DETROIT (A.W.)—Emmy-award winning television host and activist Montel Williams joined over 500 metro Detroit Armenians to commemorate the Armenian Genocide’s 103rd anniversary on April 21 at Edsel Ford High School, Dearborn. The Armenian Genocide Commemoration Committee of Greater Detroit hosted the annual event.
The program began with the presentation of colors by Detroit’s Homenetmen Scouts, who also led the singing of the U.S. and Armenian national anthems.
Mistress of Ceremonies Lara Nercessian welcomed attendees and acknowledged the community’s recent work with the Michigan Legislature to guarantee that every Michigan public school student will graduate knowing something about the Armenian Genocide and other genocides of modern times. She reminded the crowd that it was a victory achieved despite strong resistance and interference by the Turkish government.
Nercessian read a heartfelt letter by Michigan’s retiring 11th Congressional District Rep. David Trott and introduced an inspiring short video message by Michigan 5th District State Senator David Knezek, who rallied the Michigan Senate to pass a resolution calling for U.S. recognition of Artsakh and expanding economic and cultural ties with the republic.
Helen Attar delivered a steady message of solidarity and hope on behalf of the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF-YOARF). Focusing on her experience as an Armenian, Attar highlighted family and community engagement as significant touchstones that have anchored a new generation of Armenian Genocide survivor descendants and engaged them in the struggle for genocide recognition and reparations. Another representative of the youth in the Community was Alexandra Hachigian, representing the Daughters of Vartan. She introduced the dance ensemble and gave an explanation of the symbolism of each of the dances.
Armenian Genocide Committee of Greater Detroit Chair Raffi Ourlian addressed the crowd and reflected on the committee’s work for the 2018 commemoration and its hope that it could persuade Montel Williams—executive producer with Dean Cain of the compelling anti-genocide documentary “Architects of Denial”—to be the event’s keynote speaker.
Ourlian related how a shot-in-the-dark email to Williams’ representatives resulted in a quick response and eventual confirmation that Williams would accept the committee’s invitation.
Greeted by a standing ovation, Williams captivated the audience with an interactive conversation about the personal journey that led him and Cain to make “Architects of Denial,” and the lessons he has drawn along the way.
Pacing the aisles of Edsel Ford High’s auditorium, Williams began with his childhood experiences growing up in Baltimore and dealing with discrimination from an early age. Williams said he was compelled to excel and learn all that he could under the guidance of strict parents who demanded excellence and high achievement from their children.
Williams said his 22 years of military service in the U.S. Marine Corp and later the U.S. Navy as a graduate of the Naval Academy Prep School and Annapolis led him to believe he was well educated about world history and political affairs. As a Navy lieutenant commander with special training in the Russian language, Williams especially thought he was aware of the modern history of the Caucuses region–that is, until he heard about the Armenian Genocide and Artsakh pogroms for the first time several years ago.
Williams sought information about the Armenian Genocide and Artsakh atrocities and connected with Cain to work on “Architects of Denial” to help others understand that genocide denied means justice denied, allowing genocide to be used as a powerful tool to suppress, silence and eventually kill ethnic and religious groups.
Williams detailed the strong response he and Cain had to fight when rolling out the film in Glendale, Calif., due to a Turkish government intimidation campaign. A stronger fight back response from the Armenian community and supporters of truth resulted in the film being shown as planned and paving a path for “Architects of Denial” to be shown at cities across the country.
Williams had special words for the audience’s young people, urging them to stand strong against Armenian discrimination and genocide denial. He again reflected on his own journey said each young Armenian can help change the world by working to bring overdue justice for the Armenian Genocide.
The evening included the poetic power of Detroit’s Hamazkayin Arax Dance Ensemble. The troupe of young men and women performed to music dedicated to the victims of the 1909 Adana massacre committed by the Young Turk government. The program closed with the their powerfully performance that communicated resilience and resistance against Armenian Genocide denial in honor of the 1.5 million martyred saints of the Armenian Church.
The Armenian Genocide Committee of Greater Detroit’s next event will be its annual book talk in the fall. Details will be forthcoming. Follow the committee’s announcements on its Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Armenian-Genocide-Committee-of-Greater-Detroit-889137944439709/.