DENVER—On December 6, Colorado concluded the Centennial of the 1915 Armenian Genocide with a Shine a Light on All Genocides candlelight vigil at the Colorado State Capitol, followed by a program at the First Baptist Church of Denver.
The event was organized by Armenians of Colorado (AOC) in partnership with the Armenian National Committee of America Colorado (ANCA-Colorado), Colorado Coalition for Genocide Awareness & Action (CCGAA), Consulate General of the Republic of Armenia in Los Angeles, and Djulfa Virtual Memorial & Museum and featured elected officials, Jewish-American leaders, diplomats from Armenia, and Armenian-American leaders. All came together to observe the United Nation’s day for genocide victims, commemorate the 10th anniversary of the genocidal destruction of Djulfa khachkars, and conclude the centennial anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.
“It was heartwarming to see so many of our supporters with us that day,” remarked AOC Board President Sona Hedeshian. “We were honored to partner with community organizations to conclude the Centennial year with a universal message that genocides must be recognized, punished, and prevented.”
The outdoor portion of “Shine a Light on All Genocides” took place at the Colorado State Capitol Armenian Genocide Khachkar Memorial, which was unveiled on April 24, 2015. In his opening remarks, AOC volunteer leader and ANCA-Western Region Community Development Coordinator Simon Maghakyan recalled “the victims of all genocides and crimes against humanities: known or unknown, recognized or denied, remembered or forgotten.” After the crowd of nearly one hundred individuals lit their candles, Pastor Brian Henderson offered a heartfelt prayer and invited guests to follow him to the First Baptist Church of Denver.
The three-part indoor program was opened by Master of Ceremonies Andrew Romanoff, who served as Speaker in the Colorado House of Representatives from 2005 to 2008. After his opening remarks which cited Hitler’s infamous “Who, after all, remembers the Armenians?” quote, Speaker Romanoff invited AOC Board President Sona Hedeshian to welcome the attendees.
The first part of the program – honoring all genocide victims – included a presentation by an Armenian diplomat and leaders of the local Jewish community. Hedeshian invited and introduced Honorable Sergey Sarksiov, Consul General of Armenian in Los Angeles, who spoke of the newly-designated day for genocide victims. In September of this year, an Armenia-led effort at the United Nations proclaimed December 9 as the “International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide and of the Prevention of this Crime.” Following Sarkisov’s remarks, a special Jewish American resolution was presented by local leaders. Roz Duman of the Colorado Coalition for Genocide Awareness & Action and Melinda Quiat of the Jewish Community Relations Council read the unprecedented October 2015 Jewish Council of Public Affairs resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide, then presented official copies to representatives of Armenian organizations. The resolution is also available online at http://engage.jewishpublicaffairs.org/p/salsa/web/blog/public/?blog_entry_KEY=7642.
The second part of the program – remembering Djulfa – included a video and reading of a gubernatorial proclamation. Simon Maghakyan’s 2006 documentary The New Tears of Araxes, also available on www.djulfa.com/film, was screened. Following the screening, Colorado’s Douglas County Public Defender attorney Ara Ohanian, who is a Djulfa descendant, read a proclamation by Governor John Hickenlooper designating December 6 as 10th Anniversary of Djulfa Destruction Day. The proclamation memorializes “the deliberate destruction of the world’s largest collection of medieval khachkars at Djulfa; [which] has been documented by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.” The proclamation further mentions that “the State of Colorado commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide this year by unveiling a Capitol khachkar memorial, a replica of one of Djulfa’s 2,000 destroyed monuments” and that “Coloradans are encouraged to visit the State Capitol and view the replica Djulfa khachkar.”
The third part of the program – concluding the Centennial Year – reviewed the history of Colorado’s Armenian community, recognized community supporters, and closed the year with thanking all who helped with the successful year. A five-minute film summarizing the century-long Colorado-Armenia friendship, which was first presented at the September 12 “Colorado We Thank You” gala and is available on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M2nWikyTE30, was screened.
Following the short film, three prominent public officials were recognized for their support of the Armenian community. Other public officials present at the event, including Speaker Romanoff, Senator Lois Tochtrop, and Representative Paul Rosenthal, were honored earlier at the September gala.
Former Governor Richard Lamm was awarded AOC’s Champion of Justice award for having authorized and inaugurated the Colorado State Capitol Armenian Memorial Garden, with its original plaque and tree, in 1982. After receiving the award from AOC Board President Sona Hedeshian, Governor Lamm mentioned that “I would like to use this day to commemorate the Armenian people. How you have enriched America and the world! In so many ways: civic, academic, economic, commercial, the professions. If only Turkey would have recognized the talent, the economic potential, the professional potential, the civic strength of the people it was destroying, a genocide would have been avoided and Turkey would be so much a more successful country today!”
