The following speech was delivered during the AYF-led April 24 commemorations in Washington, DC.
First and foremost, I want to thank the AYF Greater Washington DC “Ani” Chapter for organizing this powerful two-day protest and to everyone who showed up today to make your voices heard, and to demonstrate, without a shadow of a doubt, that we are here, united and strong.
Over the course of this past year, I’ve had this thought that resurfaces in my mind every few months. I’ve felt that Armenians experience the notion of time differently than others. Our collective presence is not divided in past, present and future. It is talked about, written about and experienced in tandem. How can we say the Genocide occurred 106 years ago, when we saw it happen again in Sumgait and Baku in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when we saw it all unfold again not six months ago in Artsakh? The horrors and tragedies experienced by our grandparents or great-grandparents during the Genocide did not end with them. We bear intergenerational traumas of wounds unhealed.
Genocide denied, genocide continued. This is not just a chant. This is our reality.
Our reality is cluster bombs. ISIS mercenaries. Chemical warfare. Psychological warfare. This is the short-list of the deluge of war crimes committed by Azerbaijan during this last Artsakh war. This was not war. This was and continues to be attempted annihilation.
But I’ve also come to realize, we Armenians are not the only ones experiencing our past, present and future in one. For as long as Turkey continues to deny the Genocide, to deny its history and build its national identity on a frail foundation of lies, it is destined to repeat its past. Turkey only knows genocide. It only knows destruction. As long as Azeri identity is built on hatred against Armenians, they too will buckle.
They did not learn that we are mighty like our mountains. They did not know that every time they tried to annihilate us, we would rise again, stronger, more devoted, with an unbreakable spirit. Our cries for justice will drown their denial. We will confront each lie with irrefutable truth. We will engulf their savagery with profound humanity; they will suffocate in their own hatred.
You see, for these countries, love for Turkey or love for Azerbaijan is framed and understood only through contempt towards Armenians. When the notion of national love is only understood through hatred, there is no nation. There is no future for Turkey and Azerbaijan when they have poisoned their people with hatred. Like rust corrodes metal, they will crumble from within. They bear a curse of their own making: a curse that cannot be broken as long as they deny their past.
106 years ago, Turkey rounded up and slaughtered Armenian intellectuals, able-bodied men and boys. Those that remained were forced on death marches. We were uprooted, displaced and scattered across the world. But in their attempt to destroy and divide our nation, we found each other and created homes outside our homes.
I grew up in California, but decided to go to college across the country in Massachusetts. I knew no one, let alone any Armenians. But as fate would have it, I met an Armenian girl in my freshman dorm building. This is a school of 22,000 undergrads with maybe six Armenians. As we became friends, I discovered that her family came from Tomarza, a town in the Kayseri Province in Western Armenia, and the same town where my family came from. I learned that our families were neighbors in Tomarza and both families ended up in Beirut after the Genocide, where again we were neighbors. I learned that my uncle and dad worked for her grandfather in Lebanon. Most surprisingly, I learned that we were related. Across time and space, from Tomarza to Beirut, to LA and Bedford, two relatives found each other in Amherst, Massachusetts.
What Turkey did not realize, and what Azerbaijan has not learned from Turkey, is that in their attempt to destroy, while they forced us out of our lands to the four corners of the world, and despite death and destitute, we created life. Once again, we rose like mountains. We built communities, erected monuments honoring our past, and constructed schools to secure our future. We Armenians are not merely survivors. We prevail. We triumph. Even in the face of devastation.
Though displaced from our homelands, we created new Armenias thousands of miles apart. We will never stop seeking justice. We will continue our struggle each day, until we reunite with our homeland.
While Turkish and Azeri identity is built on hatred, Armenian identity is fundamentally built on love. We may have tragedy and trauma that course through our veins, but we are united by love for each other and for our country. When you are in an unfamiliar place and meet an Armenian and the place all of a sudden seems less strange, that is unity. When we saw diasporans all over the world rise up in protest against Azerbaijan and in solidarity with our brothers and sisters fighting in the army – that is unity.
Yes, we feel overwhelming fury, despair, fear and anxiety. But there is immense love and hope that empowers our collective self. I feel and see this hope everywhere. I see it today, in each and every one of you. I see it in my ungers who raise signs of peace when our enemies throw fascist Grey Wolves signs. I see it in my friends who plan their future around how they can best contribute to the success of Armenia’s future. I see it in the relentless advocacy of the Armenian National Committee (ANC).
Today, we saw the outcome of years of tireless advocacy. Mere hours ago, we saw that President Biden formally recognized the Armenian Genocide. America stood for justice and affirmed that no foreign lobby can dictate America’s platform on fundamental matters of rights and justice. While this is a pivotal moment in history, the work does not stop here. We continue to move forward and now take our next steps towards reparations and legal action. This is barely the beginning. But a beginning bursting with energy. We will ride and raise this momentum, until we reach our goals.
Year after year, we will continue to show up, to demand justice, to stand with our soldiers. But this year has taught us how crucial it is to fight for our cause. To never fall into complacent apathy. And to persist.
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.