NEW YORK, NY — The significant theme of “Truth, Recognition and Justice” reverberated throughout Times Square on Sunday as Armenian Americans commemorated the 108th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, while advocating for the Armenians of Artsakh, who continue to endure the blockade on the Lachin Corridor implemented by Azerbaijan over four months ago.
Keynote speakers during the annual memorial event organized by the Knights and Daughters of Vartan pledged that the Armenian people will not be victims of ethnic cleansing once again.
The first New Yorker to be elected to five terms in the US Senate, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) vowed to “work just as hard this term as every other term to fight for the Armenian people both here in America and in Armenia.” He noted that every genocide has something in common, which is that “the world looked away and turned a blind eye” resulting in a “stain on humanity.” Senator Schumer highlighted the importance of the act of remembrance to ensure that the “victims did not die in vain.” “We owe it to all of humanity to remember because a genocide that is not properly remembered always leads to another,” he said, recalling that for years he sponsored Senate resolutions and called on US presidents to finally name the “Medz Yeghern” for what it was — genocide. While the US did affirm the Armenian Genocide, Senator Schumer emphasized that the hard work must continue in the face of ongoing human rights abuses in Artsakh. “I urge Azerbaijan to lift the blockade now, and I urge the US government to do everything it can to lift the blockade,” he said. “I will use my power as Senate Majority Leader to encourage a peaceful settlement as soon as possible.” Senator Schumer concluded on an uplifting note and said that Armenia has “outlasted authoritarian thugs in the past and will continue to do so in the future,” expressing that the 1.5 million Armenian Americans living in the US are leaders in their communities, proof that “the Armenian nation has not just endured but prevailed.”
Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) reflected on the “incredible successes” of the Armenian people in the US following the Armenian Genocide and stated he was “proud” of the role he played in US acknowledgement of the Armenian Genocide, as he introduced and co-sponsored resolutions recognizing the Armenian Genocide since his first year in the Senate in 2006. “Fighting the denial of the Armenian Genocide is not only about the past, it’s about the present as Armenians again face the threat of ethnic cleansing,” said Senator Menendez, referring to Azerbaijan’s unprovoked assaults on the Armenians in Artsakh and the ongoing blockade of Artsakh. The US, however, continues to send security assistance to Azerbaijan, which Senator Menendez stated was “absolutely unacceptable.” “We should not be in bed with the government of Azerbaijan as they commit such atrocities because it is inexcusable, it is morally repugnant, and it has got to stop,” said Senator Menendez, emphasizing that he opposes any aid given to a country known for war crimes and aggression against a neighbor state, which he said applies to Turkey as well, where President Erodgan had labeled Senator Menendez as “persona non grata.” “Now he has elevated me to an ‘enemy of the state,'” said Senator Menendez. “But if standing up for human rights makes me an enemy of Erdogan, if calling out Turkey for arming Azerbaijan and enabling the massacre of innocent Armenian civilians makes me an enemy of Erdogan, if demanding Turkey recognizes its crimes of the past makes me an enemy of Erdogan, then that is a badge I will wear with honor.”
Director of the Program on Peace-building and Rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights David L. Phillips, received the Humanitarian Award from The Knights and Daughters of Vartan Times Square Armenian Genocide Commemoration Committee for his dedication and efforts in human rights and justice. As a result of the unprovoked violence against the Armenians in Artsakh, Phillips spearheaded a research and documentation project Artsakh Atrocities, in cooperation with Columbia University and the Artsakh Human Rights Ombudsman Office, which documents Azerbaijan’s “systematic effort to drive Armenians from their homeland through killings, ethnic cleansing and deportations.” “It’s clear from both Aliyev’s actions and hate speech that a second Armenian genocide is underway in Artsakh,” said Phillips, who has compiled extensive documentation of crimes committed by Azerbaijan’s forces and Turkish-backed Islamic fighters. “We document gruesome reports of torture and beheadings. We provide evidence of Armenian cultural destruction aimed at eradicating every trace of Armenian communities, and we hope that the Artsakh Atrocities project will preserve evidence to deter future crimes and hold perpetrators accountable.”
Permanent Representative of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic to the US Robert Avetisyan expressed his gratitude to the US for its swift response during the Armenian Genocide, its diplomatic and humanitarian efforts, and its historic recognition, “which is another testament of unity between our nations when it comes to matters of truth, justice and humanity.” Despite the passing of a century, Rep. Avetisyan underscored that “Armenians are again at gunpoint.” While the 2020 war ended, the “aggression has not stopped and now extends to Armenia proper.” The months long blockade of the Lachin Corridor, according to Rep. Avetisyan, is a “humanitarian crisis rooted in politics” as the world “witnesses human cruelty by an oppressive regime towards people whose only crime is their desire to live in freedom, dignity and democracy.” “The ongoing blockade of Artsakh has clear genocidal intent, and we will continue our struggle with collective efforts to prevent a second Armenian Genocide.” Rep. Avetisyan noted that Aliyev “openly ignores” calls from the State Department, White House, Congress and International Court of Justice to re-open the Lachin Corridor. He stressed the need for “concrete actions” including economic and political sanctions against Aliyev, as well as more humanitarian aid and efforts to ease the suffering of those whose lives worsened under the blockade on a daily basis. “We have to protect our inalienable rights and liberties,” he concluded. “The Armenian Genocide started in 1915, but it did not end, [therefore] we have to continue to fight together.”
