2009 Times Square Commemoration

For the 24th consecutive year, Armenians converged in Times Square to commemorate the 94th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. Under a bright sky and record-breaking temperatures, the enthusiastic audience listened attentively to an assemblage of prominent speakers urging them to carry on the fight for Armenian Genocide recognition.

Genocide survivors at the Times Square commemoration
Genocide survivors at the Times Square commemoration

As a timid prospect of a rapprochement between Armenian and Turkey lingers on the horizon, Armenians here pledge to observe and pay homage to the victims of the first genocide of the 20th century. The gathering in Times Square, on Sunday afternoon, April 26, with an unprecedented crowd, was a reconfirmation of that solemn commitment.

This unique event, held in the heart of Manhattan, serves an appropriate public forum where American public leaders and high-ranking elected officials demand justice for the victims of the Armenian Genocide by the hands of the Ottoman Turks. Thus, their demand for justice resonates far beyond the wide avenues crisscrossing Times Square.

As in years past, an array of high-profile officials were on stage to protest Turkey’s denial of any responsibility for the Armenian massacres and to express solidarity with the Armenian American community. “We will continue to light the torch of truth until Turkey recognizes the genocide,” proclaimed the Democratic senior senator from New York, Senator Chuck Schumer, a true friend and a tireless champion of Armenian causes.

Another staunch supporter of Armenian causes in Congress, Congressman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), co-chairman of the Armenian Caucus, said that it is important for everyone to be involved in genocide recognition and to do everything to bring the republics of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabagh closer to the United States. Although the Armenain Genocide resolution passed in 1975 and 1984, Congressman Pallone said, “I apologize that we have not passed the genocide resolution so far this season. We will get there!”

Some members of the Armenian American community were bitterly disappointed with President Barack Obama for failing to use the English word “genocide” in his message on April 24. One of the special guests of the commemorative event, well-known criminal trial lawyer Mark Geragos, launched an unabashed criticism of Obama for not using the word “genocide” as he had promised. His virulent criticism was well-received by the audience. “Shame on you,” said Geragos, adding that politicians should be held accountable for the promises they make. “The only way we will get what we want is if we do it ourselves. The fundamental right of any victim is restitution. So let them fight for restitution. Our fight is over reparations and yes we will win that fight,” said Geragos.

Congressman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.)
Congressman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.)

Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) stressed the importance of using the word “genocide” in reference to the Armenian Genocide. “There is no other word for what happened. It was a genocide, plain and simple,” said Weiner. “We honor the tradition of this country. We promise we won’t forget history. We will remember the genocide,” said Weiner.

Congressman Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.) began his remarks with Adolf Hitler’s famous words: “Who today speaks of the annihilation of the Armenians?” McCotter said that history is happening now and the Armenian Genocide should be acknowledged. “The survivor’s hearts shouldn’t wait any longer for their governments to acknowledge that the genocide occurred. All the survivors should find peace,” he said.

The commemoration began with an invocation by His Eminence Oshagan Choloyan, Prelate of the Armenian Apostolic Church of the Eastern United States, who said he was disheartened that Obama did not honor his promise to recognize the Armenian Genocide and the necessity of acknowledging the genocide. “To forget this atrocious act would be another crime against humanity and a crime against the victims,” Archbishop Choloyan said.

Grand Commander of the Knights of Vartan Haig Deranian and Grand Matron Anita Arslanian recognized the Knights and Daughters of Vartan in their heartwarming addresses and reiterated the theme of the commemoration: “We cannot forget and we will not forget.” They thanked the participating organizations of the Mid-Atlantic lodges, the chair and co-chair of the event, Hirant Gulian and Sam Azadian, as well as Dr. Dennis Papazian as academic advisor.

Shakeh Kadehjian recognized the survivors of the Armenian Genocide who were present at the commemoration, including Adrine Badjyan, birth place Adapazar, 100 years old; Arshalouys Dadir, birthplace Shabinkarahisar, 96 years old; Onorig Eminyan, birthplace Izmir, 97 years old; Peruz Kalustyan, birthplace Palu, 101 years old; Charlotte Kechejian, birthplace Konya, 97 years old; Sirarpi Sirabian, birthplace Adapazar, 97 years old.

