Armenians in Yerevan Join International Movement Against Racial Injustice

A pair of peaceful protesters outside the US Embassy in Yerevan on Thursday holding a sign that reads “Armenians for Black Justice” (Photo: Raffi Elliott)

YEREVAN—A small group of demonstrators protested in front of the United States Embassy in Armenia on Thursday under the banner “Armenians for Black Lives.” The group consisting of a dozen mostly Armenian American repatriates joined similar actions in cities across the world to demand justice for the murder of an unarmed black man—George Floyd—at the hands of four police officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota just over one week ago.

Protesters demanding an audience with US ambassador Lynne Tracy were met by police who asked them to maintain social distancing guidelines and refrain from photographing the embassy grounds.

“Why does this affect me? I’m only an Armenian American because of the injustice perpetrated against the Armenians a century ago during the Genocide which displaced my ancestors to the US,” explained Maggie Ovian, a native of Madison, Connecticut now residing in Yerevan. “My great-grandparents were able to build a new life by benefiting from white privilege which is what allowed me to repatriate to Armenia.” Ovian added that as genocide survivors American Armenians have the opportunity to harness the pain of injustices being perpetrated against black Americans for centuries and fight for those who continue to be persecuted.

As protesters formed a line along the US Embassy lawn holding posters with popular slogans from the movement, a police loudspeaker announced in both Armenian and English that due to the ongoing State of Emergency situation in place, all public demonstrations have been ruled illegal and gave the protesters five minutes to disperse.

Police, however, did agree to allow two of the demonstrators to enter the diplomatic mission in order to deliver a letter on behalf of Armenians condemning not only the murder of Floyd, but institutionalized racism and police brutality in general. 

The demonstrators then read out the names of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and other people of color who have died in police-related incidents in recent years. With the demonstration over, they walked back to central Yerevan with police in tow. 

Gabriel Alejandro Atjian from Tucson, Arizona, said of the whole experience, “As the son of immigrant Armenian and Mexican parents, I’ve felt the difficulties that minority communities have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. Now, it’s time for our different communities to come together and build a better foundation for the future by standing in solidarity with our brothers and sisters back home who have been oppressed since the foundation of our nation to show that we won’t allow them to fear for their or their children’s future.”

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Raffi Elliott

Columnist & Armenia Correspondent
Raffi Elliott is a Canadian-Armenian political risk analyst and journalist based in Yerevan, Armenia. As correspondent and columnist for the Armenian Weekly, he covers socioeconomic, political, business and diplomatic issues in Armenia, with occasional thoughts on culture and urbanism.

40 Comments

    • You clearly don’t understand the use of the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’.
      If you break your arm and go to the doctor, is it relevant for the doctor to say “all bones matter”?
      No it’s not. Of course all bones matter but it’s your arm that needs the attention right now.
      If you’re raising funds for your child’s cancer treatment, is it relevant for someone to come to you and say “all diseases matter”?.
      The answer again is no. Of course all diseases are important but your child is sick with cancer so that is your priority.

      Black individuals in the United States (and across the world) are disproportionally targeted in cases of police brutality. In many cases they are innocent and are killed whilst white individuals would not be targeted at all or would be treated in a different manner.

    • Unfortunately nobody needs to remind America that white lives matter. That is the reason it is necessary to teach that Black Lives Matter.

    • Hi Lena,

      Based on your comment, would you would be perfectly happy for people to say that all genocides matter at an Armenian Genocide protest and that “1915 never again” should read EVERY GENOCIDE MATTERS ? A yes or no answer would be greatly appreciated

    • Right on, Lena. Your sentiment is unfortunately too offensive for liberal minded people. This movement has been hijacked and is unauthentic. It’s a way for white folks to feel good about themselves. It is, at its core, a racist sentiment to think that Black people cannot take care of themselves and need Whites to stand up for them. For all of you screaming Black Lives Matter and “Cops are Thugs”, by all means do something about it! Go into the inner cities and deal with the exponentially greater problem of black on black violence. This is a much bigger issue than a handful of racists cops across the country. The statistics don’t care about how mad you get. But the vast majority of people with a BLM poster or sign will NEVER do this. Why? Because they fear being victimized by the same population of people they wish to protect. Do you think the Black person who kills another Black person on the street will hesitate to kill a White person? You’re in a dreamland if you think you’re safe.