Mexican politician Alejandra del Carmen León Gastélum, who along with Armen Yeritsian propelled the Senate of Mexico’s unanimous passage of Armenian Genocide recognition in February, spoke in Spanish. Translation was provided Dr. Vartan Matiossian. “It is our duty to recognize and commemorate the Armenian Genocide because it is our duty to prevent tragedies like this that are ignored, forgotten and hidden in the sands of time in the complicity of silence,” she said. Gastélum stated the importance of remaining alert since history has demonstrated the perils that can occur when people in suffering are abandoned. She expressed that being a “defender of human rights” is a “lifelong commitment” for her and remarked that Armenians have an “invaluable historical and cultural wealth, and are hardworking people who extend a friendly hand to whoever needs it.” “May this day serve to commemorate the victims of the Armenian Genocide, give dignity to the Armenian people, strengthen links of cooperation between nations in defense of peace, and protect human rights while relieving the suffering for all those affected by violence and war,” she concluded.
Grand Commander of the Knights of Vartan, Hunan Arshakyan, as well as the Grand Matron of the Daughters of Vartan, Gloria Korkoian, reflected on the noteworthy mission of their respective organizations during this critical time. “As we remember our martyred saints who gave their lives to our country and faith during the Armenian Genocide, we think of our fellow Armenians today in Armenia and Artsakh who are still suffering and fighting for their right to exist and their right to live as Armenians and be free from ethnic cleansing,” said Arshakyan. He stated that the Knights of Vartan is now in its second century of service to preserve the Armenian homeland, church and culture, and that “Armenians around the world carry the same responsibility to keep our people and heritage alive and to tell our story,” said Arshakyan. “We must never stop serving our people and fighting for truth and freedom.” The Daughters of Vartan aided the Armenian people in the aftermath of the Armenian Genocide, according to Korkoian, who noted that they helped the “Armenian people rise to reestablish communities, to help build and rebuild churches and schools, and preserve our families and our culture.” Korkoian said that the Daughters of Vartan aim to “champion the Armenian cause, alleviate the suffering of the Armenian people, ensure the safety of displaced Armenians, and to train leaders to serve the religious, cultural, educational and charitable needs of the Armenian people.”
Huyser Ensemble, featuring Harout Barsoumian, Karine Barsoumian, Maria Barsoumian, Ara Yegoryan, Diana Vasilyan and Michael Sarian, performed patriotic songs for the audience.
His Eminence Archbishop Anoushavan Tanielian, Primate of the Eastern Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America, delivered the invocation, and Very Rev. Fr. Mesrop Parsamyan, Primate of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, delivered the benediction. Aram Bashian of the Armenian Evangelical Church of New York City and Rev. Richard Shackil, Parochial Vicar of Holy Cross Armenian Catholic Church of Little Falls, NJ, shared remarks and prayers. The Holy Martyrs Armenian Day School students sang the Armenian and American anthems and God Bless America.
The Knights and Daughters of Vartan have sponsored the Times Square Armenian Genocide Commemoration since 1985, along with the support of a multitude of Armenian American community organizations. This year the event was co-chaired by Haig Gulian, Ari Minnetyan, and Christopher Artun, under the guidance of Chairman Emeritus Hirant Gulian.
Armen McOmber, Esq., Diran Jebejian, Chantelle Nasri served as MCs, while Armenian Assembly of America executive director Bryan Ardouny served as media spokesperson.
The winners of this year’s Knights & Daughters of Vartan Annual Essay and Visual Arts Contest were also announced: Nara Zakarian, 1st place (Tampa); Emily Maremont, 2nd place (San Francisco); Aiki Kassabian, 3rd place (Los Angeles) and runner-up Emily Dzhulfayan (Los Angeles).
Co-sponsoring organizations included the Armenian Assembly of America, represented by Ardouny; the Armenian General Benevolent Union, represented by Natalie Gabrelian, Director of Districts, Chapters, and Central Board Administration; the Armenian National Committee of America; ADL-Ramgavar Party, represented by Norair Megeurditchian, chairman of the Eastern District USA; Tekeyan Cultural Association, represented by Hilda Hartounian, member of the Tekeyan Cultural Association Board of Directors of US and Canada and chair of the Tekeyan Cultural Association Greater New York Chapter; Armenian Bar Association, represented by Chair and Board of Governors member Taline Sahakian; the Armenian Missionary Association; and the Armenian Council of America.
Participating organizations included the Armenian Network of America, Armenian Youth Federation, Homenetmen Scouts of NY and NJ, Armenian Relief Society, Armenian Church Youth Organization of America, AGBU Young Professionals, Armenian Students Association, Hamazkayin Cultural Association of NY and NJ, tri-state Armenian college and university clubs.