DOUGLASTON, NY – On Saturday, June 12, 2021, the Armenian National Committee of New York (“ANC-NY”) held its first in-person event since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The event, entitled “The Road Ahead: The Future of Activism Post-Genocide Recognition,” took place at St. Sarkis Church, under the auspices of the Very Rev. Fr. Sahag Yemishian, Vicar General at the Armenian Prelacy of the Eastern United States, and Rev. Fr. Nareg Terterian, pastor of St. Sarkis Church. Also in attendance were ARF Eastern USA “Shiragian” Central Committee members George Aghjayan, Ani Tchaglasian, Valot Atakhanian, Steve Mesrobian, Paulie Haroian and John Mkrtschjan, as well as representatives from the Permanent Mission of Armenia to the United Nations including Deputy Permanent Representative Davit Knyazyan and Counsellor Albert Gevorgyan.
ANC-NY chair Nazareth Markarian, Esq., opened the program with a message of resilience and hope. He stressed the importance of Artsakh, calling it the citadel that guards Armenia. He stated that although what occurred during the 44-day was a travesty, it was not a total calamity. “We still have Armenia. We still have Stepanakert, and we still have hope, and that hope is what is going to serve us in reclaiming the lands that we lost,” said Markarian before introducing Elizabeth Chouldjian, the communications director of the ANCA’s Washington, DC office.
Chouldjian discussed the challenges and opportunities to advance our shared community priorities during these difficult times. She acknowledged the generation of Genocide survivors who set the foundation for community organization and activism, uniting around the shared goal of securing the long-term viability and prosperity of a free, independent and united Armenia. She also discussed the Biden administration’s recognition of the Armenian Genocide, but stressed that it is not the end of Armenian-American activism. While Turkey’s gag-rule is over, the road ahead must focus on securing justice for the people of Artsakh who were forced to flee their ancestral homeland and the POWs who have been tortured in captivity for over seven months, as well as passing legislation that condemns Azerbaijan for its actions and securing funding for Armenia and Artsakh. She also stressed the importance of investing in our youth and programs such as the ANCA’s Leo Sarkissian internship. Chouldjian ended her presentation by stating that while the defense of Armenia and Artsakh depends primarily on the soldiers standing guard against an advancing enemy, the Armenian nation has a second army here in the US, which is represented by the ANCA, our broader community and the coalitions that we build, leveraging our collective power to guarantee freedom and justice for our people.
In his remarks, Aghjayan, chair of the ARF Eastern USA Central Committee, echoed Chouldjian’s sentiments and pointed out that the affirmation of the Genocide did not happen with President Biden’s statement; rather, the President acknowledged what was already self-evident and had become so well-known and accepted as fact in the United States. He stressed that the Artsakh War and the effort to wipe out any trace of Armenians is a continuation of the Armenian Genocide and should be understood in that way. “In the days after the war, I really felt like I understood how my grandparents felt in the 1920s with the collapse of the First Republic [of Armenia] and the destitution from the Genocide, and the despair it must have caused them,” said Aghjayan. But he also spoke about how he gained strength from realizing how much that generation accomplished, how much they gave us and how they rebuilt our nation after those horrendous days. He mentioned that his respect and admiration for that generation only grew along with his determination to uphold the standard that they set. Aghjayan stressed that if we want to honor that generation of families, we must build toward the future so that next time we are prepared and that every one of our communities and every one of us is more capable of contributing toward helping our people. Aghjayan concluded with perhaps the most powerful message of the evening: “Our enemies are strong, but we are stronger when we are united.”
Closing the program, Very Rev. Fr. Sahag Yemishian spoke about the danger of cheap values and expressed the need to understand and value our church, Hai Tahd, culture and history as the roots of our true Armenian identity. “We need events like this to feel strong as Armenians,” said Rev. Fr. Nareg Terterian, pastor of St. Sarkis Church, in his brief comments before ending the program in prayer.
The evening concluded with an informal question and answer session moderated by Chouldjian and Aghjayan, followed by a cocktail reception hosted by the ANC-NY chapter.