WASHINGTON, DC — Over 300 members of the Washington, DC Armenian community marched from the Embassy of Azerbaijan to the Turkish Embassy and Ambassador’s residence and continued on to the White House to mark the 108th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide and demand President Biden take immediate action to stop a second genocide by Azerbaijan against Artsakh’s indigenous Armenian population.
The April 24th demonstration capped a series of events organized under the auspices of the Armenian Genocide Commemorative Committee of Greater Washington, including a special concert dedicated to Armenian martyrs by renowned Armenian folk singer Vicken Tarpinian and a wreath laying ceremony at Soorp Khatch Armenian Church. They were preceded by the annual Capitol Hill Armenian Genocide Observance organized by community organizations in cooperation with the Congressional Armenian Caucus.
Marchers demand justice for Armenian Genocide, concrete steps to prevent Artsakh ethnic cleansing
The April 24th community-wide march for justice, organized by the Armenian Youth Federation – Youth Organization of the Washington Armenian Revolutionary Federation (AYF-YOARF) “Ani” Chapter, covered the capital city road to the White House with a sea of Artsakh, Armenian and American flags, as participants walked the three-mile distance under the watchful eye of Metropolitan police, who had closed off the streets for safety.
The protest started at the Azerbaijani Embassy, where Homenetmen Washington, DC scouts, ARF and AYF-YOARF members and a broad cross-section of the Greater Washington Armenian community were joined by students from the Holy Martyrs Ferrahian Armenian School from Southern California, who were in the nation’s capital for their annual field trip. Homenetmen DC scout and AYF DC “Ani” Chapter member Mary Markarian offered moving remarks in Armenian and set the tone for the day’s event. “The blockade of Artsakh by Azerbaijan and Turkey is a cruel and inhuman act that starves the people of their basic needs,” stated Markarian, who went on to urge action to break the blockade. Her impeccable Armenian was the perfect way to start the event as it displayed how Turkey failed to accomplish its goal 108 years ago.
On the route, Turkish and Azerbaijani counter-protesters smiled, danced and taunted marchers, who walked undeterred, proudly singing “Kini Litz,” the song which honors Soghomon Tehlirian’s assassination of the number one perpetrator of the Armenian Genocide, Talaat Pasha. Community members did not stop to face the Turks, but instead continued walking right past them, symbolizing the refusal to agree to so-called “peace talks” with an unrepentant Turkish government that continues its international campaign of Armenian Genocide denial while aiding Azerbaijan’s genocidal attacks.
ARF Sebouh Gomideh member Aram Balian seized the moment to inspire the community with a powerful speech quoting horrific stories from various survivors. He spoke of how he stands alongside the crowd today “with the shared weight, the shared pain, of 108 years of memory, 108 years of injustice on our shoulders as we commemorate the victims of the Armenian Genocide.” The crowd broke out into cheers as he exclaimed, “We will have our lands back. We will raise our flags in victory over Moush, Kharpert and Bitlis. We will raise our flags in Kedashen, Hadrut, Aghavno and Shushi. We will have a free and independent Republic of Artsakh. For there is no Armenia without our sacred ancestral lands.”
An uplifted and refreshed crowd continued the march with strength and passion all the way to the White House. Along the way, several young members of the community took over the microphone to lead chants, which was yet another display of how Turkey will continue to fail to break the Armenian spirit.
AYF “Ani” Chapter chair Nayiri Shahnazarian opened the White House program by commenting on President Biden’s April 24th statement, which did not mention Azerbaijan’s four-month Artsakh blockade. “We brought our march from the Azerbaijani Embassy to the Turkish Ambassador’s residence to the White House to send a powerful message to President Biden that with recognition of the Armenian Genocide comes the responsibility to prevent the next genocide in Artsakh,” stated Shahnazarian.
AYF-YOARF ER Central Executive member and AYF Washington DC “Ani” Chapter member Areni Margossian then offered a powerful call to action to participants to “summon the strength in every cell of your being, to keep choosing Armenia,” and noting that “our lives, our mere existence, is in itself a great act of rebellion against the attempted annihilation of Armenians both past and present.”
This was followed by the singing of “Hayortik” by Ferrahian students and a powerful recitation of Vahagn Davtyan’s poem “Մի Բուռ Արցախ / Mi Bour Artsakh” by AYF DC “Sevan” junior and DC Homenetmen scout Victoria Penenian. Community members were moved to tears as she spoke without a stutter in her voice.
