Massachusetts Honors Genocide Victims in State House Ceremony

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BOSTON, Mass.—Martyrs and survivors of the Armenian Genocide were honored under the golden dome of the Massachusetts State House last week during the 104th annual commemoration of the 1915 events.

“We are here to remember,” said State Senator William Brownsberger. For the past 34 years, in the days leading up to April 24, state and local elected officials invite Armenians and human rights advocates to the Massachusetts State House for this annual ceremony, designed to highlight the Armenian heritage and stress the importance of the international recognition of the Armenian Genocide. The event was held only a few days after the Commonwealth’s commemoration of the Rwandan Genocide.

As State Representative David Muradian explained, many of his colleagues in that chamber have an “R” or a “D” after their names. “Truthfully,” he said, “they should have an ‘A’ for Armenian,” alluding that crimes against humanity, including the Armenian Genocide and the genocides that followed, should not be considered partisan issues.

On Friday morning, scouts from Homenetmen’s Boston chapter stood proudly in the Hall of Representatives, each holding American and Armenian flags on either side of the stately wood podium. Students from Watertown’s St. Stephen’s Armenian Elementary School led guests in the singing of the Star Spangled Banner and the Armenian national anthem—a rather emotional example of the dual identity of the Armenian Diaspora.

Resting peacefully in a wheelchair a few feet from the children was 109 year-old Armenian Genocide survivor, “Starry” Asdghik Alemian of Weymouth, Mass. As a great-great grandmother, Alemian and her descendants were described by State Representative Jonathan Hecht as a “living testimony of the indomitable spirit of the Armenian people.” Hecht presented Alemian with the governor’s proclamation of the Armenian Genocide from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Four years ago on the centennial anniversary of the 1915 massacres, which claimed the lives of 1.5 million Armenians and forced hundreds of thousands more to march, the Armenian Apostolic Church canonized the martyrs as saints during a ceremony in Armenia. In his opening prayer at the State House, Reverend Dr. Avedis Boynerian of Watertown’s Armenian Memorial Church urged peace and harmony and “to bring to mind the loving dead who defended the Christian faith and died courageously.”

While Gov. Charlie Baker (R-MA) was not present in the chamber that morning, there were other state and local elected officials including Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo, who reflected on his late predecessor Speaker George Keverian, who started this annual tradition. “As we look towards the future, I hope that events like this will encourage people across this nation and the world to fully and completely recognize these atrocities for what they were: a genocide,” said Speaker DeLeo referencing the Turkish government’s ongoing denial of the Ottoman Empire’s committed atrocities. “While we remember those who perished, we must, most importantly, vow to carry on their legacy to ensure the world never forgets. As humans, as Americans, we must ensure the human spirit outshines inhumanity.”

During his remarks, Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian shared the story of his own grandparents, who escaped the persecutions from Marash and eventually found opportunity and a chance for a new life in America. “They became Americans and were not held back for their ethnicity. They were the greatest patriots,” said Koutoujian, who also referenced last spring’s Velvet Revolution in Armenia. “This year has seen the most change and hope for Armenians. We are enjoying something very special. Both America and Armenia are a testament to transparency and democracy.”

“The history of the genocide is full of human tragedies, but also human bravery, philanthropy and humanitarian support,” said local entrepreneur and philanthropist Dr. Noubar Afeyan in his keynote address. Another proud grandson of Armenian Genocide survivors, Dr. Afeyan compelled guests to think about second chances and the immigrant experience. “Armenians have a lot to be thankful for. Every day that I live here, I feel a responsibility to do something about the opportunity that I was given.” Afeyan suggested to Armenians to use their storied past as a source for good and express their gratitude by supporting today’s refugees.

For State Representative Muradian, the only Armenian in the entire Massachusetts legislature, the event served as a reminder to educate those who may not know about the Armenian Genocide, that it’s the least descendants can do. “It is imperative that we continue to honor our ancestors,” said Muradian. “Those stories make up each and every one of us here today.”

