WASHINGTON—On April 21, Armenian Americans and their allies from across the Greater Washington, DC area rallied in front of the White House just days before President Trump’s annual April 24th remarks last week, calling on the U.S. to properly characterize the murder of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Turkish Government as “genocide.”
The President’s failure to lead an honest American remembrance of the Armenian Genocide in his commemorative statement issued on April 24th only increased community resolve to end the appalling U.S. policy of complicity in Turkey’s Genocide denial and continued attacks on vulnerable populations at home and abroad.
The candle-light vigil was organized by the Armenian Youth Federation “Ani” Chapter, in coordination with a coalition of Armenian American groups comprising the Armenian Genocide Commemorative Committee of Greater Washington. The local community was joined by over 50 students from the Holy Martyrs Ferrahian Armenian School in Southern California, members of the Hye Riders Armenian motorcycle club from both Los Angeles and Toronto, and the assistant coach of the NBA Toronto Raptors Rex Kalamian. “I am proud to be an Armenian and to have such roots,” Kalamian told Voice of America Armenian Service at the vigil. “Our community is quite firm, and here many people are trying to reach the recognition of the Genocide, and I support them,” Kalamian concluded.
The program began with opening remarks from Mari Tikoyan, AYF Chair, who continued to MC the event. “For years, Turkey has tried to silence us. They have tried to silence the world about the genocide they perpetrated through the use of political pressure on their allies,” said Tikoyan. “They try to minimize the pain and suffering endured by the Armenian people by calling their actions a massacre instead of what it truly is: genocide.”
David Bournazian read the AYF statement, urging the President to break away from America’s history of continued denial. “We ask that you [President Trump] find the courage in your soul to stand up for the truth, to end U.S. complicity in Turkey’s cover-ups and denials, to help build a safer and more tolerant world for future generations.”
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ANCA Program Director Tereza Yerimyan concurred in her Armenian language remarks, noting, “President Trump, as our President, you are responsible to represent our demands and our rights, and not allow Erdogan to instigate a gag rule on your speech and your recognition [of the Armenian Genocide]. We’re gathered here today to demand that President Trump, in his annual statement, go down in history as the President who truthfully and correctly recognized the Armenian Genocide as a Genocide, accepting a century of history that is relevant to the U.S.”
Throughout the program, various AYF members shared family and community stories of genocide survival. Carina Tikoyan detailed the account of her family’s past – relaying “Maryam’s story.” Tamar Dayian shared a portion of Haig Baronian’s story and Lara Kechichian shared an excerpt of Edward Racoubian’s story – each recounted in the iWitness testimonials collected by Ara Oshagan and Levon Parian.
As the program progressed, vigil-goers took a few moments to join together in song and honor the Armenian nation’s triumphs. Attendees sang “Sardarabad” and “Antranigin Kaylerke” saluting the struggles and celebrating the victories that established the first Armenian Republic. Eighth graders from Ferrahian Armenian School in Southern California performed “April 24 – Togh Hunchen Shepor,” as the crowd joined in. Songs were accompanied by saxaphone played by Jake Bournazian from the Knights of Vartan Washington DC Ani Lodge. In addition to the traditional songs sang, Hip Hop artist Marc Toureille performed his song “1915.” Marc wrote the song to educate the world about the Armenian Genocide, and has performed all over the country, including at the Armenian Genocide Observance at Times Square last year and at the March for Justice in Los Angeles on April 24th this year.
Georgetown student and AYF member Nareg Kuyumjian gave a poignant speech to criticize the role that America played in its complacency in fighting injustice. “The genocide separated our people but as we stand here under the shadow of the White House, participating in this symbolic candlelight vigil, remembering our ancestors and roots, we must be cognizant of the reality that Armenians around the world and in Armenia are united in their struggle for a brighter future,” Kuyumjian said.
As attendees wove songs of Armenia throughout the program, they also recited poetry detailing the nation’s history. In a powerful performance, AYF member Sune Hamparian recited the epic Armenian poem “Azadoutioun!” (“Liberty!”) by Mikael Nalbandian. Homenetmen Scout Victoria Penenian recited Khatchig Tashdentz’s poem “Hayeren,” while fellow Scout Sebouh Kassardjian recited Paruir Sevak’s “Ghoghanch.”
After offering his remarks, Fr. Sarkis Aktavoukian, pastor of the Soorp Khatch Armenian Church in Bethesda, MD, led the crowd in prayer in honor of the sainted martyrs of the Armenian Genocide. One by one, attendees lit their candles under the moonlight, and the candlelight vigil ended as the crowd joined together in the serene song “Cilicia.”