Children of Genocide survivors honored at RI ANC flag raisings

The Armenian tricolor after being raised in North Providence

Descendants of survivors offered forceful and heartfelt statements on the occasion of the 108th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide at the Armenian National Committee of Rhode Island (ANC-RI) flag raising events held in North Providence and Cranston on Friday, April 21 this year.

The North Providence ceremony was held in the morning with dozens of people in attendance to see the tricolor raised at the town hall. Mayor Charles Lombardi once again hosted the event, which was the first flag raising organized by the ANC-RI in the state more than 20 years ago. ANC-RI chairman Steve Elmasian welcomed the crowd, and Rev. Fr. Kapriel Nazarian of Sts. Vartanantz Armenian Apostolic Church offered prayers of remembrance for the sainted martyrs, as well as for the people of Artsakh as they continue to endure the inhumane blockade by Azerbaijan. Reverend Hagop Manjelikian of the Armenian Evangelical Church closed the morning with prayer. 

ANC-RI chair Steve Elmasian addresses the crowd in North Providence

Reiterating his pledge to hold the flag raising every year, Mayor Lombardi declared April 24 as Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day in the town and state, while recognizing the substantial contributions of the Armenian community to the state of RI. He also introduced Margaret Moorachian, a resident of North Providence for 53 years, as the honoree and presented her with a proclamation from the town.

North Providence Mayor Charles Lombardi

“I stand here both honored and humbled as an American Armenian and the daughter of Armenian Genocide survivors, Garabed and Tarviz Topalian,” said Moorachian, as her children George and Nancy and grandchildren Luke, Faye and Avedis looked on. Moorachian shared her parents’ story of love and survival, as well as the values they instilled in their five children: “loyalty, family, community, sacrifice, kindness, generosity, work and celebration,” along with education.

North Providence honoree Margaret Moorachian

“Since ancient history, Armenia has been a persecuted nation,” Moorachian said. “Yet its people have never given up and fought for their beliefs. Perhaps it is this heritage that helped my parents to be resilient despite the traumas they experienced. Our parents not only survived but thrived,” she stressed before hoisting the flag with assistance from her grandchildren.

Margaret Moorachian raising the flag in North Providence with help from her grandchildren

That evening, Cranston City Hall saw a substantial crowd turn out for its flag raising. AYF Providence “Varantian” Chapter president and Homenetmen Scout leader Rosdom Mkrtschjan served as emcee for a robust program of speakers, including several elected officials who stated their commitment to the Rhode Island Armenian community, to recognition of the Armenian Genocide, to the designation of April 24 as Armenian Genocide remembrance day and to the importance of genocide education in the state’s schools, as indicated by law now. Among those were host Mayor Kenneth Hopkins, Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos, Secretary of State Gregg Amore, State Senator David Tikoian and State Representative Barbara Ann Fenton Fung.

Rev. Fr. Nazarian offered the opening prayer. Taleen Donoyan beautifully sang the Star Spangled Banner and “Mer Hairenik” as the Homenetmen Scouts stood honor guard. Rev. Fr. Shnork Souin of Sts. Sahag and Mesrob Armenian Apostolic Church closed the evening with prayer and unified singing of the prayer of resurrection. 

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Mayor Hopkins said he was honored to continue the flag raising tradition in Cranston, begun almost two decades ago, as he introduced the evening’s honoree Jasper “Jake” Bedrosian, a resident of the city for more than 50 years and retired manager of the Garden City post office. Bedrosian received citations from the city of Cranston, Lieutenant Gov. Matos and Sec. of State Amore and a plaque from the ANC-RI.

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And then, the descendants of Armenian Genocide survivors took center stage, including the honoree.

ANC-RI member Dr. Fotini Dionisopoulos

Dr. Fotini Dionisopoulos, a granddaughter of Genocide survivors, offered remarks on behalf of the ANC-RI, congratulating Bedrosian as an exemplary member of the Armenian community and one of many “who have contributed positively to this great city with your good character, citizenship, work ethic and warmth, while keeping your Armenian spirit alive and thriving amongst your families and communities.” Dr. Dionisopoulos, who is a beloved pediatric dentist in the community, spoke about the impact of the ANCA’s work and the importance of supporting its grassroots efforts.

“When I was a young girl, every April 24, I am sure many of you remember North Burial Ground Genocide remembrances,” recalled Dr. Dionisopoulos. “There our survivors, including my grandmother Arossiag, would gather and would walk in together to ‘Hanchetzek.’ Every year, the number got lower and lower. And then they were gone,” she said, stressing the need to continue advocating for those who have now passed.

The youth of the community, one from each of the three RI Armenian churches, took the podium and brought the crowd to thunderous applause.