During a musical interlude, Moscow-born clarinetist Narek Arutyunian captivated guests with the secular hymns of Khosrovidukht, an eighth century Armenian poet and musician. Clergy from the local Armenian community also led the group in an Armenian intercessory prayer. Following the ceremony, guests were invited to the Great Hall of Flags for light refreshments and to meet with Governor Baker.

Carolina Gazal

Carolina Gazal

Intern
Carolina Gazal is a graduate of Boston College. She studied English and Communications. She is from Queens, New York.

9 Comments

  1. We wish the State of Massachusetts for honoring & remembering the 1st Holocaust of the Armenian People at the Boston State House for it’s 104th Anniversary. Forty nine U.S. States have recognized this 1st Genocide out of 50 States along with up to 50 Countries around the world. We pray that America will come forward & also recognize the loss of up to 2 million Armenians whom were massacred or starved to death on there Death Marches not counting the Millions whom were forced to become Moslem Turks or whom fled to other lands. God Bless the State of Massachusetts.

    • “We pray that America will come forward & also recognize the loss of up to 2 million Armenians…” implies that the United States has not yet officially recognized the Armenian Genocide.

      The reality is that the United States HAS officially recognized the Armenian Genocide.

      HR.220, which was co-authored by 124 representatives of congress in part reads:

      “Whereas the United States is on record as having officially recognized the Armenian Genocide, in the United States Government’s May 28, 1951, written statement to the International Court of Justice regarding the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, through President Ronald Reagan’s April 22, 1981, Proclamation No. 4838, and by House Joint Resolution 148, adopted on April 8, 1975, and House Joint Resolution 247, adopted on September 10, 1984…”

      And just recently, S.Res.150 — 116th Congress (2019-2020), which was authored/co-authored by 16 Senators claimed: “Whereas the United States has a proud history of recognizing and condemning the Armenian Genocide, the killing of an estimated 1,500,000 Armenians by the Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1923…” and “Whereas the United States has officially recognized the Armenian Genocide—

      (1) through the May 28, 1951, written statement of the United States Government to the International Court of Justice regarding the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and Proclamation No. 4838 issued by President Ronald Reagan on April 22, 1981; and

      (2) by House Joint Resolution 148, 94th Congress, agreed to April 8, 1975, and House Joint Resolution 247, 98th Congress, agreed to September 10, 1984; and”

      Basically, we already have official recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the U.S. Government and implying we don’t as we see in this resolution by the State of Massachusetts, equates to denial of the Armenian Genocide.

  2. MY MOM, ASDGHIG AROYAN WAS A GENOCIDE SURVIVOR FROM GUREN,TURKEY.
    I HEARD MANY STORIES FROM HER ABOUT HER SURVIVING THE DEATH MARCH TO SYRIA.
    HER MOM DID NOT.
    HAGOP
    IF YOUR SITE HAD AN ATTACHMENT FEATURE, I WOULD SEND A PHOTO OF HER INTERNMENT
    ORPHNANAGE IN ALEPPO.

    • My Mom was also at an Orphanage with her Mother and 2 of her 5 siblings. Her father had been forcefully removed from their home in Harper and never seen again. I would like to see the picture of the orphanage that you have. Thank you for wanting to share.

    • My dad was also a survivor from turkey came over age 1 with my grandmother. Tough life for them!

  3. My Mom was also at an Orphanage with her Mother and 2 of her 5 siblings. Her father had been forcefully removed from their home in Harper and never seen again. I would like to see the picture of the orphanage that you have. Thank you for wanting to share.

  4. What happened in Marash at that years was extremely sad and frightening. Not only for those who were force to leave their home, but also for the next generations, it was a huge trauma. I deeply share your pain. But it shouldn’t necessarily mean to distort historical realities. Of course Armenians were the ones suffered the most, but it was not something like “one day, bad turks came and killed everyone.” No living creature would deserve such terrible things but to be able to understand, we have to seek for the truth all together.

