As COVID-19 Upends Traditional March for Justice, Armenian-Americans Come Together in Honor of First Responders Then and Now
On April 24, 2020 the Armenian-American community commemorated the 105th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. On this occasion, a coalition of Southern Californian Armenian community organizations including the Armenian National Committee of America – Western Region brought together Armenians from across America to commemorate the 105th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide by holding a fundraiser for Feeding America, raising enough funds to provide over 5 million meals to Americans in need.
For more than 50 years, the Armenian community has taken to the streets across America every April 24th to protest Turkey’s active denial of the Armenian Genocide. During the 100th year anniversary of the Armenian Genocide in 2015, the protest march brought over 166,000 Armenian-Americans to the streets of Los Angeles – the largest in the history of the city – to protest outside the Turkish consulate.
This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in lieu of the annual March for Justice, Armenian-American community organizations coordinated an humanitarian fundraiser with a pledge to provide 1.5 million meals to Americans in need in honor of the 1.5 million lives lost during the genocide.
Over the course of less than a week, the nationwide Armenian community came together to raise over $250,000 in support of Feeding America through its campaign. Donations were matched by Tony Robbins via the One Billion Meal Challenge, providing twice the impact.
With every $1 donated to Feeding America, the campaign helped secure and distribute at least 10 meals to people facing hunger throughout the country – resulting in the “1.5 Million Meals for 1.5 Million Lives” campaign raising a total of over 5,000,000 meals.
“Feeding America is grateful to the Armenian-American community for its generous outpouring of support and for helping to provide over 1.5 million meals to neighbors struggling with hunger,” said Briana Crane, Managing Director of Strategic Gifts at Feeding America. “With this help, we can meet the unprecedented need presented by this crisis and implement creative and safe ways to distribute food to millions of families across the country.”
“I want to thank the Armenian American community for their incredible generosity”, said Chief Marketing and Communications Officer of Feeding America Catherine Davis via video message to the ANCA-WR. “You’ve now donated over 5 million meals to people who struggle with hunger. What an incredible accomplishment in such a short period of time. We’re so grateful to the survivors and descendants of the Armenian genocide who decided to help the American people through these challenging times. On behalf of Feeding America, I want to thank you for your generosity, you’re helping to strengthen all of our communities.”
The 1.5 Million Meals campaign also highlighted the shared histories of the American and Armenian people, with this year’s fundraising efforts also paying homage to Near East Relief and its steadfast service to victims of the Armenian Genocide during their time of need over 100 years ago.
Near East Relief – formed in 1915 – at the encouragement of President Wilson became the first congressionally-sanctioned non-governmental organization in the United States and the first major international humanitarian operation of its kind in the world.
With an initial fundraising goal of $30 million, between 1915 and 1930 NER went on to raise over $117 million – the equivalent of $2.8 billion in today’s terms – and established over 400 orphanages, refugee centers, hospitals, clinics, and vocational schools throughout the Near East. Due to the efforts of Near East Relief, over 132,000 Armenian orphans and over a million refugees of the genocide were saved.
“The American people and the Armenian nation are inextricably bound thanks to the generosity of the American public, and the courage of the NER volunteers in assisting the survivors of the Armenian Genocide”, said Armen Sahakyan, Executive Director of the Armenian National Committee of America – Western Region.
“This fundraising campaign is a natural extension of our America We Thank You initiative, as we now come together to assist the American people during these challenging times.” Joseph Kaskanian, an ANCA-WR board member said about the planning of this unified community effort.
The Armenian National Committee of America – Western Region has long honored the work of Near East Relief and the generosity of the American people, launching its “America: We Thank You, A Tribute to Near East Relief” initiative in 2015 to mark the centenary anniversary of the genocide.
Since then, the initiative has seen resolutions passed honoring the Near East Relief and recognizing the Armenian Genocide at the local, state and federal levels, and brought Armenian Genocide education into classrooms across the country.
Many of those saved by Near East Relief would go on to form the Armenian-American diaspora, now a community of 1.5 million committed to ensuring justice for their ancestors and compatriots who perished in the first genocide of the 20th century.
That justice has been long denied, with the Government of Turkey today actively enforcing the erasure of Armenian history and denial of the genocide. Moreover, Turkey – as a strategic partner in a tumultuous region – has long used the Armenian Genocide as a bargaining chip in its relations with Western powers, threatening to suspend its support for counter-terrorism operations in the Middle East should any partner formally recognize the Armenian Genocide.
In recent years, as Turkey has continued to devolve into an autocratic regime with little regard for human rights and rule of law, its stranglehold over honest remembrance of the Armenian Genocide has started to weaken. This culminated last year in the historic recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the United State House of Representatives and Senate with overwhelming bipartisan and near unanimous support.
In addition to recognizing this historic crime against humanity, both chambers of Congress acknowledged the crucial role played by Near East Relief and the American public in ensuring the survival of the Armenian nation and committed to encouraging public education of both the genocide and the important moment of shared Armenian and American history in classrooms across the country.
An overlooked chapter in American history, the U.S. had been keenly aware of the suffering of the Armenian people during the First World War. Its Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Henry Morgenthau, documented the annihilation of the Armenian nation and reported by wire to the Department of State the dire situation.
Learning of the plight of the Armenians, Foreign Secretary of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions James L. Barton and Cleveland H. Dodge, a philanthropist closely involved with missionary work in the Near East – and President Woodrow Wilson’s confidant – organized a committee of for the purposes of raising funds to assist the Armenians of the Near East.
“Through our America We Thank You campaign, the ANCA-WR has been able to build awareness of this proud chapter of our shared history, introducing Near East Relief into public education, and honoring its work through State and Federal congressional resolutions,” Sahakyan remarked.
On this solemn day of remembrance, the nationwide Armenian community came together in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic virtually to raise over $250,000 through the 1.5 million meals campaign. Having far surpassed its original goal, the community as a whole felt that honoring the humanitarian efforts of first responders during this world pandemic is of utmost importance.
“It is thanks to the eyewitness accounts of first-responders and humanitarian workers who saw the genocide unfold that the memory of its victims and survivors lives on in the United States today. Their testimony has been integral to the cause for justice and recognition of the Armenian Genocide, with the latest milestone being last year’s historic, near-unanimous adoption of official recognition resolutions by the two chambers of U.S. Congress.” said Armen Sahakyan
Feeding America is a United States–based nonprofit organization and one of the largest food relief operations in the country. It maintains a nationwide network of more than 200 food banks that feed more than 46 million people through food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, and other community-based agencies. Feeding America estimates that as many as 1 in 8 people struggle with hunger in the U.S.
The Armenian National Committee of America – Western Region is the largest and most influential nonpartisan 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 in pursuit of the Armenian Cause.