  1. A Human’s Rights

    Do not seize me in your cave
    Open your door let me behave
    To see the world in its fight
    To try to protect every human right!

    Let me grasp a red pen in hot hands,
    Writing poems to justify rationales.
    Let me write to billions of inhumane breaths;
    Let them feel ashamed of sinful fights.

    Let the righteous rays shine on each brain cell
    To guide spirits into the right light.
    Let harsh minds listen every night
    To symphonies praising human rights.

    I am yours, always yours.
    No one can grab me by force.
    I like to scream very loud . . .
    Human rights are everyone’s birthright.

    Let my voice from my heartiest soul,
    Reach farther than both polar sites.
    Let tears of the speakers on human rights
    Flow like waterfalls on starved lands.

    Don’t hide me in an unsown cave
    I’m kind and heartily brave
    I have genes to know every right,
    From sunshine to moonlight.

    Let all raise the faithful flag of human rights
    In the suppressed corners of Crying Crowds
    To detect, narrate, and prevent birthing crimes.
    Let slayers confess past deeds,
    Thus prevent further genocides*.

    Sylva Portoian, MD

    * Armenian genocide of April 24, 1915

    • beautiful in its delivery of true humanity and what happens when human life, justice, ethical and moral behavior is ignored and replaced by hate, prejudice, bigotry and evil. if a copy of the poem is available it is as current today as it was then and should be available to the media and on social websites.

  2. All lives matter, yes, yet you can agree that not all lives are treated equal under a racially oppressive system. Armenians in the USA have waited decades for leaders to acknowledge the genocide. How is it any different for another demographic of people to demand the same justice?

    • Many, the overwhelming number of ethnic/racial groups have got ample, overly generous reparation and justice both in the US and Canada, EXCEPT us the Armenians. The Japanese who were interned during WWII because of Pearl Harbour, have received compensation for the lands that were confiscated and for their mistreatment. Native groups in Canada have receieved hundreds of billions in reparations for land claims.
      They have also been receiving hundreds of billions for having their children forcibly put in residential schools. The Chinese who were required to pay a poll tax in order to be allowed entry to Canada and which they paid only too willingly, have since received hundreds of millions back from the Canadian government. It seems every imaginable group under the sun, with legitimate and often trumped up demands have been liberally rewarded EXCEPT us the Armenians. It seems every body in the world deserved justice and much more than justice EXCEPT us the suckers Armenians. East Indians, Sikhs have gotten back the poll taxes that Canada demanded from non-European immigrants. There appears to be universal injustice against Armenians, even as every other ethnic/racial groups is treated overly genrously. THings have got to change. We do not present any threat to the peace of mind, or the property or welfare of the population at large, so we can afford to be ignored, disrespected, forgotten and put out of m ind when it comes to our very legitimate demands.

  3. The demonstrators also held bannrers reading “defund the police”. A somewhat vague message. What does this mean in practice? I understand they wanted to show solidarity with the protests in the U.S., but since they now live in Armenia, why don’t they focus their efforts on fighting discrimination in that country – discrimination against national minorities and the “Turk” bogeyman. Let’s get real here! The whole “demonstration” smacks of staged theatrics….a bunch of white kids with nothing better to do than show off their “street creds”.T

  4. Yeah, after solving the injustice that is still upon Armenians, now they join a “movement” that is designed to disrupt and bring down world economy to turn it into another failed socialist system like the ones you see in failed 3rd world countries.
    All lives matter, solve your own problems, leave the US to solve its problems with radicals paying protesters to loot and destroy.

    • Hi Chris Tavitian,

      Based on your comment, would you would be perfectly happy for people to say that all genocides matter at an Armenian Genocide protest and that “1915 never again” should read EVERY GENOCIDE MATTERS ? A yes or no answer would be greatly appreciated

    • Your correct Chris and this “movement” is politically designed
      Not for what it is promoting. It’s to destroy America and it’s
      Constitution.

    • Armenia desperately needs bailout money from the WCB and IMF, so they will do and say anything.

