Every year since 1999 on the eve of April 24, thousands of Armenians participate in a torchlit march to Dzidzernagapert to pay their respects to the 1.5 million who perished during the Armenian Genocide.
The crowd gathered at Republic Square at 7:15 p.m. local time. The theme song, “Zartnir Lao,” was played frequently and loudly with images of past marches on the jumbo screens.
During the program, which was all organized by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) Youth Association, National Assembly vice-president and ARF Supreme Council chairman Ishkhan Saghatelyan called on all Armenians to join the new Sardarabad, to join in fighting for the security of Artsakh and Armenia. He also announced the launch of the opposition’s resistance movement and called for everyone’s participation. The crowd began chanting “Armenia without Nikol,” “Armenia Without Turks” and “Traitor Nikol.”
The torches were lit by the flames that engulfed the Turkish and Azeri flags.
The rhetoric of the evening along with the theme song expressed that the thousands gathered were not just commemorating the 107th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, but were being called to stand up for Artsakh and Armenia from dangers within and outside the country.
After a while, it is my turn to join the procession, following clergy, torchbearers, the flags of the nations who recognize the Armenian Genocide, giant Armenian and Artsakh flags, individuals holding Armenian flags and candles. A truck with speakers rolled along the route playing familiar patriotic songs that I sang along to. As we walked through the streets, it was pleasant to meet up with and walk with friends along the way, but I was soon separated from my original group. Walking uphill, I tried to weave through the crowd to find pockets of open space. I kept getting caught behind teenagers or children who could not walk in a straight line. I found myself getting annoyed. The jostling was endless.
Finally, we entered the grounds of the Dzidzernagapert complex which is also on an incline, uphill. More than four hours have already passed in this march. I am hungry and tired. My legs are sore. As I’m grumbling to myself, I realized the silence. I woke up from my petulant thoughts and reflected.
My four grandparents were very young in 1915, each with their own miraculous story of survival from Gesaria through the desert to the orphanages in Lebanon, and from Aintab with their families to relocate in Syria.
I watched nearby parents wrestling with young children to keep them close and safe from being lost in the crowd and imagined my great-grandparents wrangling and tending to their young, tired, hungry and frightened little ones.
I am shaken by the realization that I have a warm bed to return to tonight, food in the refrigerator. I have safety and security in Yerevan and freedom to join thousands in protest against our government. It was a pleasant night. We were not walking under the hot sun, relentless wind or driving rain. 107 years ago, my family was not as fortunate.
Their ordeal wasn’t for a few hours like mine was on Saturday night. It was for weeks through the unyielding desert. They had no assurance of their destination or whatever may come. Every single step held mortal danger.
I thought about how much they overcame, how much they sacrificed and worked hard for in foreign lands. The privileges I have today, thanks to them, are truly countless.
Saturday night’s march was not only to pay our respects to the martyrs and extend our gratitude to survivors. It was also a call to action to unite against Turkey and Azerbaijan who continue to intimidate and inflict indiscriminate violence upon our people. It was a call to action against the Armenian administration that has chosen to work toward normalization with our neighbors despite the many POWs still in captivity and is allowing Armenian lands to be taken away.
I resolve to serve my nation, every day, not just on April 24th. Moving to Armenia last September was only the beginning. I must participate in serving my homeland continually.
As I walk back down the hill out of the complex, I notice the crowds have dissipated as it’s past midnight. In my ears another song circulates, Abrilian Nahadagner, which tells the martyrs to rest in peace because generations of Armenians will walk on your path toward the light, the future.