Remembering the Lisbon 5 in a Time of Crisis

Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) “Ararat” Chapter members Aleena Surenian, Areni Artinian and Araxie Cass, July 26, 2020

CHICAGO, Ill.—On Sunday, July 26, members of the Chicago Armenian community came together to remember the sacrifices of the Lisbon 5 and reflect on their legacy in this time of crisis. Keeping our community together while we are physically apart, the event was live streamed after a requiem service at All Saints Church, with words from the Chicago Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) “Christapor” Gomideh, Very Rev. Ghevont Pentezian and the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) “Ararat” Chapter reading the enduring messages of the Armenian Revolutionary Army and the Lisbon 5.  

On July 27, 1983, Sarkis Abrahamian, Setrak Ajemian, Vatche Daghlian, Ara Kurjuhlian and Simon Yahneyan stormed the Turkish Embassy in Lisbon with the goal of occupying it and raising global awareness of the denial of the Armenian Genocide. The attempt ultimately failed; when the five men were trapped inside the embassy, they blew up the building, killing themselves, as well as the Turkish diplomat’s wife and a Portugese police officer. This event was a tragic loss of life that was felt deeply in the Armenian community. 

The Lisbon 5 pictured on the front page of the August 20, 1983 issue of The Armenian Weekly

When I was first asked to be a part of this commemoration, I, like many people, had trouble understanding the significance that the Lisbon 5 has for many in our community. Without context, the act can seem like a senseless loss of life and a failure to accomplish its original goal. But, as I have become an active member of the AYF, I realize that I inherit its rich and complex history. And as an Armenian and an American, I know how important it is to grapple with difficult histories. Understanding the past is essential to impacting the present, so I took the time to educate myself and understand what happened 37 years ago. The more I learned, the more things made sense. 

In 1983, the young men of the Lisbon 5 lived in a state of civil war in Lebanon, where they were often forced to defend their neighborhoods and communities through violence. The world was nearing the end of a period of decolonization, where many states gained the right to self-determination through a violent struggle. Why then, would Armenians not take up arms for their cause?

As Armenians, the Lisbon 5 had seen their families’ homelands stolen and desecrated for decades in Western Armenia. They had seen the genocide of their families denied and completely ignored for years by international bodies that claimed to care about human rights. Armenians had been advocating peacefully for the recognition of the Genocide since the first protest in 1965 and were frustrated by the world’s refusal to hear their pleas. Seeing no other way to shock the world into action, the Lisbon 5 gave up the most precious thing they had: their lives.

Today we remember the Lisbon 5 because of the impact they had on the Armenian community. Their loss was deeply felt by the many who knew them and were acquainted with them, and many young Armenians at the time saw themselves in these five young men who would be 19, 20 and 21 forever. Five years later, in 1988, they would see themselves in the soldiers who died in the Karabakh war, sacrificing themselves for the right to live in their homeland. Today, I see myself, my brother and my friends in the six soldiers who have been killed during the recent attacks on Armenia. 

Mourning for those who have died to gain freedom for Armenians is a sobering reminder that we can never rest. As Armenians today, we must honor the legacy of the Lisbon 5 and the soldiers who have taken up the armed struggle since by doing our part for our communities around the world. 

As we remember these tragic losses today, Armenia and Armenians are once again under attack. We must stand with the soldiers who are defending Armenia today. We must stand with the Armenians of Lebanon, who are an integral pillar of our global community and have faced extreme political and economic hardship recently. Today we can honor the memory of the Lisbon 5 by answering their call to take action and support Armenians. We must use our voices to speak out, educate and advocate. We must use any resources we have to support our defenders and help rebuild the communities that are under attack. We must unite our communities around the world to work for the goal that the Lisbon 5 sacrificed themselves for: the goal of a free, independent and united Armenia. 

Araxie Cass

Araxie Cass

Araxie Cass is a member of the AYF Chicago Ararat Chapter, as well as a student of Creative Writing and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. Her work includes creative non-fiction and short stories, focusing on Armenian topics, as well as social justice, culture and community.

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