Red Beret Curtis Sliwa Shakes Rafters at Martyr’s Day Memorial

On the evening of Sat., April 21, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) Detroit “Azadamard” Gomideh, in conjunction with the Metro Detroit Armenian Genocide Commemorative Committee, gave this community something to stand up and shout about on the 97th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.

Under the youthful leadership of ARF chairperson Raffi Ourlian, a new direction was taken. With a mere three years before the 100th anniversary of the genocide—and Turkey’s unbelievable ability to continue to deny the Ottomans’ premeditated slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians, as well as hundreds of thousands of Greeks and Assyrians—an out-of-towner with a charming Brooklyn accent was brought in to address the assembled audience.

It should have been apparent this would be an evening like no other, when a door opened and a group of dignified young men clad in red jackets and red berets paraded in, taking their place in the front of the assembled group. They came from Chicago, Toledo, and Detroit.

The fighting spirit of our fedayees wasn’t dormant, but it took the raucous oratory of Curtis Sliwa of New York Red Beret fame to bring the standing room-only crowd of 400 Armenians to their feet with enough applause to generate electricity to light up the city of Detroit. He was that good.

It was Detroit like in the old days, when Hagop Mouradian would take to the podium. There was emotion, there was fiery oratory, there was a prevailing sense of purpose for this exiled people representing villages from Bolis to Van.

They liked what they heard, and what they heard was a damnation of the present-day Turkish government’s denial of the genocide.

Sliwa was emphatic, intense, and right on target with his knowledge of the 20th century’s first genocide. “I was there with you demonstrating in front of the Turkish Embassy when they assassinated Hrant Dink, and three years later you still don’t have proper justice for his killing,” he said. “Turkey remains the worst offender of Christian minorities in the world.”

He gave credit to his parents for his belief system—“Improve, don’t move”—and then he resurrected an old attitude of helping people that is now identifiable with the Red Berets: “I equally offend Democrats and Republicans.” He warned any politicians present that he would be rough on them because their pre-election promises usually have not come to fruition for the Armenians, especially when it comes to supporting genocide resolutions. “They say they can’t do it because Turkey is our ally. Is Turkey really our ally? Were they not the ones who refused the U.S. air space over northern Iraq when the war began?” The audience responded with an audible “No!”

“We [U.S.] continue to bribe them with billions of dollars of tax-payer money and they still want more. Is that an ally?”

“No!”

“This is the richest, most powerful country in the world and yet it is bullied by the Turkish government. The politicians come to you, Armenians, because they know your big, fat checks don’t bounce. They tell you they will do this and that for you and when they finally get elected it is a different story.”

“Go for reparations. That’s what the Turks fear, but they are marking their time by Penal Code 301, where anyone discussing the Armenian Genocide disappears into prison. It’s ‘Midnight Express’ all over again. They are revisionists of the worst kind. Get the job done now. Succeeding generations won’t do it. This is America and intermarriages are diluting your prospects.”

Sliwa’s grandfather opted out of becoming a farmer in Poland, and pursued education instead, with many of his instructors being Armenian (thereby teaching him both Polish and Armenian history). Thus Sliwa became enamored of the Armenians and their cause. He is a great ally to have.

Sliwa has no mercy for Israel either. “You’d think if there was a country who’d condemn the Turks it would be them, but they turn their backs. They should be ashamed of themselves.”

Finally, he asked, “What are you going to do? Say ‘No!’ to the politicians who come to you seeking financial contributions because they know Armenian checks do not bounce. The narcotic of politics is money. Don’t give anymore. The Armenians are the politicians’ mistress. I guarantee you they’ll come back apologizing.”

“Don’t ever be a victim again,” Sliwa concluded emphatically.

The evening began with the presentation of the American and Armenian flags marched in by the youth of the Homenetmen and the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF).

Emily Movsesian sang the national anthems accompanied on the piano by Helen Mempreian Movsesian.

Ani Karjian recited Siamanto’s “Ahp meh Mokhir” (A Handful of Ashes).

Master violinist Harry Hovakimian, a Baku pogrom survivor, performed musical selections including the beautiful “Groung.”

On behalf of the Knights of Vartan Nareg Shavarshan Lodge, David Terzibashian spoke about the Armenian Genocide Essay competition among Michigan High School students that began six years ago with local businessman Edgar Hagopian. Hagopian passed away last year, but his son Edmond and daughter Suzanne presented the winners’ awards to Ashley Pikula, grade 12, Andover High School, Bloomfield Hills (first place, $500); Olivia Kurajian, grade 10, Birmingham Seaholm High School (second place, $250); and Neghem Albeer, also from Andover High School (third place, $150). Their teachers were each given $100 for having encouraged their students to participate in this very worthy exercise in genocide education. The Hagopian Family Foundation annually sponsors and provides the prizes for these awards.

Several area politicians sent representatives on their behalf.

Terzibashian gave the closing remarks, and Rev. Dr. Vahan Tootikian of the Armenian Congregational Church and Rev. Fr. Daron Stepanian of St. Sarkis Armenian Apostolic Church, brothers in the Lord, gave the Benediction.

A bountiful buffet table for guests was provided by the Anusbigian family, owners of the area’s several highly successful Westborn Markets, who have set the style for excellence as purveyors of fresh foods, fruit, vegetables, and meats.

This “Demand For Justice” commemoration of the 97th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide was organized by the Metro Detroit Armenian Genocide Commemorative Committee, comprised of the following: the ARF “Azadamard Gomideh, AYF Juniors, St. Sarkis Armenian Apostolic Church, St. Vartan Armenian Catholic Church, Armenian Congregational Church, ARS Mid-Council and five sister chapters, Hamazkayin Cultural Society, Homenetmen of Detroit, Nareg-Shavarshan Lodge–Knights of Vartan, St. Sarkis Fellowship Club and Ladies Guild, Armenian Research Center, Vasbouragan Compatriotic Society, and other organizations.

This is the message Detroit is sending to the Turkish government: “Be it 97 years or an eternity, we will never forget. You must acknowledge your black stain on history and admit the genocide of over 1.5 million Armenians, the confiscation of our lands, and the slaughter of thousands of Greek and Assyrian minority Christians.

(For more on Sliwa, including broadcast times, visit www.curtissliwa.com.)

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Betty Apigian-Kessel

Betty (Serpouhie) Apigian Kessel was born in Pontiac, Mich. Together with her husband, Robert Kessel, she was the proprietor of Woodward Market in Pontiac and has two sons, Bradley and Brant Kessel. She belonged to the St. Sarkis Ladies Guild for 12 years, serving as secretary for many of those years. During the aftermath of the earthquake in Armenia in 1988, the Detroit community selected her to be the English-language secretary and she happily dedicated her efforts to help the earthquake victims. She has a column in the Armenian Weekly entitled “Michigan High Beat.”

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