University Students in LA Stage Extraordinary Genocide Commemorative Events

By Tamar Mahshigian

LOS ANGELES–As Armenia’s worldwide commemorated the 90th anniversary of the Armenian genocide–university students at California State University–Northridge and UCLA joined in organizing unique events that honored the memory of the 1.5 million innocent lives brutally taken under Ottoman rule.

At Cal State Northridge–the Armenian Student Association and its companion fraternity and sorority groups held a month-long observance that culminated in a candlelight vigil on April 21. The ASA staged an impressive display in the quad with mounds of plastic bones splattered in blood–and 1,500 carnations in the grass (each one representing 1,000 martyrs). In the midst of this seeming graveyard were signs–one for each of the 6 Armenian provinces. The signs displayed the name of the province–its population before and after the Genocide–and the number of people who were slaughtered.

Several days before the vigil–Armenian students set up 6 canvases around campus–almost 6 feet high and 4 feet wide–painted with the question: "Who Recognizes the Armenian Genocide?" Thousands of students and faculty signed the canvases–which were displayed at the vigil.

The theme of the commemoration was struggle–survival–and rebirth. Newly elected Glendale City Clerk Ardashes Kassakhian–who was the keynote speaker–stressed that the massacre of Armenia’s was a planned extermination–a genocide–and that Armenia’s must continue to demand Turkish recognition of the heinous crimes of 90 years ago.

Ani Asatryan–vice president of the Armenian Student Association–spoke about the youth not giving up until justice is served. "We can’t heal–and we cannot grow as a nation until Turkey says ‘I’m sorry,’" she told the crowd of 200 to 300 students–some of them non-Armenia’s. In addition to the speakers–there was a poetry recitation–a capella singing–and a video display of Ara Oshagan’s portraits of Genocide survivors–as well as a special dance performance by Niree Arslanian–who graduated from CSUN last year–and her sister Lori.

As impressive as the commemorative activities were–the Armenian Students Association gets credit for having the expenses paid for by the Associated Students of CSUN. The ASA received $6,000 in student government funds for its various commemorative programs.

"It was so gratifying that the students were so organized," says Professor Armine Mahseredjian–director of CSUN’s Armenian Studies Program and an advisor to the ASA. "They did it all themselves. The students worked together to create a cohesive event that got a lot of attention from non-Armenian students and faculty."

At UCLA–the Armenian Students’ Association in February co-hosted a panel on "Genocide Denial–today and in the past."We are living in a world today in which genocide is being committed–specifically in Darfur," said Raffi Kassabian–president of the UCLA Armenian Student Association. "If people continue to turn a blind eye or deny such atrocities the cycle of genocide will continue to turn."

On April 21–UCLA Armenian students staged a Silent March through campus holding posters and banners protesting the denial of the Genocide. Many of the students wore black to make a statement about the severity of their sentiment.

UCLA’s ASA also succeeded in having the university’s student government pass a resolution on April 13–to ban the sale of Turkish goods at UCLA until Turkey takes care of its human rights violations. "We are sending the Turkish government a message that UCLA students will not tolerate human rights violations in Turkey," says Kassabian.

UCLA also was the site for the 2005 All-ASA Candlelight Vigil on April 14. Each year–the All-Armenian Student Association’s Genocide Recognition Committee–a coalition of Armenian collegiate student groups–chooses one or two campuses where all Armenian college students come together to commemorate the Genocide. The UCLA event featured the rapper Knowledge–who belongs to System Of A Down’s Serj Tankian’s social justice organization Axis of Justice–and UCLA Professor Paul Von Blum–a specialist on media and genocide.

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