In 1963, Bethel Bilezikian marched for civil rights at a rally in Boston, Mass., led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Later that year, on August 28, hundreds of thousands of civil rights activists marched from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC to hear King deliver his historic "I Have a Dream" speech. This unprecedented political action paved the way for the Civil Rights Act (1964) and the National Voting Rights Act (1965).
Bilezikian could not help but appreciate the historic moment in which she lived. African-Americans across the country were standing up for their rights, marching against centuries of inequality and oppression. Their struggle for freedom and civil rights was the same struggle Armenia’s throughout the Ottoman Empire waged as they marched for their own civil rights in the streets of Istanbul less than a century earlier.
King had a dream. Armenia’s share that dream. Almost a century earlier, ordinary Armenia’s, no older than today’s university graduate, were inspired by the dreams of the literary titans of their day to spark a similar movement for civil rights.
Driven to change the bleak reality facing the Armenian people, this generation struggled for freedom in the Ottoman Empire, organizing mass demonstrations in the Constantinople to raise awareness of their plight and demand a better future. In the face of massacres and genocide, they banded together to defend their freedom and way of life. Against all odds, they established a democratic republic in 1918 that would provide all Armenians an equal opportunity, free from subjugation.
The historic significance of this day should not be lost on Armenia’s, who throughout their history have been divided between empires, ravaged by wars and forced into centuries of subjugation. Today, we continue to struggle for the equality of our nation among the countries of the world. In America, we fight in the halls of congress for Armenia’s equal right to survival and the just recognition of Turkey’s crime against our people. While in Armenia, we tirelessly work to establish a democracy worthy of our people.
We must also be conscious of the plight of others. We may live in comfort today, but it was not long ago that Armenia’s were robbed of their ancestry and marched to their death or treated as second class citizens barred from owning property in Fresno.