By Ani Babaian
PEABODY, Mass.—On Thurs., April 25, at 11 a.m. in front of the Peabody City Hall, a flag-raising ceremony was held for the 98th commemoration of the Armenian Genocide, led by Mayor Edward A. Bettencourt.
Former Mayor Peter Torigian’s wife Jackie Torigian and his sister Mary Foley were present at the flag-raising ceremony. After the Armenian National Anthem, the Peabody Veterans Memorial H.S. (PVMHS) Chorale sang the American National Anthem. The ceremony continued inside, where Mayor Bettencourt presented his opening remarks, stating, “The Armenian Genocide ceremony has been held in Peabody for the past 25 years. I remember one day during my senior year at Peabody High School, Mayor Peter Torigian came and spoke to my history class. It was the first time I had heard about the Armenian Genocide. His stories of family tragedy and incredible courage in the face of such evil were so moving, and he spoke with such passion and emotion. It left a mark on me.”
He said the most recent evil acts at the Boston Marathon were a continuance of the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust, and that now we can pay tribute to those lives, remember and speak about such events, and educate the future generations. Because of this ceremony, he said, we learn about genocide and human violence, and that is why he invited the history class students from Peabody’s High School to the commemoration for the second year.
Father Vasken A. Kouzouian of Holy Trinity Church in Cambridge, Mass., and Deacon Avedis Garavanian of North Andover’s St. Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church gave their blessings and requiem service to memorialize the victims of the genocide.
Father Kouzouian shared his thoughts, stating, “More three weeks ago, Armenians celebrated the miracle of Easter and now gather here in the heart of the City of Peabody to remember Armenian Martyrs’ Day.” He compared two completely opposite occasions and concluded, “It’s the promise that misery, and sorrow, and death itself, are not the end. The Armenian people have brought into this promise for generations. And because of that promise, we see ourselves as followers of the Risen Lord, and not as victims of death.”
“So it’s important to us, as Armenians, to let our faith shine through, in the cities and towns where we live,” he continued, “to let our faith shine through in front of all of you, to let our faith shine in front of our elected officials, and to let it shine when we stand in line on Election Day to vote, and when we serve on our local PTO’s, or coach our children in Little League, or serve in local soup kitchens, or help keep our cities and towns green. And it’s important to us to let our faith shine when we stand with our Jewish neighbors, and our Cambodian neighbors, and Rwandan neighbors, and when we stand with all our neighbors who have suffered genocides in their pasts. It’s important to us because that’s who we are… We are a people of faith.”
Patrice Tierney, representing Congressman John Tierney’s office in Washington, gave greetings and stated, “The Armenian Genocide was a premeditated, deliberate, systematic murder of 1.5 million innocent people which created fear and intimidation with the intent to destroy generations of Armenian families. This was not a war, but an armed government. This was not an overblown incident; this was a brutal crime against humanity. These events should not be forgotten, but they were not captured on film, cell phones, or shown over the internet by news media for the entire world to see.”
“Division and hatred can only lead to more division and hatred, as the genocides proved,” he said. “Although the atrocities of the past cannot be erased, we must take the opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to the achievement of liberty and peace worldwide.”
Mayor Bettencourt introduced and invited the main speaker, Sudi Smoller, a library media specialist, web author, and local history enthusiast. In her current role as library teacher at the local middle school, she has developed a curriculum about tolerance that is inclusive of the history of the Armenian genocide.
When she was asked to speak, Smoller thought, “What could an Irish woman say about what it means to be Armenian?” Then she decided to watch recordings of the Armenian Genocide ceremony, including one from 2001, which was the last time Mayor Peter Torigian hosted the event. “His words seemed to speak directly to me. He said, ‘It doesn’t have to be an Armenian standing here to do this. If we are good at what we do, it could be anybody who would stand up here, understand our cause, and do the things that are necessary to convince people that if we turn our backs on genocide and holocaust, then down the road, we are short-changing our children and grandchildren because the ugly head of genocide and holocaust will rise again, and I think we have a responsibility to see that it doesn’t happen again.’ So, I have Peter’s permission to be here addressing you and that makes me feel better. It was Peter who opened my eyes to your history,” Smoller said.
She talked about the genocide and its repercussions, not only on survivors but also upcoming generations. She talked about how Turkey continues to deny the genocide and to persecute Armenians living in Turkey and Azerbaijan. “This is the 98th anniversary of the genocide. In two years, it will be a century. How is it that in all that time the United States, which stands for liberty and freedom, has not officially recognized what happened in Armenia as genocide? Just because Turkey denies it, does not mean we should do the same,” she said. “I am embarrassed as an American by the confusing, inconsistent, hypocritical response of the United States regarding the genocide. The current and previous administrations have yielded under pressure from Turkey and have become complicit in that nation’s campaign of denial of genocide.”
“As of 2011, the governments of 21 countries recognized the events as genocide,” she added. “The U.S. is not one of them, although 43 states, including Massachusetts, have recognized the genocide.”
Smoller also mentioned the many official U.S. documents and speeches that have acknowledged the genocide since 1975, as well as the recent Obama Administration approach. “I believe that saying that peace and reconciliation are more important than blaming people for genocide is wrong,” she said. “We cannot keep silent about the truth. Genocide is the right word; justice is the ultimate goal. Denial has consequences. Deniers are accessories after the fact of genocide who have so far prevented an international political and legal process affirming the genocide and that does not require appropriate restitution or curb further Turkish mistreatment of Armenians.”
She touched upon the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict and the continuation of the genocide in Sumgait in 1988. “From April 7-13, 2013, there were 250 cases of ceasefire violation by the Azerbaijani side between the armed forces of Nagorno-Karabagh and Azerbaijan,” she said.
Just two weeks before, on April 10, she added, the state of Maine had joined Massachusetts and Rhode Island and adopted legislation to support the democratic independence of the Nagorno-Karabagh Republic. “Some believe these small steps are being made now with two years before the 100th anniversary. Now, more than ever, is the time to forge more inroads to normalize relations.”
Mary Torigian then read the Proclamation. Mayor Bettencourt, in his closing remarks, said that Peabody will continue this tradition of commemoration. Former Mayor Michael J. Bonfanti, Peabody’s representative Leah Cole, and Peabody High School students were also present.
After the ceremony, a light luncheon was served in the Wiggin Auditorium. Peabody Vocational Director Maria Ferri and culinary arts students assisted at the lunch, which was sponsored by Mr. and Mrs. Aurelian and Anahid Mardiros.