The protest closed with a touching prayer by Der Sarkis Aktavoukian of Soorp Khatch Armenian Apostolic Church and a moving rendition of “Giligia” sung by AYF DC “Ani” Chapter members Alexandra and Lilia Yaralian.
Wreath laying ceremony honors sainted martyrs of the Armenian Genocide
On Sunday, April 23rd, the Greater Washington Armenian community gathered at Soorp Khatch Armenian Apostolic Church to attend Holy Badarak led by Der Sarkis. After the church ceremony, Der Sarkis led the parishioners to the khatchkar outside for the annual wreath-laying ceremony. Shahnazarian opened the program by inviting the Homenetmen scouts to sing the national anthems of the United States, Armenia and Artsakh and to also lay down the commemorative wreath in front of the khatchkar. She then spoke about how the “struggle from 1915 continues to this day, but we fight harder and harder every year” and “we have never allowed ourselves to succumb to the wishes of those who would be happy to see us wiped off the map,” alluding to Turkey and Azerbaijan’s inability to complete their goal of the total annihilation of the Armenian people.
ANCA Programs director Alex Galitsky then offered powerful remarks citing the 134-day Azerbaijani blockade of Artsakh. “We must be clear-eyed; what we are witnessing today is nothing less than the continuation of a genocide that never truly ended,” said Galitsky, who urged attendees to honor the memory of the Armenian Genocide martyrs “by remaining steadfast in our pursuit of justice — rejecting compromise and capitulation, relentless in our defense of Artsakh, and never abandoning the vision of a free, independent, and united Armenia.”
Vicken Tarpinian in Concert: A Night Dedicated to the Martyrs of the Armenian Genocide
The ARF “Sebouh” Gomideh and AYF DC “Ani” Chapter co-hosted a beautiful memorial concert by Armenian bard Vicken Tarpinian, who performed traditional Armenian folk and revolutionary songs on the night of April 22nd.
In his welcoming remarks, AYF DC “Ani” Chapter member Shirag Ohannesian spoke about the purpose and responsibility toward cultural preservation. Blessed with a culture as rich and old as ours, this song night was meant to take audience members through different periods of Armenian history and the emotions brought about by each. A beloved name to generations of Armenians around the world, Tarpinian filled the hall at Soorp Khatch Church with pride and reminiscence. He invited the audience to think back to their days as students in Armenian school as he sang songs like “Հինգալա/Hingala,” “Սարի Սիրուն Յար/Sari Siroon Yar” and “Սարերի Հովին Մեռնեմ/Sareri Hoveen Mernem.” Everyone was impressed with his beautiful voice that was both full and mellow in tone.
Tarpinian’s passion poured through every note and touched the hearts of everyone present. He spoke of Armenians being forced to live apart from one another for centuries, and how although this has brought unspeakable pain to us, it has also fueled an undying love for our homeland and culture. He ended his performance with “Թիբի Բորան/Tipi Poran” followed by “Զարթի՛ր Լաօ/Zartir Lao,” two incredibly powerful songs that speak of soldiers fighting for their lands and how we must consistently wake up and answer the call to battle.
Last year, Armenians in the homeland marched through Armenia singing “Zartir Lao,” and diasporan communities across the globe echoed them. Here we are, one year later, still fighting for our justice, holding on to our precious cultural heritage and not allowing ourselves to live a day without thinking about our past and the goal of a united, free and independent future.
The Greater Washington, DC community began its Armenian Genocide commemoration activities with the annual Capitol Hill Commemoration of the Armenian Genocide, organized in cooperation with the Congressional Armenian Caucus. Two dozen US Senators and Representatives offered powerful remarks honoring those who perished during the Armenian Genocide and condemning Azerbaijan’s ongoing attempts to ethnically cleanse the 120,000 Christian Armenians living in freedom in their indigenous Artsakh homeland.
The Greater Washington Armenian Genocide Commemorative Committee is comprised of the Soorp Khatch Armenian Apostolic Church Der Hayr, Board of Trustees and Ladies’ Guild; ARF Sebouh Gomideh; Armenian National Committee of Greater Washington; Armenian Relief Society “Satenig” Chapter; AYF “Ani” Senior Chapter and “Sevan” Junior Chapter; Hamasdegh Armenian School; Hamazkayin Armenian Cultural and Educational Society; Homenetmen Athletic and Scouting Organization; and Soorp Khatch Armenian Apostolic Church Senior Group. The organizers thank all those who participated in the events demanding justice for the crimes of 1915 and rededicating themselves to the security and freedom of the Artsakh and Armenian homeland.