Teen Activist Embraces Genocide Survivors

ARLINGTON, Mass.—Ever since she was old enough to remember, Anahis Araxy Kechejian always accompanied her parents to the statehouse commemorations in Boston.

Sixteen-year-old Anahis Kechejian outlines her program at the statehouse commemoration where 40 people stood up for their survivors.

She heard the speeches, listened to the music, met some of the most prominent people in legislature, and came away inspired.

But nothing caught the youngster’s eye more than a cluster of elderly people huddled together as survivors of the Armenian Genocide.

Each year at these observances, she drew an obvious conclusion: The crowd was getting smaller and smaller.

“As I graduated St. Stephen’s Elementary School and got older, the realization sunk in that so few of our dear survivors are left,” said the 16-year-old. “After all, the youngest possible age this year would be 97 if they were born in 1915.”

As the years rolled on, Anahis missed being an active participant of the event and wondered if other youth felt the same way.

She approached Armenian churches, youth groups, and schools, encouraging members to simply scan a photo of their beloved genocide survivor and e-mail it to her, along with a name, birthplace and current town.

The idea evolved into a program called “Stand Up for Your Survivor.” Thirty-eight individuals stepped forward, resulting in 50 photos that were displayed this year at the statehouse. Among them was her own great-grandmother Araxy from Gurin, after whom she is named.

When it came time to recognize these survivors, loved ones stepped forward and displayed the photographs. Taking particular notice were five survivors in attendance—a vast number considering their ages.

All this was done without any cost to participants as the Kechejians absorbed all expenses for the project. As a token of their appreciation, families got to keep the enlarged photos.

With the help of ANC activist Tsoleen Sarian, Anahis made her own pitch, organizing a website, contacting churches throughout the state, and gallantly passing the word. Through word of mouth, the response grew.

Pictures touched the gamut from childhood to adult. The sight of youngsters holding these mementoes was extremely compelling.

“Each poster represents the unbreakable bond between genocide survivors and their descendants,” she said, “a pledge that we will continue their struggle for justice. The posters also represent our current presence in the many communities of our beloved state of Massachusetts.”

Anahis is the daughter of Lynda and Stephen Kechejian. She attends Saturday Day School at St. Stephens and is a junior at Arlington High, where she plays tennis, field hockey, and runs track. She’s a member of the Greater Boston AYF Chapter and has gone to Camp Haiastan the past five years. She got to visit Armenia six years ago with her school. Hopefully, there will be other times.

“It’s a privilege for people my age to become involved in such a very important chapter of our history,” Anahis said. “When the remaining genocide survivors see the youth taking part, they can rest assured their heritage is in good hands.”

The intent is to have this project grow with each ensuing year leading to the centennial in 2015, when Anahis hopes to have 100 individuals stand and be recognized with their survivor posters.

And a promise that April 24th events will not die with the very last survivor.

Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian is a retired journalist with the Haverhill Gazette, where he spent 40 years as an award-winning writer and photographer. He has volunteered his services for the past 46 years as a columnist and correspondent with the Armenian Weekly, where his pet project was the publication of a special issue of the AYF Olympics each September.
Tom Vartabedian

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  1. I admire her!!! How many Anahis Araxy Kechejians do we have? The majority is careless, minding their own business and sending meaningless text messages on their iPhones…

  2. I heard Anahis speak at the statehouse commemoration. It was truly inspring to hear such a young person display such poise and vision with her project. It was certainly a poignant moment when the young generation stood up and displayed the survivors photographs. Even more impressive is the identity this project gives young Armenians with a generation that has mostly passed. It gives them a connection to the event, strengthens family ties and promotes activism.
    It is my hope that this will increase through the use of facebook and other social media that are popular. It’s an incredible idea. Abress!

  3. This was really relieving as having recently immigrated to Montreal, once of my primary concerns was if we would be able to pass our national and cultural identity to our two daughters Alik (9) and Dzovag(3) properly. Reading this assured me that yes, it was possible to raise Armenian children in this part of the world, and perfectly so. Thank you Anahis for the reassurance, and all my respect for your work!

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