WASHINGTON, DC – The greater Washington DC Armenian community and allies welcomed President Biden’s landmark recognition of the Armenian Genocide and issued a united call for reparations and restitution during a 24-hour demonstration led by the local Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) Ani Chapter.
“We are here to show President Biden and the world that we, as Armenians, will never stop fighting for the recognition, reparations, and restitution from the Armenian Genocide. We raise our voices not only for our ancestors but for our brothers and sisters who are still at the border protecting our homeland today,” said AYF Washington Ani Chair Alina Yousefian.
The demonstration began with a candlelight vigil on April 23, 2021 at Black Lives Matter Plaza in front of the White House, where the Greater Washington DC Armenian community gathered in the honest remembrance of the 1.5 million Armenian martyrs who perished at the hands of the Ottoman Turkish government.
AYF DC Ani member Lilia Karapetyan emceed the vigil with a powerful opening statement. “Today and tomorrow are about those we lost; and because menk hay enq (we are Armenian), we will start by honoring those who came before us.” The program continued with Shant Mehranian, Maria Stepanyan and Ani Mkrtychyan from the Homenetmen DC Chapter presenting how three states—Maryland, Pennsylvania and Mississippi—contributed to the Near East Relief, the congressionally mandated humanitarian campaign that raised a collective $2 billion (in present-day dollars) over 15 years and rescued more than 132,000 orphans and nearly one million survivors of the Genocide.
Tereza Yerimyan, the Government Affairs Director of the Armenian National Committee of America and the chair of the local ARF Sebouh Gomideh, delivered a compelling keynote address that focused on the important role of US recognition in the broader effort to secure justice for this crime.
“The President’s statement will elevate U.S. response to genocide and atrocities prevention – making clear that condemnation of human rights is a moral imperative, not a political commodity to be bartered. Tomorrow – tomorrow is a result of all of our perilous work. It is a result of Armenian Americans and their allies not taking no for an answer,” stated Yerimyan.
Following Yerimyan’s message, Arya Balian, Aram Najarian and Ardashes and Sune Hamparian from the AYF DC Sevan Junior Chapter paid tribute to the over 200 intellectuals arrested on April 24 by reading names and excerpts.
Nanar Keurkunian, Homenetmen DC khmpabedouhi (troop leader) and AYF DC Ani member, delivered the message of the youth in Armenian. “Freedom is high above the mountains and we, Armenians, have fought to ensure no one takes it away from us. However far, whatever the price, we will pay to maintain our freedom,” said Keurkunian.
To conclude the program, Rev. Father Sarkis Aktavoukian, of Soorp Khatch Armenian Church, led the community in prayer and attendees raised collective spirits with the singing of “Giligia” and “Akhpers oo Yes.”
Following the vigil, AYF DC Ani stayed the night at BLM Plaza, where they collectively sang revolutionary songs, had discussions about reparations, and made preparations for the next day’s protest.
On April 24, 2021, over 500 Greater Washington, DC Armenian community members, and supporters called out continued Turkish denial of the Armenian Genocide and made clear demands for reparations at Sheridan Circle, across from the Turkish Ambassador’s residence.
With pro-Erdogan counter-protesters looking to disrupt the peaceful protest, AYF organizers coordinated with DC Metropolitan Police to block off Massachusetts Avenue and led the community in a march towards the Turkish Embassy. Chants such as “Reparations Now!” and “Turkish Denial, We’ll Put You on Trial” filled the Washington DC streets. At the embassy, chanting was followed by a speech given by Maria Stepanyan, a member of Homenetmen DC, which connected the Armenian people’s relentless will to survive with President Biden’s monumental decision. “United, let us stop the Genocide which continues to this day so that 106 years later future generations will no longer need to gather here to demand justice,” said Stepanyan.
The demonstrators returned to Sheridan Circle to close the 24-hour protest. Areni Margossian, a member of AYF DC Ani, delivered the final speech of the evening, in which she conveyed how the Armenian people’s power of love has led to recognition and will lead to complete justice.
“Each one of us carries the fire and light of Vahagn inside our hearts, fueled by a love for Armenia so boundless and so profound. This eternal flame stokes our perseverance and it powers our revolution. It illuminates our path to a free, independent, united Armenia,” said Margossian.
Rev. Father Sarkis Aktavoukian followed Margossian’s speech with a prayer. The protest and the 24-hour demonstration closed with the singing of the Armenian national anthem and the Star Spangled Banner.
Shortly after President Biden issued his statement recognizing the Armenian Genocide, the AYF Washington DC Chapter posted a multi-lingual video message by AYF members from across the world calling on President Biden to press the Turkish government to end its denials and pursue financial and territorial reparations—justice—for their crimes.