CHICAGO, Ill.—On Saturday, April 24, local Armenians gathered in a rally for justice led by the AYF Chicago “Ararat” Chapter. After last year’s rally was replaced by a much smaller demonstration due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s was, in some ways, a return to tradition. Community members marched outside the Wrigley Building, near the Turkish Consulate and in the heart of downtown Chicago, to demand recognition, reparations and justice. Armenians were joined by members of the area’s Greek and Assyrian communities, taking part in the shared struggle for justice.
Just before the start of the rally came the news of President Biden’s statement recognizing the Armenian Genocide. The long-awaited recognition statement, which arrived on the heels of Armenia’s devastating losses in the Artsakh War and a difficult year marked by a global pandemic, was a major moment for Armenians around the world in this lifelong struggle for recognition.
For some, Saturday’s march was the community’s first opportunity to gather in-person since demonstrations against Azerbaijan’s attacks on Artsakh in 2020. It was a haunting feeling for me to be back in the same place where I had demanded an end to the attacks only months before, feeling joy at the news of recognition and the ability to see other Armenians again, but also feeling a loss too enormous for words.
The recognition is a major step, but it comes only after the US’ silence in the face of the genocidal attacks on Artsakh last fall and ethnic cleansing of Armenian land. For many, the recognition is bittersweet—one step towards justice for Armenians, but a reminder of the many more still outstanding. The events of this past year underscored the fact that a genocide denied is a genocide repeated.
“We remember, and we demand,” said Emily Terian, president of the Chicago AYF Chapter in a speech to the community. “We demand not only recognition of the crime against the ancestors of many of the people here today, but we also demand reparations for it. We demand justice for deaths of our ancestors, for the land and cultural heritage that was systematically purged of those living peacefully on it, and for the POWs that continue to suffer today. While we are grateful for the US recognition of the Armenian Genocide today, we continue to demonstrate because recognition is just the beginning.”
The US recognition of the Genocide and the events of 2020 mark a new era for the Armenian Diaspora in the United States. With a major accomplishment alongside so many tragic losses, we must ask ourselves: how do we go forward? How can we build on the work that our community has done for so long, while also embracing new ideas, expanding our community and our activism, and achieving new goals?