WATERTOWN, Mass. (Armenian Weekly)—More than 500 Boston Armenian community members filled the Armenian Cultural and Educational Center (ACEC) in Watertown on Thurs., May 28 for a celebration of the 97th anniversary of the establishment of the First Republic of Armenia in 1918.
His Holiness Catholicos Aram I of the Holy See of Cilicia delivered the keynote address and awarded the “Knight of Cilicia” medal to former U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Evans for his dedication to truth and justice.
The event, titled “Triumph over Tragedy: The Birth of the First Independent Armenia, 1918,” featured remarks by Dr. Antranig Kasbarian, a former member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) Eastern Region Central Committee.
The event was organized by the ARF “Sardarabad” Gomideh and St. Stephen’s Armenian Apostolic Church, with the participation of the Armenian Relief Society, the Armenian Youth Federation, Hamazkayin Armenian Educational and Cultural Association, and Homenetmen.
Aram I was greeted at the door of the ACEC, where a red carpet was rolled out, by ARF Sardarabad Gomideh chairman Hovhannes Janessian, who led him and his delegation—which included the Catholicosate’s Ecumenical Officer Very Rev. Housig Mardirossian; staff-bearer, Rev. Bedros Manuelian; Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, Prelate of the Armenian Orthodox Church of the Eastern U.S.; Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian, Prelate of the Armenian Orthodox Church of the Western U.S.; and Bishop Anoushavan Tanielian, Vicar General of the Eastern Prelacy—to the Lachinian Hall, where a small reception was held. Present were community leaders and activists.
The event officially began when Aram I entered the Hovnanian Hall of the ACEC, led by Homenetmen scouts and flanked by the delegation of clergy. The Vehapar and his delegation were joined on stage by Very Rev. Fr. Andon Atamian, Rev. Avedis Boynerian, Rev. Archpriest Antranig Baljian, Rev. Stephan Baljian, Archpriest Rev. Vazken Bekiarian, Very Rev. Sahag Yemishyan, Rev. Archpriest Aram Stepanian, Rev. Archpriest Gomidas Baghsarian, Rev. Mikael Derkosrofian, and Rev. Bedros Shetilian of St. Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church. They performed the service of thanksgiving for the Republic of Armenia, which included the blessing of the tricolor flag. The singing of Armenia’s national anthem, “Mer Hairenik,” concluded this segment of the event.
Following the service, mistresses of ceremony Tsoler Avedissian and Nairi Khachatourian, members of the ARF “Sardarabad” Gomideh, welcomed the guests and introduced the Zankagner Performing Arts Ensemble—comprised of Kindergarten and elementary school-aged children—and their director Hasmik Konjoyan to the stage. Zankagner first sang the American anthem, followed by a patriotic medley and “Im Hayastan.”
Kasbarian, who currently serves as executive director of the New York-based Tufenkian Foundation, delivered his remarks. Kasbarian first highlighted the role the church had played serving as both a spiritual and a national home for the Armenian people, and praised the role it had taken in “bolstering the Armenian Cause” through seeking justice—including, most recently, in the lawsuit against Turkey for the return of the historic headquarters of the Catholicosate of Sis.
Kasbarian also applauded former Ambassador Evans’ commitment to truth. “[Evans] spoke truth to power by openly acknowledging the Armenian Genocide. This was a bold, daring, and unprecedented act for which he has paid dearly both personally and professionally,” said Kasbarian.
Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian took the podium next. He introduced retired Ambassador John Evans. “Sworn in as Ambassador [to Armenia] in August 2004, Evans took up his post in Yerevan where—as he did throughout his entire career—he served with distinction and did a commendable job. In February 2005, during speeches here on American soil, he took a principled stand, a stand in accord with the historical facts alive and of democratic and humanitarian values,” began Koutoujian. “And in keeping with America’s proud traditions of friendship with the Armenian people, he spoke the truth. He called the Armenian Genocide, a ‘genocide.’”
Koutoujian said Evans knew there would be consequences to his actions. “He was called back to Washington and at the end of it all, his professional and diplomatic career was greatly affected and ended. His crime? Telling the truth,” said Koutoujian, adding, “He was very simply too honest a man to lie, too honest an American to lie, too good a man and too good an American to allow our nation’s moral standing to be diminished for the sake of convenience or out of deference to a false ally.” Koutoujian went on to call Evans a modern day Henry Morgenthau.
Following Koutoujian’s introduction, Evans was invited onto the stage, where Aram I awarded him with the Medal of Cilicia, to the cheers and enthusiastic applause from the crowd. In his brief remarks thanking Aram I, Evans said he had a “gentle diplomatic protest,” because “all I did was to tell the truth. And no one needs to thank me for that. All I did 10 years ago was to break a taboo in the State Department and the U.S. government—a taboo that should never have existed in the first place.” He added that his effort was successful to some degree, since the government was then forced to talk about the issue.
Aram I then delivered his keynote address. He said that yes, Armenians were able to have a free and independent Armenia, but that today’s Armenia is part of the united Armenia that is the Armenian dream. “Yes, we lost 1.5 million Armenians during the genocide. We lost churches, schools, and properties. But we also lost our homeland. We lost Western Armenia: Ayntab; Sis, Marash, Zeytoun, Adana. We lost Cilicia. Therefore, today we have land demands from Turkey.” He added that Armenians must not limit themselves to social or economic issues, that the vision of a united Armenia must remain alive—which was the same vision that kept the diaspora alive.
“Let us not forget that on the 50th anniversary of the genocide, the Armenian youth in Soviet Armenia poured onto the streets and demanded, ‘Our lands! Our lands!’ (Mer hoghere, mer hoghere),” said Aram I, adding that the spirit of May 28 reminds Armenians to remain faithful to the leaders and activists of the First Republic, and to their message: a free and independent Armenia, and united Armenians.
“Freedom is not just a human value. It is a divine gift. We must look at freedom or independence from this perspective. In creating the first man and woman, God has endowed them with freedom: freedom of reflecting and acting, freedom of fulfilling their human potentials, therefore freedom is indeed a core value imbued by divine gift. Hence, aspiration to freedom is indeed a legitimate concern and drive in human beings,” said Aram I.
“In the course of our history, the Armenian people have constantly struggled to reaffirm their independence, their freedom,” he continued. “Therefore freedom has been a permanent drive, a salient feature of our history. After the fall of the last kingdom in Cilicia in 1375, for centuries we lost our freedom and were subjected to the continued persecution of the Ottoman-Turkish government.”
Remembering the past means reaffirming faithfulness of our commitment to our martyrs, he said. “Armenians will never forget the Armenian Genocide… Diplomatic and political considerations may overshadow the truth, but no power in this world can erase this truth,” he said.
Directing his words to Evans, Aram I continued, “The Bible reminds us that the truth liberates us… By telling the truth you occupy an important place in the hearts of the Armenian people…and you paid the price.”
“For the future of our people, we must strengthen Armenia. Strengthening Armenia means strengthening the diaspora, and strengthening the diaspora means strengthening Armenia… We have one future. This is the message of May 28,” concluded Aram I.
The event ended with the St. Stephens Church Choir leading the singing of “Giligia.”