PROVIDENCE, RI—For the first time in five years, the Rhode Island Armenian community met at North Burial Ground to commemorate the Armenian Genocide and to venerate those victims who are now canonized as Holy Martyrs. The Armenian Martyrs’ Memorial Committee of RI hosted the event with two of its members serving as emcees, Melanie Zeitounian and Steven Zaroogian. The procession commenced with flag bearers, clergy, invited guests and wreath presenters surrounded by able-bodied honor guards as peaceful hymns were sung by choir members of the three local Armenian churches under the capable direction of Alysha Melkoun.
Officiating clergy Rev. Fr. Kapriel Nazarian, Rev. Fr. Shnork Souin and Rev. Dr. Ara Heghinian conducted a service for the Holy Martyrs with the faithful assistance of deacons and service participants from Armenian Evangelical Church, Sts. Sahag and Mesrob Armenian Church and Sts. Vartanantz Armenian Church. The service commenced with “The Lord’s Prayer” (“Hayr Mer”) recited by the clergy and all those present; readings from St. Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews and the Holy Gospel according to St. Paul; the Litany of The Saints and concluding with the singing of the “Hayr Mer” by the choir and congregation. In addition, soloist Joanne Mouradjian sang a moving rendition of “Hrashatsan Bagootsmamp” to the Holy Martyrs.
It was 45 years ago when the majestic monument standing 29 feet tall was dedicated in 1977 to the victims of the Armenian Genocide that began on April 24, 1915. Today, 107 years later, this same beautiful monument is dedicated to our saintly brothers and sisters in Christ who were canonized in 2015 on the centennial of the Armenian Genocide. “Let’s always wear our “Forget-Me-Not” flower to honor the memory of those who perished beginning in 1915,” said Zeitounian.
The keynote speaker was Weekly columnist Stepan Piligian, a native of Massachusetts who has spent many years as a volunteer teacher of Armenian history and contemporary issues to the young generation and adults at schools, camps and churches on the east coast. Piligian delivered a riveting speech to a captivated audience of several hundred individuals. He talked about martyrdom and the sacrifice made by those who were massacred by the Turkish Ottoman Empire beginning in 1915, and most recently, the canonization of them as saints, where each has transcended from victim to victor. He discussed Armenian Genocide recognition by President Biden and Congress but suggested the work of Armenians is only beginning. Genocide recognition is something Armenians have been aware of for 107 years, but Piligian clearly stated that an unpunished crime by the Turks does not serve justice. His 25-minute exposé will no doubt be used as an educational tool for Armenians and non-Armenians alike to be better informed and educated.
Capping off the inspirational words of the guest speaker, attendees were treated to the Armenian school children of both Sts. Sahag and Mesrob and Sts. Vartanantz churches singing “Hyortik” under the able direction of Raffi Rachdouni. Armenians continue to live and in this case through the talented voices of our precious youth!
There were several elected officials invited to speak at the commemoration, including the Honorable Dan McKee, the 76th governor of the State of Rhode Island; United States Senator Jack Reed; and Congressman James Langevin. Congressman Langevin who is retiring at the end of this year was presented a plaque in appreciation for his continued support over the years on Armenian issues locally and abroad. State Representative Katherine Kazarian was recognized for sponsoring a resolution bill to recognize the Armenian Genocide in the General Assembly. In addition, there were numerous elected officials in the audience to share this meaningful day with the community: Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, Attorney General Peter Neronha, General Treasurer Seth Magaziner and former Central Falls Mayor Thomas Lazieh. Longtime supporters Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Congressman David Cicilline were unable to attend as they were traveling abroad, but sent their warm regards.
As the program neared its conclusion, Zaroogian acknowledged a record 10 wreath presenters this year. He closed with heartfelt thanks to all who came together to commemorate the 107th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.