  5. So proud of our fellow Armenians who understand that we must shine a bright light on injustice everywhere and have the will to work on solutions together.

    • Well said, Marjorie Egarian. On the other hand, I am truly embarrassed by the comments of so many Armenians here and in social media that can only be characterized as racist. I hate being ashamed of fellow Armenians. I thought they were all broad-minded, free-thinking, progressive, and just like my own glorious grandparents.

    • Blacks as a group have done extremely well, better than most other ethnic/racial groups. Having a black President, black Secretary of State, various Black Secretaries/Ministers, black Supreme Court Justices, chief of staff, TV announcers, moderators, being ever-present on most if not all panels, black deans of faculties, plus dominating various sports such as BasketBall, Baseball, Football, etc., earning multi million dollar a year salaries, being given mentorships, exceptional opportunities denied to many other ethnic groups, especially groups like Armenians who “were not considered white enough to have benefitted in the past when the whites ruled the roost and are now considered too white to be allowed to benefit from Affirmative programs, etc. Armenians would be grateful if we too were vouchsafed and granted the plethora of affirmative action benefits, special allowances, benefits and mentoring programs that are currently available for certain ethnic groups, instead of perpetually complaining and grumbling that these programs are not enough and always more and more in needed. Although there was even an Armenian on the Mayflower, Armenians have faced many obstacles and virulent discrimination in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, such as restrictive covenants that prevented purchase of some property, and even now there are various disguised forms of discrimination and glass ceilings, forcing numerous Armenians to change their names to more acceptable, “civilized”, “pronouncible” names. Early in the 20th Century, there were rare instances were an Armenian having duly qualified and met all the legal requirements for citizenship was denied because he was considered “coloured”, or was denied accommodations in hotels.

    • Marjorie, it’s a fallacy to think that the USA doesn’t have its deep rooted problems, but it is not a broken system. It’s an imperfect system constantly working towards bettering itself. There’s a reason why the US is still the number one country in the world to where oppressed people immigrate. It’s not for them to protest about Black Lives Matter or any other cause. It’s for the pursuit of the American dream and a better life. That means economic freedom. And before you decry “materialism”, please understand it is not materialism that people seek. It’s the ability to have a family and to protect that family and their life’s work. All of us living in the US have benefited from this. To tear it down now for a liberal agenda, for a Democratic Party that has always promised things and rarely, if ever, delivered is truly unfortunate.

  6. This movement is a disgrace to Armenians. How can you cheer for justice from a country that is NOT even recognizing the Armenian Genocide? Blacks were never meant to be completely wiped out from the face of the Earth. How can you compare this with what our people went through? Not only that, how can you stand inciting hatred toward Europeans in general, people who helped your people survive? How many of these so-called European people were killed vice versa by blacks and never mentioned in the public American press? Until there is an even representation of all races and people being attacked and killed and then publicly condemned in U.S., do not expect history of our martyrdom to be officially recognized. This liberal propaganda is crushing the young minds of our people. Leave us out of this!

  7. God bless the Armenian protestors! Innocent, peaceful Blacks should not have to live in a NATION of FEAR and TERROR of the police. God will punish all perpetrators on Judgment Day.

  8. This article and these actions are very much appreciated. I say that as a woman in America raising black boys and married to a black man. The Armenian people have been oppressed in your own ways. We all have to be open to acknowledging each other’s struggles and needs and working toward justice for all. Thank you for shedding light.

  9. “Does a dream deferred shrivel up like a raisin in the sun
    Or does it explode?”

    – Langston Hughes

  10. Great to see these folks standing up for others.
    Armenians have a moral responsibility – in my opinion – to stand up for others because we know too well what oppression does.
    Yes, we are still carrying wounds and need to keep working for Armenian justice but I disagree with those who think that we are taking something away from our own cause when we support others who are suffering. I think it’s the exact opposite! We uplift ourselves and HEAL ourselves by loving and helping others.

  11. Martin Luther King Jr’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech is as important today as it was 54 years ago

    I have a dream today!

    I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

    I have a dream today!