    Please read to have an objective information regarding to what happened there:

    Zeytun, whose name is Süleymanlı today, was an ancient settlement center founded on the Zeytun River in a narrow valley at the feet of steep and woody Mount Berit, which has an altitude of 3014 meters and is between the Göksun River and the Ceyhan River in the northwest of Marash. The region where Zeytun is situated is quite indented as it has many rivers which are watery and have shoot. The place is called Zeytun (Olive) as both sides of the mountains had olive trees in large quantities (Ahmet Cevdat Pasha, 1991, 120-121). Zeytun County, which is part of the Marash Sandjak of the Aleppo Province, is a place of great significance in terms of the development of Turkish-Armenian relations. Zeytun Armenians made it a habit of not giving taxes by taking advantage of the hardship of the access of the state to this place due to the fact that the land they were living in was a steep and hilly place. There had always been riots in this region as some of the Zeytun Armenians saw brigandage as a kind of source of income. In the number of these riots, generally broken out not to give taxes seemingly, there was an increase after the last quarter of the 18th century (Günay, 2007, p. 228-230).

    The fact that Armenians living in Zeytun were always in a state of uprising also drew the attention of missionaries who were conducting activities in Anatolia. Missionaries who were from the “American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions,” which was doing activities concerning the renewal of Armenian churches in 10 cities including Marash by gathering in Istanbul in 1832, made connections with Armenians living in this city and at the same time being their targeted mass. Zeytun Armenians who got the support of foreigners in this way attacked the Muslim villages in the region. Thereupon, Bayezidoğlu Süleyman Pasha took Zeytun under siege. Even though this siege was very effective, it was removed before a definite result was gained due to winter conditions. The Zeytun Armenians broke out events also in the years 1836, 1840, and 1842. The government wanted to know why the Zeytun Armenians broke out in so much unrest and they sent a committee to the region to investigate this. At the end of the investigation in the region, it was understood from the reports which were read in the Vala Assembly that the riots in Zeytun were not only about the issue of taxes but the issue had a political aspect as well (Günay, 2007, p. 230-231).

    The Zeytun Armenians’ attitudes, which did not recognize the authority of the state, continued also in 1853 and 1854. The events starting with the impact of the conflict between the Bayezid and Dulkadir families in 1854 were not able to be stopped with the influence of the Marash people objecting to the regulations of Edict of Reformation in 1856. Among the precautions of the government to stop the conflicts, which started in May, they were to send additional military troops to the region (A. MKT. UM, 236/15) and to collect the weapons of the people living in the Zeytun region and Marash (A. MKT. UM, 240/14). The Zeytun Armenians reacted to the plan of placing many Cherkes and Caucasian immigrants in this region in 1857 and some immigrants being hosted in Elbistan (MVL, 628/37). When the attacks of Armenians against the immigrants increased, Hurşit Pasha walked up to the Zeytun Armenians who did not give taxes and attacked Marash. Hurşit Pasha was not successful in his operation and Aziz Pasha was appointed to his position (Aghassi, 1897, p. 112-113).

    After the declaration of the Edict of Reformation, there were unrests in different parts of the Ottoman Empire. The most important of these was the unrest in Lebanon. The Marunis living in Lebanon were protected by France and the Durzis were protected by Britain. There was no unity among the Marunis due to different reasons (Karpat, 2001, p. 68-69). The fact that Durzi and Sunnis wanted to re-establish their dominions by taking advantage of the divisions among the Marunis caused the tension in the relations of the communities living here. The events spread to Syria and around 7,000 to 12,000 people from each religion died. The issues were taken to an international dimension by Britain and France, and Lebanon was given the status of a privileged and independent province on 9 June 1861 (Shaw&Shaw, 1983, 183). To the lieutenant governorship of Lebanon, a Catholic Armenian, Davit Efendi, was appointed by being conferred with the rank of vizier (Karal, 1983, p. 41).

    Please go to the link to continue: http://turksandarmenians.marmara.edu.tr/en/the-zeytun-riots/

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