The UCSB Armenian Student Association led a march through Isla Vista yesterday evening, bringing the community’s attention to the Armenian Genocide, which is considered by many to be one of the first genocides of the 20th Century, despite the failure of both the United States Government and Turkish Government to recognize its occurrence.
The ASA met at the eternal flame around 6 p.m. and proceeded to march throughout campus and I.V. Participants remained silent as they walked campus and then incorporated chants once they reached the end of Pardall Tunnel. About 30 students took part in the event, waving posters and Armenian flags to show their support.
Because today marks the date that many Armenian leaders were arrested and deported by the Ottoman government in 1915, ASA will hold a candle ceremony, in addition to a commemoration on tomorrow evening.
ASA member and fourth-year political science major Shant Mirzaians recounted the history of the Armenian Genocide, saying Armenian demands for equal rights under the Ottoman Empire prompted the government to react harshly.
“Towards the end of the 19th Century, with all these nationalist movements going around, a lot of ethnic minorities within countries — especially like the Ottoman Empire — wanted to have more rights and equal rights,” Mirzaians said. “As a reaction, a sultan of the Ottoman Empire began taxing these towns, and deporting some of them … and having massive massacres whenever there were protests.”
The violence then escalated, according to Mirzaians, and the Armenians were then specifically targeted and killed.
“They were sent through the Syrian desert on death marches, and the men were taken away and they were being told, ‘Oh, we need you for fighting the war’ and they were killed,” Mirzaians said. “It was a systematic and deliberate extermination of an ethnic minority.”
Astkhik Hakobyan, third-year biochemistry major and ASA member, said yesterday’s march was an important event as it ensures everyone’s history will be recognized and appreciated.
“Ethnically, I’m Armenian … but really just as a humanitarian, as someone who cares about people and having their rights recognized … you can’t deny someone’s history, you have to acknowledge it,” Hakobyan said.
ASA President Adam Jaratanian, fourth-year political science major, said his family, as well as the families of most of the other students who participated in the march, have been personally impacted by the genocide. According to Jaratanian, the experience of being exiled from one’s home country can leave a dramatic effect on how they identify with their native cultural identity.
“My family was driven out of Armenia in 1915,” Jaratanian said. “You lose that cultural identity when you grow up in another country and not your own.”
The march mirrors a much larger set of events that happen every year in Little Armenia in Hollywood and at the Turkish Embassy in Los Angeles. Such events educate the public on not only this specific genocide, but on the general issue of historical genocides that have been either denied or overlooked by the masses, according to Jaratanian.
“To this day, the Republic of Turkey still denies that a genocide took place, and we basically want recognition for what happened, just like every other genocide that has occurred — from the Holocaust, to Kosovo, to Rwanda, to Darfur today,” Mirzaians said. “All genocides need to be recognized.”
Jaratanian said he hopes other students will feel compelled to learn more about what happened in Armenia and even pressure their local representatives to support legislation officially recognizing the genocide.
While Jaratanian said he understands the political complications surrounding this governmental recognition, he said human rights should trump politics.
“It’s awareness through education. It’s not just seeing that sign and saying, ‘Oh the Armenian Genocide happened.’ Understand why it happened. It’s ethnic cleansing,” Jaratanian said. “And [the genocide is] not recognized for political reasons, strictly political. Just because Turkey is an ally… the US doesn’t recognize it. And I understand the politics behind that, but, you know, there’s humanity before politics.”
Thursday’s event commemorating the Armenian Genocide will take place in Room 1001 of the Life Sciences building at 7 p.m. The event will include musical performances and guest speakers, and it is free for students, faculty and community members.