I had the privilege of being the keynote speaker at the ANC of Merrimack Valley’s Armenian Genocide commemoration event on Sat., April 20. Even though I’ve lived in Massachusetts since September, this was my first visit to Lowell. A quick 30-minute drive from Watertown, I soon found myself downtown with about 50 of the Merrimack Valley’s most dedicated members of the Armenian community.
The group gathered at the corner of John and Merrimack Streets, right near the University of Massachusetts Lowell campus. I met a few folks sporting the Armenian flag, saw a few veterans in their matching jackets, and greeted clergy members. Even though it was a chilly morning and the day after the manhunt of the Boston Marathon bombers, the community turned out for a wonderful event.
We marched down the street toward city hall. Six veterans led the way carrying flags and guns while children followed with a large banner that read, “Remembering Our Martyrs: 1915.” As everyone congregated in front of city hall, I joined the rest of the speakers on the stairs near the podium.
ANC of Merrimack Valley activist Ara Jeknavorian was the master of ceremonies for the event, leading the crowd through the program with grace. After singing the “Star-Spangled Banner,” everyone joined in a moment of silence for the 1.5 million lives lost in the genocide, as well as the 4 lives lost during the week of the Boston Marathon bombings and manhunt.
Rev. Father Khatchatur Kesablyan of Sts. Vartanantz Armenian Church in Chelmsford opened the program with a prayer. The gray skies began to part as Lucille Barberian, president of the AYF North Andover “Sassoun” Chapter, took the stage to offer her remarks. She was followed by Samantha Sarkisian (ACYOA), who rounded out the youth voices in attendance.
I took the podium in my first official speaking engagement as executive director of the ANCA-ER. My first week on the job I spoke at protests surrounding the Ramil Safarov scandal and I’ve spoken in front of crowds before, but this time was different. I had a speech prepared, had a brief biography read by Ara before my remarks, and genuinely was thrilled to be addressing this community.
I touched on my roots in Granite City, Ill., and the strength of small Armenian communities. I mentioned what the ANCA is working on besides genocide recognition. And then I dove into why we commemorate 1915 and what we need to expect in the future for a free, independent, and united Armenia to truly exist.
When I wrapped up, Massachusetts State Senator Eileen Donoghue (D-Lowell) addressed the crowd and offered a proclamation from her colleagues. Immediately after, Lowell Mayor Patrick Murphy read the proclamation from the city commemorating genocide martyrs and presented it to Aram Jeknavorian, another local ANC activist and dedicated community member.
Lowell City Councilor Rita Mercier and Rev. Fr. Karekin Bedourian rounded out the rest of the program before a handful of kids helped raise the Armenian flag on one of city hall’s poles as we sang “Mer Hairenik.”
The program was short and sweet, yet it sent a powerful message. I was one of the Watertown residents who was in lockdown mode all day on April 19 during the manhunt for the marathon terrorists. The Boston Armenian community’s genocide commemoration events for that day were cancelled, and I wasn’t sure the Lowell event would be happening either. When the suspect search ended, I felt relief, but I also felt inspired because I knew the city and state would become stronger from that week’s horrific events.
What does that have to do with Lowell’s event? I felt a larger sense of pride during their program because not only were we marching and remembering our Armenian martyrs, but it was a special day to be thankful for living in this free and democratic country. The fact that the Lowell community didn’t let threats scare them from voicing their pride is something I genuinely took to heart. I kept thinking this is what Armenians and Americans are all about—standing strong, never being silenced, and moving forward with more tenacity than ever.
Just like we’re fighting today for Nagorno-Karabagh independence, just like our ancestors fought for their lives, we will persevere. I was inspired by Lowell’s annual April 24 event and I look forward to similar events in our diasporan communities this month.