Armenian Genocide remembrance events held in Providence, R.I. with Dr. Taner Akçam

Dr. Taner Akçam with the members of the Armenian Martyrs Memorial Committee of RI (Photo: GVK Images)

PROVIDENCE, R.I.— The Armenian Martyrs’ Memorial Committee of Rhode Island hosted two important events commemorating the 108th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide last weekend. 

Stepan Piligian serving as moderator for the panel discussion with (from l. to r.) Hrag Arakelian, George Aghjayan and Dr. Taner Akçam (Photo: GVK Images)

The weekend began with a panel discussion with Dr. Taner Akçam on Saturday at the Providence Marriott Downtown. Dr. Akçam is the inaugural director of the Armenian Genocide Research Program housed at the UCLA Promise Armenian Institute. He was joined by a distinguished group of panelists consisting of Armenian Weekly columnist Stepan Piligian, who also served as moderator; director of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) Archives and member of the ARF Central Committee of the Eastern US George Aghjayan; and chairman of the ARF Providence “Kristapor” Gomideh and member of the Armenian National Committee of RI Hrag Arakelian. The discussion centered on past and present Turkish denial of the Armenian Genocide. 

Dr. Akçam shared a slide presentation and presented a strong and convincing argument that Turkey’s denial on the Genocide fuels the politics of continuing aggression, both inside and outside of Turkey today. One does not have to look too far to see the atrocities taking place today in Artsakh and Armenia by Turkey’s ally Azerbaijan. Following Dr. Akçam’s lecture, the entire panel weighed in on two specific topics of interest: (1) how Turkish denial actively manifests itself today as it relates to the diaspora, Armenia and Artsakh and (2) how to respond to denial campaigns with advocacy and what are the challenges. This proved to be an educational session where the panel was able to bridge the past with current events. The afternoon concluded with a lively question and answer segment with the audience’s participation. Those who attended walked away with a much clearer view of how Turkish denial impacts justice today for the Armenian people and is a central component of the political struggle for greater democracy and peaceful coexistence in the region. 

The procession in Sts. Vartanantz Church at the start of the service for the Holy Martyrs (Photo: GVK Images)

Following church services on Sunday in the sanctuary of Sts. Vartanantz Armenian Apostolic Church, the 108th commemoration of the Armenian Genocide took place with a service of remembrance of the Holy Martyrs. Melanie Zeitounian served as emcee. A large procession commenced with flag bearers, clergy, invited guests and wreath presenters surrounded by able-bodied honor guards as a beautiful hymn was sung by choir members of the three local Armenian churches under the direction of Maestro Konstantin Petrossian. Officiating clergy Rev. Fr. Kapriel Nazarian, Rev. Fr. Shnork Souin, Rev. Dr. Ara Heghinian and Rev. Hagop Manjelikian conducted the service for the Holy Martyrs with the assistance of deacons and service participants from Armenian Evangelical Church, Saints Sahag and Mesrob Armenian Apostolic Church and Sts. Vartanantz Armenian Apostolic Church.

The clergy and altar servers during the service for the Holy Martyrs (Photo: GVK Images)

The service began with “The Lord’s Prayer” (“Hayr Mer”) recited by the clergy and all those present; readings from St. Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews and the Holy Gospel according to St. Paul; the Litany of the Saints and concluding with the singing of “The Lord’s Prayer” by the choir and congregation. In addition, soloist Joanne Mouradjian sang a beautiful rendition of “Hrashatsan Bagootsmamp” to the Holy Martyrs.

Dr. Taner Akçam offering his remarks at the 108th commemoration of the Armenian Genocide at Sts. Vartanantz Armenian Apostolic Church in Providence (Photo: GVK Images)

Dr. Akçam served as the keynote speaker and delivered a riveting speech to an audience of approximately 250 individuals. With President Biden’s statement on Armenian Remembrance Day acknowledging the Armenian Genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman authorities on April 24, 1915, Dr. Akçam stated that now is the time for a movement focusing on reparations and restitution with Turkey, offering the example of Jewish reparations with Germany following the Holocaust. He also drew comparisons of the institutionalized racism ingrained with Turkey’s denial of the Genocide and apartheid in South Africa.

“If American recognition is not to remain a merely symbolic gesture, must there not be certain legal ramification to such recognition?” asked Dr. Akçam before continuing that the Armenian community must move into another realm of justice now. “The main purpose for recognizing historic injustices is for such gestures to potentially bring in their wake at least partial recompense for past injustices. Indeed, if such acknowledgement is not followed by some step in the direction of getting justice for past wrongs, the gesture is truly without any meaning,” he said while outlining the next steps in justice for the Armenian Genocide after US recognition.

Following Dr. Akçam’s remarks, the Armenian school children of Saints Sahag and Mesrob Armenian Church and Sts. Vartanantz Armenian Church sang “Ov Hayots Kacher/Hayer Miatsek” under the direction of director Raffi Rachdouni with accompaniment by Maestro Petrossian. Armenians continue to live through their faith, culture and long standing traditions, and in this case, through the talented voices of our precious youth. 

The school children from the Armenian churches sing for those gathered in remembrance (Photo: GVK Images)

Elected officials who were invited to say a few words at the commemoration included the 39th mayor of Providence Brett Smiley; the Honorable Dan McKee, 76th governor of the state of Rhode Island; and United States Senator Jack Reed. Also present were RI Secretary of State Gregg Amore and the state’s General Treasurer James Diossa. Additional political leaders in the audience were recognized individually, including State Representative Katherine Kazarian and State Senator David Tikoian.

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