    I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”2

  12. Today, in Sydney, Australia, a person who joined the protest against police brutality following the murder of G. Floyd, was carrying a sign “ALL LIVES MATTER” was harassed and attacked by other protestors. (see: https://www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/national/sydney-protester-booed-and-chased-out-of-rally-for-holding-all-lives-matter-sign/video/1605e49b4801ed814e6432c22a766dc4)
    I wonder how my compatriots feel when other people who have also been victims of Genocide pretend theirs was the only one or the harshest one!

    • This protests is for GEORGE FLOYD so it can be only written BLACK LIVES MATTER and its clear

    • that kind of hate is only toward BLACK people thats why cant be all lives matter but must be BLACK LIVES MATTER

  13. Today, Kenyan opposition leader and former prime minister Raila Odinga offered a prayer for the US “that there be justice and freedom for ALL (emphasis mine) human beings who call America their country”.
    I say: Amen, and may it also apply to the whole world.

  14. I don’t know what the young generation in Armenia is thinking, before they decided to organize this demonstration of black lives matter, I’ll tell you what I am thinking: have they lost their minds? first of all there are no black people living in Armenia, and the black person who got killed, it happened in USA, thousands of miles away from Armenian. What does this have anything to do with Armenia or Armenians? and let me ask you another question, may be this question will make you think, it seems most of you have lost your minds. When has any one of us seen a black person ever demonstrating with any one of us during our annual genocide demonstrations? holding a slogan reading : ” Armenian lives matter” Don’t get me wrong, what happened a week ago when a white cop killed an African American I think is unjust, but that is no reason for Armenians to demonstrate for that. If they really want to demonstrate they should demonstrate for something that is happening in Armenia: lack of jobs, people leaving the country, corruption, increase of covid-19 cases and the government’s lack of effective action to eradicate it etc…

  15. Raffi, as your articles usually read as if by a spokesperson for Pashinian, I’m not surprised you left out the piece about recent policy brutality over trivial transgression in Armenia, even though your heart is the right place about BLM. But you’ll probably find a way to justify this instance of cops choking a guy who screams “I can’t breathe”
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nkU_iRF5Evk

  16. Troskyites and neo-Bolsheviks have taken over much of the world in recent decades. The Armenian community both in and out of the homeland is also deeply compromised. In fact, Armenia fell victim to this global agenda in 2018. We have anti-national, anti-church activists in power. Armenia will sink deeper and deeper into third world poverty, multiculturalism and moral ambiguity. Neo-Bolsheviks are now also trying to sack the US. Their agenda is working to a great degree. The US will be turning into a Brazil (without the tropical weather of course) in a couple of generations. While Armenia’s ONLY hope for survival as a nation and as a civilization is its return to Mother Russia.

    • why only for Russia? May be other state will rise and will be our allye. May be China, or German

  17. Hi Lu,

    “first of all there are no black people living in Armenia, and the black person who got killed, it happened in USA, thousands of miles away from Armenia”

    •Firstly, there are black people living in The Republic of Armenia, though the number is relatively very small.

    •Secondly, based on this line of thinking, as there are relatively few Armenians living in The USA (just under 500,000 out of a total population of 328 million) and that Armenia is thousands of miles aways from The United States, then The Armenian Genocide should not be recognised by the United States Government ?

    •Thirdly, the rap artist Tupac is sympathetic to Armenians as can be found in this YouTube video:

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=dxptSU0TRdQ

  18. Blacks used to beat up Armenian kids walking home from school, my cousin was called a cave dwelling white devil then jumped. Blacks even protested Armenians from owning businesses in LA. Why would Armenians protest? We didn’t bring blacks on slave ships to America we had nothing to do with it. We have no guilt.

    • Hi Smbat Artrunyan,

      Could you please be so kind as to provide evidence backing up you claim of “Blacks even protested Armenians from owning businesses in LA“

    • I am a Black American nurse working every day and when my client came in asking us to donate to Armenia my nurses and I did not hesitate! I know this year 2020 is especially difficult for every country we are all fighting our battles but we must not say “that is not our problem”, or “ This is not our battle, we must look away” That is the ways of Old! We must help each other we are One World. We are One Race… Human Race. With love -Denise P.S. One of the most beautiful babies I’ve ever seen was a Black and Armenian child born to a black mother and Armenian father.

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