Papazian, a prominent member of the Knights of Vartan leadership, opened his address by underlying the fact that there is a struggle for Turkey’s soul. “There is a change in Turkey, yet it’s very slow,” said Papazian, armed with two recent publications from Turkey: One depicted the notes personally kept by Talaat Pasha, one of the principal architects of the genocide, who kept meticulous notes of the number of Armenians sent to their death marches. The other publication, recently published in Turkey, is the complete trial records of the leadership of the Ottoman Turks who orchestrated the genocide.

Papazian reminded his audience that indeed there was a trial in Turkey and that the perpetrators were found guilty by the Turkish government. “Those books could not have been published even a decade ago,” he declared, adding that times are changing in Turkey. He also noted that Obama did call the expulsion and murder of 1.5 million Armenian by the Young Turk dictators a genocide, except that he used the Armenian term. “Use English, next time Mr. President,” he challenged, “so as to make your position crystal clear!”

Proclamations by New York Governor David Paterson and by Mayor Michael Bloomberg of Armenian Genocide Day were announced. Clergy in attendance were also recognized, including Very Rev. Haigazoun Najarian, Vicar General of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern); His Eminence Oshagan Choloyan, Prelate of the Armenian Apostolic Church of the Eastern United States; and Bishop Anoushavan Tanielian, also of the Prelacy. Andrew Torigian was in attendance representing the Armenian Missionary Association of America (AMAA). David Krikorian, who is running for congress in Ohio’s second district, was also recognized.

Queens City Councilmen John Liu and Peter Vallone Jr. were also in attendance to commemorate the 94th anniversary. Vallone spoke about the importance of commemorating the genocide every year and of having elected officials who stand up for Armenian causes. “We see survivors sitting here today who witnessed the horrors that took place,” said Liu, noting that the Turkish people did not succeed in their plans to exterminate the Armenians. “This is where we have gathered for many years and will continue to do so until the truth is told.”

In his remarks, Rev. Najarian said he did not want to dwell on the past or seek revenge. “I’m here today to ask for justice, peace, and co-existence,” said Najarian. He spoke about the contributions Armenians made to Ottoman culture and how Turks and Armenians had once lived side by side. “We have a lot in common. Let us build upon this common entity. Let Turkey, as a gesture, open the doors to Armenians so we can understand each other,” concluded Najarian.

Representatives from co-sponsoring organizations offered greetings—from the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU), Natalie Gabrelian; Van Krikorian from the Armenian Assembly of America; Antranig Kasbarian, of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), who spoke for the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA); Hilda Haroutunian from the Armenian Democratic League; and Dikran Nalbandian from the Hunchagian Party.

Able masters of ceremonies were Dr. Mary Papazian, senior vice-president and provost at Lehman College, a part of City University New York, and Armen McOmber, Esq., of New Jersey. Talar Aydian and Markrete Krikorian sang the Armenian national anthem in English and Armenian.

The program concluded with a benediction from Bishop Anoushavan Tanielian and the singing of “God Bless America” by Ani Djirdjirian.

Live coverage of the event was broadcast by the Armenian Radio Hour of New Jersey.

The winners of this year’s Knights of Vartan essay contest were present at the commemoration and were recognized for their achievements. They were Shannelle Russell, Carley Weinstein, and Sarah Torosyan. Aram Balian was awarded a Knights of Vartan silver medal for a letter he had written to Obama in regard to the Armenian Genocide.

The 94th commemoration of the Armenian Genocide in Times Square was organized by the Mid-Atlantic chapters of the Knights and Daughters of Vartan and co-sponsored by AGBU, Armenian Assembly of America, ANCA, Armenian Democratic Liberal Party, and Social Democratic Hunchagian Party. Participating organizations included the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern), Prelacy of the Armenian Church, AMAA, Armenian Presbyterian Church, Armenian Evangelical Church, Armenian Catholic Eparchy for U.S. and Canada, and Armenian youth organizations.

Taleen Babayan

Taleen Babayan

Taleen Babayan earned her masters in journalism from Columbia University in 2008 and her bachelors degree in history and international relations from Tufts University in 2006. Her work has been published widely in both Armenian and non-Armenian media. She can be contacted at babayant@gmail.com

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