Taner Akçam Featured as Keynote Speaker
By Kim Yacoubian
On Tues., April 24, the Philadelphia Armenian Inter-Communal Committee (PAICC) hosted its annual Armenian Genocide Commemoration at Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church in Cheltenham, Pa. With over 200 guests in attendance, the event began with a requiem service memorializing the souls of the 1.5 million Armenians lost 97 years ago during the genocide. The cultural program that followed featured songs and recitations by the students of the Armenian Sisters’ Academy; a piano solo by Anahit Sakoian; a recitation by Anton Balasanian; and a video presentation by Ara Shakarjianof of the 2011 Genocide Commemoration at the Dzidzernagapert Memorial in Yerevan.
In his closing address that evening, youth representative Vicken Bazarbashian emphasized the need for unity in the Armenian nation: “As we approach the centennial of the Armenian Genocide, we are reminded once again of the need to unite as one nation and one people in both our beloved motherland and throughout our diaspora. The need for unity is now stronger than ever and is a requirement for the preservation and advancement of our culture, heritage, and Armenian identity. Our future can be very bright but we must work together to fulfill this endeavor.”
Four days later, on Sat., April 28, the Philadelphia Armenian Genocide Walk—“Walk the Walk, Talk the Talk”—took place for the fifth consecutive year with Dr. Taner Akçam, serving as keynote speaker. An international expert on the Armenian Genocide, Akçam is a historian and professor of genocide studies at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. Autographed copies of Akçam latest book, The Young Turks’ Crime Against Humanity: The Armenian Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing in the Ottoman Empire, were available for purchase the day of the walk.
The afternoon began with a two-mile commemorative walk from the Meher Statue at the Philadelphia Museum of Art to Christ Church in Old City, where the program took place. With the Scouts Troop of St. Gregory the Illuminator Armenian Apostolic Church leading the walk, 250 community members of all ages, including clergy and Akçam, gripped banners and signs, while waving American and Armenian flags to bring exposure to the cause. Emceed by Walk Committee co-chairs Vicken Bazarbashian and Kim Yacoubian, the program at Christ Church opened with a performance of Armenian music selections by Jampa Jazz, with talented lead singer Lori Panossian.
Introduced by Rev. Nishan Bakalian of Armenian Martyrs’ Congregational Church, Akçam captivated the audience with his address, which demonstrated a clear passion for his scholarship. Acknowledging the denial of the Armenian Genocide by the Turkish state, Akçam assured the audience that change is coming. “You can never really kill memory. You can suppress it, silence it for a long time, but when the moment is right, like a volcano, it will erupt. What you are witnessing now is the rebellion in Turkey against the suppressed silence and expression of narrative that was never openly discussed before.”
Instilling a sense of hope in the future, Akçam cited examples of articles on the genocide recently published in the media by Turkish scholars; national conferences in Turkey on the genocide; and the outpouring of support by the Turkish people after Hrant Dink’s assassination. With Turkish civil society now representing a new locus of interest, Akçam underscored that, with political and social actors changing in Turkey, both sides have to change their way of talking about the Armenian Genocide. He concluded, “The history of Anatolia is the history of so much pain, mostly yours. I am ashamed and truly sorry not only as a Turk, but as a human being, of the great injustices that happened to you. I cannot bring back those you lost, but I want to share your pain and your sadness with you.”
After a brief question and answer period, Akçam was presented with a collage of bicentennial stamps donated by Robert Damerjian, Sr., as a token of the community’s appreciation. The program’s final speaker, Dr. Ara Chalian, the chairman of the Armenian National Committee of Pennsylvania, urged the community to take political action by demanding the passage of House and Senate resolutions on the Armenian Genocide, and the restoration of Christian churches in Turkey. Closing the program, Lori Panossian returned with Jampa Jazz to perform a stunning a cappella rendition of the song “Giligia.”
With support from PAICC, the 2012 Philadelphia Armenian Genocide Walk provided an opportunity for the entire Philadelphia community to gather to commemorate the 97th anniversary of the genocide, while educating the public on Turkish denial of the atrocities committed against the Armenians by the Ottoman Empire. The Armenian Genocide Walk is organized annually on a volunteer basis by a cross-section of youth representatives from local area churches and organizations. This year’s Walk Committee included Angela Aghajanian, Anto Arutunian, Rev. Bakalian, co-chair Vicken Bazarbashian, PAICC chairman Hrant Jilozian, Diana Lulejian, Sevag Shirozian, Nadia Silk, Paul Sookiasian, Krikor Yeremian, and co-chair Kim Yacoubian. For photos and videos of this year’s Walk, visit www.armeniangenocidewalk.com.