WASHINGTON, D.C.—On April 13, Armenian Americans and their allies from across the Greater Washington, D.C. area rallied in front of the White House to urge President Trump to end US complicity in Turkey’s Armenian Genocide denial by clearly and unequivocally condemning that crime in his annual April 24 commemorative statement.
The candlelight vigil was organized by the Washington, D.C. Armenian Youth Federation “Ani” Chapter in coordination with a coalition of Armenian American groups, comprising the Armenian Genocide Commemorative Committee of Greater Washington. Two Armenian schools from Southern California—Mesrobian Armenian School and AGBU Manoogian-Demirjian School– participated in the solemn commemoration.
The program began with opening remarks from AYF and Homenetmen member Nanar Keurkunian, who emceed the event. “Every year we stand in this very spot—we sing our songs, read our poems and tell the stories of our martyrs to show the world that we will never forget the lives of those who died at the hands of the Ottoman Turkish Government,” stated Keurkunian. “But we also come with a clear demand—that the United States—from the President to the Congress to state and local legislatures—adopt a permanent policy of properly condemning this crime for what it was—genocide.”
This year’s vigil also spotlighted the unprecedented US humanitarian assistance efforts of Near East Relief, a Congressional mandated campaign which, from 1916 to 1930, raised the equivalent of over $2.5 billion in today’s currency to assist some 137,000 orphans and over a million Armenian, Greek, Assyrian, Aramean, Chaldean and Syriac survivors of the Genocide. Throughout the program AYF members Aram Najarian, Kristine Antanesian, Sune Hamparian, Mari Tikoyan and Galy Jackmakjian highlighted the statewide efforts of Alabama, California, Mississippi, New York and Virginia by outlining specific cases of local organizing and charity work conducted by the American public to aid refugees. Additional states will be honored each year at subsequent vigils.
Georgetown Armenian Student Association President and AYF member Nareg Kuyumjian shared a poetic and powerful Palm Sunday-eve Armenian language message, noting, in part, that United States’ monumental Near East Relief effort stands in stark contrast to today’s White House policies. “We stand in front of a White House whose silence in the face of the Armenian Genocide, fails to acknowledge our own proud past,” stated Kuyumjian. “The time has come for the Armenian American youth to engage within the halls of power to reform the system from within,” continued Kuyumjian, issuing a call to action for greater Armenian American youth civic participation.
As the program progressed, participants took a few moments to join in song and poem to honor the Armenian nation’s triumphs. Attendees sang “Akhpers Ou Yes” and, together with Hamasdegh Armenian School and Homenetmen Armenian Scouts, joined to sing “April 24—Togh Hunchen Shepor,” saluting the struggles and celebrating the victories that established the first Armenian Republic in 1918 and the Republic of Artsakh in 1991. Eighth graders from Mesrobian Armenian School recited “Menk Khaghagh Eyink” by Hovannes Shiraz. In powerful and moving individual performances, AYF member Haig Penenian recited Armenian poet, Moushegh Ishkhan’s, “Ashkhari Tsavov” and Arya Balian soloed her rendition of “Dle Yaman.”
AYF San Fernando Valley Sardarabad Chapter Executive Member Mikael Matossian addressed the crowd with the English message of the day: “I call on you to join me in calling on President Trump to recognize this thoroughly documented event in human history as what it is – genocide. But I also ask you to join me in using his deafening silence on the topic as motivation to keep up the fight. Let it fuel your own desire to keep up the fight for the recognition and reparations we deserve – whether that be politically or culturally, through personal or organizational means – and continue the march for justice.” Matossian discussed ongoing Congressional efforts to set a permanent US policy of Armenian Genocide remembrance, but also called special attention to the groundbreaking California student-led campaign to divest from Turkey and efforts of Armenians in present-day Turkey to secure acknowledgment of the Armenian Genocide.
Fr. Sarkis Aktavoukian, pastor of the Soorp Khatch Armenian Church in Bethesda, Md., led the crowd in prayer in honor of the sainted martyrs of the Armenian Genocide. Attendees lit their candles under the moonlight, and the candlelight vigil ended as the crowd joined together in the serene song “Cilicia.”