BOSTON, MASS. — Just over five-hundred miles away from the Tree of Life synagogue, where a Jewish community has been grieving the loss of 11 of its innocent worshippers, hundreds in the heart of Boston recently gathered in the aftermath of that deadly shooting to pray, to grieve, and to support.
Billed as a Boston Shiva and a rally against anti-Semitism and white supremacy, several groups allied with Boston Workmen’s Circle and Jewish Voice for Peace Boston on Thursday night at the New England Holocaust Memorial, including a handful of local Armenians.
A day after the mass shooting, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan extended his condolences to President Donald Trump writing in part, “We condemn in the strongest terms this despicable manifestation of violence and intolerance, and we express our solidarity to the calls for a common struggle against xenophobia in the world.”
The Armenians at the Boston rally identified themselves as part of a new progressive group called Zoravik. Organizer Sevag Arzoumanian says, “We are interested in helping progressive forces in Armenia, but we’re also interested in helping local progressive causes.”
Back in Pittsburgh, prosecutors said the gunman was allegedly talking about “genocide and his desire to kill Jewish people” as he opened fire on worshippers during Shabbat prayer services. “How could we not be here?” Arzoumanian explains prefacing the Armenians’ shared history with the Jews (the Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide of 1915). “The Armenian people and the Jewish people have gone through similar experiences. The attack on the synagogue in Pittsburgh was an attack against members of a given faith and members of a given minority.”
Another attendee was Samuel Chakmakjian, a graduate of Brandeis University, which has a large Jewish student body. Chakmakjian was there to support many of his friends from University but he says he also came because he believes it is the right thing to do as an Armenian.
“I feel a moral obligation,” he said. “I think that we as Armenians need to really investigate that feeling of moral obligation and see how our experiences can open us up to being there and helping other communities as they heal, because we’re definitely not the only people that feels pain as a result of ethnic violence or a history of genocide or invisibility.”
Chakmakjian is a member of numerous organizations and initiatives in the Armenian community (he has been an active member of the AYF since he was a child), but says that, on this occasion, he was attending as an activist with Zoravik.
“I think that Zoravik is opening up a very needed supplementary pocket of our community because we often don’t pay attention to the social justice causes that are happening around us, especially in the context of America and other western countries where we have a significant Diasporan community,” said Chakmakjian who did not notice any other Armenian organization taking a firm stand on this mass shooting. “Unfortunately this has fallen outside of their purview.”
While many Armenian organizations are focused on the culture, its youth and relief efforts as traditional strategies for strengthening the community, some like Chakmakjian argue it’s also equally important to make meaningful connections with other faith groups outside the community. “I think our reluctance to align with other causes and look beyond our community is primarily a reaction to trauma and the very real fears that we feel around disappearing…whether that’s by the sword or by assimilation.”