Senate Minority Leader Morgan Carroll, who has consistently supported Armenia Genocide resolutions at the Colorado state legislature, was honored as Advocate of Justice. Upon accepting the award from her former colleague Senator Lois Tochtrop, Senator Carroll thanked the Armenian community for their continuous efforts to educate the legislature on the importance of recognizing genocides. Congressman Mike Coffman, represented by Aurora Ogg, was awarded with Advocate of Justice and Peace for his long support for Armenian Genocide recognition and as the only signatory on the Congressional Royce-Engel letter calling for peace in Artsakh, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. The award was handed by constituents Denise Gentilini and Simon Maghakyan. Ogg read a letter from Mike Coffman, in which the Congressman mentions that “crimes against humanity do not simply begin spontaneously. In the Ottoman Empire, hatred towards Armenians flamed long before the genocide began. In Germany, Hitler unjustly blamed Germany’s Jewish population for all of Germany’s woes and began his persecution by destroying Jewish businesses, books and religious sites. Likewise, humanity cannot sit idly by while historical religious relics are destroyed, such as the Christian monuments and khachkars that have been destroyed at places like Djulfa. These actions are borne in hatred and hatred left unchecked, grows to atrocities of all type.”
Afterwards, ANCA Western Region Executive Director Elen Asatryan remarked on Colorado’s role in the Centennial Year. She commended the community’s strong record and enthusiastic work in educating Coloradans on the Armenian Genocide, and how she often mentions Colorado as a model of community organizing around the country. Asatryan also broke the news of Governor Hickenlooper receiving ANCA Western Region’s highest award at a meeting scheduled the following day. Gov. Hickenlooper was carefully selected for the Freedom Award for his resilient leadership and dedication to and tangible achievements for Armenian Genocide awareness and human rights. His authorization and April 24, 2015 unveiling of the Colorado State Capitol Khachkar, which is a replica of a destroyed Djulfa monument and commemorates the Armenian Genocide, made international news.
AOC Centennial Chair Anahid Katchian Logue concluded the program and the Centennial year with reviewing the many events organized throughout the year and recognizing key individuals who made it possible. In her remarks, Katchian recalled growing up in a family saved by the Near East Relief. She acknowledged the First Baptist Church’s vital role in Colorado’s Near East Relief efforts in 1915-1930, presenting Pastor Brian Henderson with the Humanitarian Award. Katchian also mentioned that humanitarianism has lived on in the Armenian community, and acknowledged Artemis Khadiwala for having been the driving force for earthquake and blockade relief efforts for Armenia in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
“With many of you in this room today, we brought together over the months events with a purpose beyond looking back. It was from our youth at that first meeting that we got our theme: Survive, Revive, Thrive… We close this 100th year commemoration of the Armenian Genocide more whole in knowing who we’ve been and who we are to be….by the Grace of God.” At the end, Katchian recognized fellow leaders who made the Centennial year a success: AOC Board President and Armenian Genocide Garden Co-Chair Sona Hedeshian, Armenia Genocide Garden Co-Chair Arous Christianian, Capitol Khachkar Committee Chair Simon Maghakyan, and long-time leaders of the Genocide Centennial Committee Ken Allikian, Kim Christianian, and Hasmik Nikoghosyan. As the group stood together, Speaker Romanoff presented Outstanding Service awards to Hedeshian, Katchian, and Kim Christianian. Allikian, Maghakyan, and Arous Christianian were honored earlier at the September 12 Gala.
Colorado organized a number of Centennial events in 2015. Starting in January and through November, AOC held educational lectures on the Armenian Genocide from a variety of perspectives, including by such renowned speakers as Alternative Radio’s founder David Barsamian, Facing History & Ourselves’ regional director David Fulton, and Armenian Library and Museum of America’s director Dr. Susan Pattie. In March, Armenian carpet experts Hratch Kozibeyokian and Stephan Isberian presented on and displayed Orphan Rugs. In September, along with ANCA-Colorado, AOC organized a gala, MC-d by award-winning journalist Lois Melkonian, to thank Colorado’s century-long support of our community. AOC also helped produce three-time Emmy-winning composer Denise Gentilini’s musical on the Armenian Genocide – I AM ALIVE – based on the story of her grandparents’ survival, which premiered on April 21. On April 24, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper unveiled America’s first state capitol khachkar donated by Alexander Ter-Hovakimyan in memory of all crimes against humanity. AOC representatives Anahid Katchian Logue and Simon Maghakyan appeared on the world-famous Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman earlier that day.
April 24, 2015, marked the 100th anniversary of the start of the Armenian Genocide, a crime that killed 1.5 million indigenous Armenians in Ottoman Turkey and resulted in the loss of the greater part of the Armenian homeland and its ancient Christian heritage. December 2005 also marked the 10th anniversary of Turkic state Azerbaijan’s genocidal destruction of Djulfa – the largest collection of medieval khachkars (Armenian cross-stones) – in an effort to wipe out the physical evidence of indigenous Armenian culture in Nakhichevan. Colorado is home to a vibrant Armenian-American community, many of whom are descendants of the Armenian Genocide while others trace their ancestry to Djulfa (Jugha).
AOC was established in June 1980 as a 501(c)3 non-profit cultural organization. Its purpose is to create a cohesive Armenian community and to further the understanding of Armenian history, culture, language, customs, and heritage. AOC actively supports issues and concerns of the Armenian-American community in Colorado as well as those identified within the Armenian Diaspora throughout the world. For more information, visit www.ArmeniansOfColorado.org.
ANCA-Colorado is a chapter of the Armenian National Committee of America-Western Region – the largest and most influential Armenian American grassroots advocacy organization in the Western United States. Working in coordination with a network of offices, chapters, and supporters throughout the Western United States and affiliated organizations around the country, the ANCA-WR advances the concerns of the Armenian American community on a broad range of issues. For more information, visit www.ancawr.org.