For many UCSB students, April 24 is just like any other day, but for Evelina Zograbian and Armenians across the globe, today is a day of remembrance.
According to Armenians, April 24, 1915 was the beginning of a series of systematic and deliberate murders of 1.5 million Armenians by the Turkish Ottoman Empire. On that day, 200 of the leading Armenian scholars and political leaders were killed in Constantinople, and the killing continued until 1923.
While France, Britain, Russia and several other countries have all acknowledged the genocide, other nations, including the United States, attribute the deaths to war and do not acknowledge them as genocide.
In honor of the deceased Armenians, the Armenian Student Organization (ASO) is showing a film titled “Voices from the Lake” at 8 p.m. in the MultiCultural Center. The film is a documentary about the town of Kharpet, an Armenian city destroyed by the Turks.
The Armenian genocide was the first of the 20th century, and is also referred to as the “forgotten genocide” because there is little public knowledge about the conflict between the Ottoman Empire and the Armenians. The ASO is fighting to educate the public on the Armenian side of the story, ASO President Hakop Barseghian said.
“We want to raise awareness so that it doesn’t happen again,” he said. “This is our one main event we try to do every year.”
“Not too many people know about Armenians in general,” sophomore business major Evelina Zograbian said, “And even less know about the genocide.”
While Armenians do not blame the current Turkish government for the acts of the Ottoman Empire, they have accused the Turkish government of trying to cover up the genocide, graduate student John Jabagchourian said.
“They’re trying to erase history and rewrite it more favorably,” he said. “It’s a slap in the face saying our relatives were killed from causes of war. We just want to bring out the truth; help people gain understanding what happened.”
Since 1923, there have been multiple cases of genocide across the globe, the most notable being the Holocaust and Jabagchourian said all have used methods derived from the Armenian genocide.
“This was the first modern type of genocide, using death marches and such,” he said. “We’re trying to educate people about what genocide is and the Holocaust happened just 20 years later. Obviously awareness is coming too late.”
Last spring, the California State Legislature deemed April 24, 2001, a “California Day of Remembrance for the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923.” The national government has not been as supportive.
After writing to Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) about why he would not recognize the genocide, Barseghian said he received the following reply.
“You are correct that I have not been supportive of resolutions on the subject of the treatment endured by Armenians in the final years of the Ottoman Empire,” McCain wrote. “The reason for that has more to do with not wanting to undermine U.S. foreign policy in an important region than in any Turkish influence.”
There is a wreath-laying ceremony at the Armenian Embassy in Washington, D.C. tonight at 7:00.
There were some that escaped the Ottoman Empire and these are the ancestors to the Armenian population today. Although Jabagchourian’s great-grandparents were all killed, his grandparents were able to escape.
“It’s a typical tale of an Armenian family,” he said. “April 24 is generally a time to look back on recent events, family struggles and is really a tale of survival.”
Zograbian lived in Armenia until she was 11 and said she grew up hearing about the massacres by the Ottoman Empire. She said today is a national holiday in Armenia, and most Armenians will go to church and then walk to a monument in the capital city of Yerevan, constructed approximately 50 years ago in honor of the genocide victims. This is also a day when Armenians lobby political leaders across the globe to acknowledge the deaths as a genocide.
“It’s a sad day,” she said. “You go to church, light a candle and some people protest.”
After years of communist rule, Armenia is now a democratic nation and while some members of the older generation want to go back to the communist way of life, Zograbian said she thinks democracy is working.
“People are actually beginning to accomplish things,” she said.