for invitees to fete the honored guests.

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