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Garen Zeitounian of the Armenian Evangelical Church went first. “I have great-great grandparents who lived through the Armenian Genocide. Although I never met them, it is because of their faith I am able to stand here today and talk about what being Armenian means to me,” began Zeitounian. “First, I am able to go freely and worship at the Armenian Evangelical Church. Ever since I can remember, Sundays are for going to church and spending time with family. Because Armenia was the first Christian nation, my parents taught me the importance of going to church and having Jesus in my heart. Second, I get to go to Armenian school, which is not always my favorite, but I do know the importance of it…Because of my ancestors I am able to play my dumbeg at Armenian events, something that I love to do. Because of Armenian school I now know how to read and write in Armenian which is something that I’m really proud of…It is our job to talk, remember and keep the Armenian culture going. Now more than ever with what is happening in Artsakh, we need to pray that those Armenians will survive and continue to prove how strong we are,” he concluded.

Next came John Stickler of Sts. Sahag and Mesrob Armenian Apostolic Church. “When the atrocities of 1915 began, my great-grandmother Shooshanig Avedisian was saved by German missionaries who brought her to an orphanage where she was educated and kept safe. Years later, she arrived in Pawtucket, RI, where she and her new husband made a life for themselves,” shared Stickler. “My great-grandmother worked very hard not just taking care of her young family but also educating other Armenians, who had also just immigrated to the United States. She also helped many fellow Armenians find their relatives after being scattered during the Genocide. She worked in local factories, doing whatever she could to provide for her family and also found work for many others…it is very clear the Turks did not succeed in 1915, but rather, they failed miserably. The survivors overcame many hardships but did not give up and made new lives for themselves, thus creating a new Armenia,” he forcefully finished.

Ryder Norigian of Sts. Vartanantz Armenian Apostolic Church was the final youth speaker, who explained the importance of remembering the Armenian Genocide and our holy martyrs on April 24. “We are all here to honor and remember their sacrifices for us. While this is great for one day of the year, it is a continual process, and we need to do more,” stressed Norigian. “More involves talking about our culture and keeping it alive. Some ways I keep it alive is by talking about it in school. As an example, in my 8th grade social studies class, we were studying a world map, and for that day we were looking at the Middle East. I didn’t see Armenia, so I explained to my teacher about Armenia and ended up teaching and talking to my class about our history and culture,” he explained. Norigian concluded with the following: “Remember who you are and where you come from. Secondly, with assimilation we are growing farther from our ancestors; my great-grandparents who went through it have passed, and my grandmother who witnessed her parents go through it firsthand is slowly coming to an age where she could soon pass… Finally, never let your Armenian culture and spirit die; involve yourself and teach people about who you are.”

Cranston honoree Jasper “Jake” Bedrosian

The evening’s honoree was the final speaker. Bedrosian spoke about the children of the Genocide, specifically his parents, Akabi Kibarian and Hampartsoum Bedrosian, survivors who came to the US via Syria and France, respectively. Since neither was able to attend school, they worked to help the families who sponsored them in this country. Bedrosian shared his novel experiences as a young student of immigrant parents with the goal to learn English. “In an Armenian house, homework meant two things. Homework was, when you got out of school, you studied from three to six, your school homework. After supper, job lot people came in, and you did jewelry homework,” he said, explaining how he learned mathematics at a young age. He expressed his desire to learn and grow in his community. “I wanted to learn the English language but retain my Armenian language,” he said, regaling the crowd with his AYF and school exploits and successes as a championship wrestling coach. “It’s not how you start your race in life; it’s how you finish,” Bedrosian quoted coach Bill Parcells. “And Jasper is not finished,” he concluded to cheers from the crowd.

Jasper “Jake” Bedrosian with young speakers Ryder Norigian, Garen Zeitounian and John Stickler (Photo: Steve Elmasian)

In a fitting and emotional conclusion to the evening and the day, Bedrosian raised the flag as Homenetmen Scouts sang “Mer Hairenik.”

Jasper Bedrosian raising the Armenian flag as the Homenetmen scouts salute and sing “Mer Hairenik”

Following the event, Ara and Sevan Janigian of Sonia’s Near East Market & Deli generously hosted refreshments at their location around the corner from Cranston City Hall.

Pauline Getzoyan

Pauline Getzoyan

Pauline Getzoyan is editor of the Armenian Weekly and an active member of the Rhode Island Armenian community. A longtime member of the Providence ARF and ARS, she also is a former member of the ARS Central Executive Board. An advocate for genocide education, Pauline is the chair of the RI Holocaust & Genocide Education Commission and co-chair of the RI branch of The Genocide Education Project. In addition, she has been an adjunct instructor of developmental reading and writing in the English department at the Community College of Rhode Island since 2005.

1 Comment

  1. Great job as always putting this all together Pauline. An entire community paying respect to our martyred saints, our survivors, Armenian Americans who have brought honor and pride to their respective town and city, but the message from the youth said it all. An enormous amount of Homenetmen scouts and those three young men who captured the audience sending a strong message around the world that we are here to stay.

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