Armenians from across the Chicago area and from the neighboring states of Wisconsin and Indiana converged on Chicago’s Daley Plaza for a program to mark the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide on Fri., April 24. The crowd swelled to nearly 2,000 as Armenians were joined by a large number of Assyrians, as well as Greeks, Ukrainians, Croats, Kurds, Jews, Poles, and others. This was the largest crowd to attend an Armenian Genocide commemoration since the 1970’s.
The program began with opening remarks by master of ceremonies John Davis, former local CBS new anchorman, providing background information about the Armenian Genocide and conducting a moment of silence for the 1.5 million Armenian martyrs, as well as the Assyrians and Greeks who were also victims of the genocide.
An impressive group of speakers followed, including U.S. Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, U.S. House Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Bob Dold, as well as Rep. Danny Davis (Ill.-7), Rep. Dan Lipinski (Ill.-3), and Rep. Mike Quigley (Ill.-5). Other speakers included Illinois Holocaust Museum and Educational Center President and Holocaust survivor Fritzie Fritzshall, Hellenic American Leadership Council Executive Director Endy Zemenides, and GISHRU Bridge to Assyria President Joseph Danavi.
In his remarks, Dold said, “It is incredibly disappointing to me, and I know to many of you, that our administration will not follow the footsteps of many world leaders, most recently Germany, Austria, and the Vatican. They have stepped up and recognized the genocide for exactly what it was on its 100th anniversary.”
The keynote speaker of the day was noted author Chris Bohjalian, who delivered a heartfelt and powerful messaga. “If you want to see what ethnic cleansing look like, go to Diyarbekir. Go to Van.“ Bohjalian also took the Obama Administration to task for its failure to speak the truth and characterize the Armenian Genocide as genocide. Quoting Shakespeare, he stated, “The truth will out,” that the Armenian Genocide now has the tide to its back, and that it will only be a matter of time before those who deny the genocide and those who aid them are overcome.
The program was concluded by Chicago Centennial Committee chair Greg Bedian, who began his comments by noting that the last survivor in Chicago, Heghnar Paloian, had passed away exactly six months before, and asked for the crowd to pause to remember all of the survivors who had sacrificed so much for the future of the Armenian nation. He also noted that the 100th anniversary, like the 50th anniversary in 1965, would prove to be a turning point in Armenian’s quest for justice.
The commemoration was attended by an impressive group of dignitaries, including Greek Consul General Ioanna Efthymiadou, Cypriot Honorary Consul Michael Dovellos, the representative of Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, members of the Cook County Board of Commissioners, members of the Illinois Holocaust and Genocide Commission, clergy from the Armenian and Assyrian churches, and representatives of various ethnic groups and organizations.
Following the program, the crowd, carrying signs, waving flags, and chanting slogans, began a memorial march led by Dold, Armenian clergy, and other community leaders and dignitaries. The march continued up Chicago’s famed Wacker Dr. and Michigan Ave. to the Turkish Consulate, where a protest was staged. A small counter protest of 70 people waving Turkish and Azeri flags in front of the Turkish Consulate was dwarfed by the crowd marching from Daley Plaza. The Chicago police set up barricades to keep the two groups separate.
A lone protestor, a woman with a purple headscarf, stood between the Turkish counter protestors and the mass of Armenians and their supporters. She held up a sign that included the Forget-me-not emblem of the Centennial and read: “Yeghpayr (brother) I individually apologize on behalf of my ancestors for Genocide crime. I don’t lose anything but increase my humanity.” Harassed by the Turkish protesters, at the end of the demonstration she came over to the Armenian side, where she was greeted with hugs and tears.