CAMBRIDGE, Mass.—One of Boston’s most iconic settings served as a dance floor for a small group of spirited young Armenians on Saturday as part of the Diaspora’s growing response to the deadly flare-up on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border.
“There’s no better way to show how Armenians are fighting for peace than through dance,” said Meghri Dervartanian, a member of the scouting and athletic group Homenetmen Boston. “Dance is a common language. You don’t have to be Armenian to understand it.”
Dervartanian was hand in hand with Sayat Nova Dance Company of Boston member Araz Ashjian performing “yarkhushta” in the middle of Harvard Square as Azeri counter-protesters draped in their national flags tried to disrupt their choreography and flashed grey wolf hand signs. Within moments, other participants joined in the Armenian ceremonial war dance.
There were at least two instances where counter-protesters unplugged the Armenian music in footage that was live-streamed on the Armenian Weekly Facebook page. At one point, an unfamiliar Azeri song echoed from the loud speakers. Undaunted, the young people patiently waited until they heard the popular Armenian folk song “Mer Barere” (“Our Dances”) to resume dancing with the chief intent to lead a uniquely peaceful demonstration and raise awareness to passersby about the ongoing hostilities in the Tavush region.
“We want to be heard,” expressed Homenetmen Boston member Anto Terzian, who helped hold a massive sign that read, “Azerbaijan wants war. Armenia wants peace.” Others, like Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) Greater Boston “Nejdeh” Chapter member Nairi Krafian, conversed with inquisitive patrons and even invited two non-Armenians to join in the dancing. “They were very receptive,” explained Krafian. “They liked that it was a positive protest with dancing and happiness rather than anger and yelling.”
Overall, aside from a few verbal confrontations over rights to project their respective songs, the flash mob was nonviolent, but nonetheless taking place in a rather unsettling and hostile environment. That’s what compelled the Armenian youth to move their demonstration after two songs to a spot less than 50 feet away outside the Harvard Square station.
“It just showed how strong we are,” said Knar Krafian, who told the Weekly she felt proud to be Armenian. “We’re not going to respond to their calls for violence,” she continued.
The Armenian Weekly did sit down with a counter-protester, who was watching his associates sing from afar. The interviewee, however, asked that his identity be kept private and his answers to the Weekly’s questions about the ongoing developments and anti-Armenian rhetoric remain undocumented. Azeris later interjected the brief discussion and began yelling “Karabakh is Azerbaijan.”
Following the demonstration, reports suddenly surfaced on Saturday night of an alleged altercation between a group of Armenians and Azeris that reportedly ended in violence. Cambridge Police, however, tell the Armenian Weekly that officers were sent to the area of Brattle Street and Farwell Place at around 8:30 for a report of a fight. Police say the individuals involved had already left the scene upon their arrival. No injuries were reported. To help clear any confusion, organizers with the Homenetmen Boston Chapter did release a statement on Facebook alerting its community that none of their members were involved in the alleged attacks and that no one from their organization was attacked or harmed. “Our organization will continue to work to preserve our culture and provide a place for Homenetmenagans to become active and thoughtful members of our community,” concluded the statement.