Editor’s Note: The following remarks were delivered at an AYF-led protest in Washington, DC on April 24, 2023.
At the end of our lives, if we are lucky enough to lay back on our death beds and steal a moment of reflection, we may come to the conclusion that the meaning of each of our lives is the sum of our choices. The good and the terrible, the devastating and the marvelous.
Every one of us here made a choice today. Whether it was to take the day off, or leave work early, or skip school, to show up here today, to commemorate the 108th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. This isn’t new. I’m sure none of us are here for the first time, and we will be here next year and the years after that.
But this commemoration has taken on a different meaning since 2020. Our chants have evolved from “1915 never again” to “stop a second Armenian Genocide.” In 2020, we once again lost a generation of young Armenians, martyred in the defense of our homeland. And since then, we’ve only witnessed even more incessant violence.
Being Armenian is not easy, and it’s not a given. It is a choice we have to make, every day, in every aspect of our lives. On weekends, do we sleep in or go to Sunday school? At home, do we speak Armenian? If we don’t speak, how much effort do we, or are we willing to put into learning Armenian? Do we eat our foods, listen to Armenian music, learn Armenian history? The choices we must make to be and keep being Armenian are endless.
And it does not stop in the mere being-ness of Armenian. We then have to fight to be. We have to choose to advocate for Armenia and for Armenians. We have to fight for recognition, fight for existence, fight for justice.
This second aspect, the fight for our existence, has become increasingly harder, yet exponentially more important, since 2020. The war did not end in 44 days. Azerbaijan has not shied away from continued aggression, boasting publicly of the mutilation and murder of Armenians. For the past two and a half years, Azerbaijan has made the state of war appear to be the default state of Armenia. They have normalized their aggression in an attempt to desensitize Armenians into indifference. And with a traitorous government handing the enemy our lands along with other needless concessions, our fight for existence and justice may feel futile.
It is not the time to fall into a stupor of hopeless apathy. We knew in 2021 when Biden first recognized the Armenian Genocide that our work was far from over and the past two and a half years have demonstrated just that. Yet again, Biden’s statement this year rang empty of actionable steps for the US government to take against the ethnic cleansing of Artsakh. Words mean nothing without actions that back them. We must continue to put pressure on Biden to enforce section 907 of the Freedom Support Act to stop all arms and aid to Azerbaijan. Each one of us must call our representatives to support H.Res.108 calling for sanctions against Azerbaijan, aid to Artsakh and an international investigation of Azeri war crimes.
These are actions that every one of us can take. But there is so much more. This is a call to arms. I call on every one of us here to summon the strength in every cell of your being, to keep choosing Armenia. This will look different from person to person. For one person, it may mean making more of an effort to take their children to Armenian school. For another, it may mean creating a new sound of Armenian music or reviving the melodies of our folklore. For some others, it may mean repatriation. Whatever it means, however it manifests, choose Armenia. Our lives, our mere existence, is in itself a great act of rebellion against the attempted annihilation of Armenians both past and present. But in living without intention, without purposeful choice, we lose control of our narrative.
Our 1.5 million ancestors were not massacred only for us to choose the path of least resistance. Over 5,000 brave Armenians did not sacrifice their lives in the defense of our homeland in 2020 for us to give up Artsakh. 120,000 Armenians are not facing their 134th day in blockade only for us to turn our backs on them.
While our history is punctuated by violence and catastrophe, our story is not a tragedy. I know this because I am a writer of that story. As are you. As are our brothers and sisters in Artsakh and Armenia. As are all Armenians around the world. Our story is not a tragedy. Our story is an epic, a valiant, heroic journey. Let us choose Armenia until the last breath we take. Perhaps the sum of our collective choices will realize a free, independent and united Armenia.