Roughly 120 people went to I.V. Theater last night for an Armenian Students Association-sponsored commemoration of the Armenian Genocide – a massacre, many attendees said, that the responsible parties hope to forget.
The event commemorated the 1.5 million Armenians who died during the Armenian Genocide, which occurred between 1915 and 1918 and then again from 1920 to1923 in Turkey, when it was under the control of the Ottoman Empire. Several governments, including those of Turkey and the United States, do not officially recognize the genocide.
Global Studies Dept. professor Richard Falk, who was the event’s keynote speaker, was featured among cultural dancers, a musical performance and a video presentation focusing on mass murders throughout the 20th century. Falk spoke mostly about the refusal of the Turkish government to recognize the genocide.
“I think there’s beginning to be cracks in the Turkish culture of denial, and those cracks need to be widened,” Falk said.
ASA External Coordinator and second-year political science major Greg Mirza-Avakyan said many ASA members have family who were victims in the genocide.
“Basically, our people’s historical homeland was invaded and conquered before the genocide,” Mirza-Avakyan said. “April 24 was the day the whole thing began. Intellectuals and prominent people were shot and burned, and it was orchestrated by the government. That’s why it’s a big deal.”
Mirza-Avakyan said some people believe the great number of Armenians who died were victims of the clashes of World War I, rather than a planned mass murder. But testimony from Mirza-Avakyan’s family proves otherwise: Mirza-Avakyan’s great-grandfather lived through the genocide, but five of his seven brothers and sisters starved to death, and his father was murdered.
Both former President Bill Clinton and President George W. Bush promised to recognize the Armenian Genocide during their terms in office, Mirza-Avakyan said, but both have failed to do so. Mirza-Avakyan said he thinks both presidents’ reluctance to officially recognize the genocide stems from fear that doing so would harm U.S. relations with Turkey.
“America has military bases in Turkey,” Mirza-Avakyan said.
ASA President and fourth-year business and economics major Hermine Barseghian said both of her great-grandparents survived the genocide.
“My great-grandmother on my mother’s side survived by going into an orphanage,” Barseghian said. “Her parents were killed. Most of the survivors were forced to flee the country.”
Barseghian said many survivors migrated to different countries in the Middle East, such as Lebanon, and others went to the U.S.
Barseghian said her great-grandmother’s father was a doctor in a village who was informed about the impending danger. He dressed up as a woman and attempted to flee but was caught and killed on the spot.
“We grew up learning and hearing about these stories,” Barseghian said.
April 24 is the official commemoration day of the Armenian Genocide, but Mirza-Avakyan said there will be a big march in Los Angeles on that day, and ASA wanted to hold the event on April 20 so ASA members could attend.
“A lot of Armenians will be [in Los Angeles], including a lot of our members,” Mirza-Avakyan said. “Last year there were over 30,000 people.”
Mirza-Avakyan said the march will start on Hollywood Boulevard where a few blocks of L.A. known as Little Armenia will be blocked off. He said everyone will wear black and carry flags and signs that say, “Recognize the Genocide.”