Rocking Denny’s Boat

System of a Down–ANC–AYF rally outside Hastert’s office

BATAVIA–System Of A Down singer Serj Tankian–leaders of the Armenian National Committee (ANC)–and the Armenian Youth Federation headed up a rally in front of Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert’s district office in Batavia–IL–urging the Speaker to "do the right thing" and schedule a vote on Armenian Genocide legislation currently before the House of Representatives.

With the street in front of Hastert’s office cordonnned off by police–BBC–ABC–Fox–and other media outlets were on hand–as hundreds of people of all ages listened to Tankian–John Dolmayan and Armenian National Committee representatives Aram Hamparian and Greg Bedian address the crowd–thanking them for their support and urging them to continue building momentum for the legislation.

All four members of System Of A Down lost family members in the genocide and the band has done a number of things–including its annual Souls benefit concert–to increase awareness of the issue.

Tankian and Armenian American community representatives passed on to Hastert’s aides a letter urging the Speaker to move the legislation forward and presented hundreds of letters from community members calling for a vote.

In a personal letter delivered to Speaker Hastert’s office–Tankian stated "My grandfather–Stepan Haytayan–is a 97 year-old survivor of the genocide. He’s my only link to this past. I promised him that I would try to reach you and explain how important American recognition is to the surviving children of the first genocide of the 20th century."

"On these particular [resolutions] he [Hastert] hasn’t been dragging his feet–yet," said Greg Bedian–chairman of the Armenian National Committee of Illinois. "But three strikes and we’ll see what happens."

When Tankian finished reading his letter–the audience cheered for him to give a rallying speech–but he said he would rather meet everyone individually. As he worked his way through the crowd–taking pictures and signing autographs–some greeted him in Armenian while others thanked him for making them aware of the issue.

"Up until a couple days ago–I had heard nothing of this," 15-year-old David Gerhard of Downers Grove told Tankian. "But I became outraged that something like this hasn’t been taught in any of our classes."

Gerhard–like many of the young people in the crowd–heard about the event–and the issue–through the band’s e-mail–which wasn’t sent out until Monday night.

Bassist Shavo Odadjian said he believes the group is making headway: "Every time someone asks me a question about it–I think we’ve gotten a step closer. It’s just the fact that it makes news–and people talk about it–and it becomes an issue that it actually did occur. That’s our biggest issue with it: that they still don’t admit to it occurring."

The rally was organized by the popular rock band–along with Axis of Justice–the Armenian National Committee of America–and the Armenian Youth Federation. In addition to members of the Armenian-American community of Greater Chicago–attendees traveled from Wisconsin–Indiana–Minnesota–California–and Washington–DC to take part in the event. The numbers of Armenian Americans were buoyed by the participation of throngs of fans of System Of A Down and supporters of Axis of Justice.

Heratch Doumanian came from Indiana to participate in the event and honor his grandparents and uncles and aunts who "died in the desert."

"[The legislation] will prevent future genocide," Doumanian said. "If people realize they’re accountable for it."

Demonstrators from the Armenian National Committee of Illinois had picketed Speaker Hastert’s "Mobile Office Tour 2005" on Wednesday–July 20–demanding that he honor his five-year-old pledge to move the Armenian Genocide Resolution forward in the House of Representatives.

Hastert made the pledge to have the full House vote on Armenian Genocide legislation in August of 2000–but reneged in October of 2000 citing pressure from then President Clinton. He also prevented a similar resolution from reaching the floor in 2004. Staffers committed to providing the Speaker’s feedback to the constituents very soon regarding the current bill.

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