The Bristol Blog features news and information about Bristol, Connecticut.
April 27, 2009
Armenians remember genocide victims
More than 200 people, many of them from New Britain, gathered Saturday in the state Capitol to honor the memory of at least a milllion Armenians slaughtered in the final days of the Ottoman Empire nearly a century ago.
They also came seeking a long-delayed justice.
“If we allow the world to forget, we are not only dishonoring the memories of those who have gone before us, we are ensuring the suffering of others who will come after us,” said state Rep. Chris Wright, a Bristol Democrat whose Armenian grandfather came to America just before the genocide that started in 1915 in modern-day Turkey.
The ceremony marking the 94th anniversary of what President Barack Obama last week called “one of the great atrocities of the 20th century” included one survivor of the holocaust, Zaven Der Aprahamian of West Hartford.
Candles were lit in the state House chamber to honor him and the other known survivor who remains Connecticut, along with three more to recognize a trio of survivors who died during the past year. Two other candles were lit to “respect our past and our glowing future,” said retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. George Rustigian.
The candles had to be blown out minute later, though, because of fire prevention rules at the Capitol.
But there was plenty of fire in the address from keynote speaker Matthew Karanian, a New Britain native who practices law in Los Angeles.
Karanian said that Turkey, which denies the holocaust, “has engaged the world in a preposterous debate” for nearly a century rather than acknowledging that as many as 1.5 million out of 2 million Armenians perished within a few years because of a deliberate governmental policy to rid Anatolia, the historic Turk heartland, of the ancient Christian people.
He called for creative use of the law to search for ways to force Turkey to account, to make it pay reparations for the vast wealth it grabbed by emptying village after village of the Armenians who lived there.
Turkey’s continued denial of its role in the massacre, he said, “protects the profits of its crimes.”
Karanian, who helped found the Armenia Law Review, said there needs to be both recognition by Turkey of its responsibility and restitution in order to honor the victims, the survivors “and also so that we may honor ourselves.”
The Rev. Kapril Mouradjian, who heads New Britain’s Armenian Church of the Holy Resurretopn, said that knowing “the cry of innocent blood” so intimately, Armenians “are appalled by the terrible violence done to families all over the world.”
State Rep. John Geragosian, a New Britain Democrat who said he’s been attending the annual remembrance day for two decades, said he’s seen the number of survivors dwindle rapidly over time, leaving ever fewer eyewitnesses to tell the story of what happened.
That is, he said, what makes the ceremonies so important.
They need to go on forever, Geragosian said, in order “to speak for those who cannot speak anymore.”
The idea, Wright said, is to keep alive “the memory of this atrocity so that the rest of the world will also remember and not be allowed to forget.”
“We are a strong people, a people who have survived an attempt to eliminate us and who have persevered,” Wright said.
What happened 94 years ago?
Thought the slaughter of Armenians in Turkey happened over the course of eight years, it has become the convention to mark as its beginning the April 24, 1915 “Red Sunday” arrest of about 250 American leaders in Istanbul.
The Ottoman Empire, then an ally of Germany in World War I, went on to oust hundreds of thousands of Armenians from their homes and historic communities, forcing them to walk for miles, often without food and water. Many were simply left in the desert to perish, historians agree.
After World War I, the Ottoman Empire collapsed and the Republic of Turkey, a secular state, rose in its place.
Here's Wright's address at the ceremony:
Good Morning.As the grandson and great-grandson of Armenian immigrants to this country, I am both pleased and honored to be here today on this occasion commemorating the genocide of the Armenian people nearly a century ago and keeping alive the memory of this atrocity so that the rest of the world will also remember and not be allowed to forget.In my case, my grandfather came to America in 1914 at the age of 14 from Persia, where his family was from.Once here, he joined his brother, who was already here, and made his way to Bristol, where he rented a room in a house owned by my grandmother’s family, an Assyrian/Armenian couple who were also from Persia.
The genocide which began the next year had two effects on my family.First, upon hearing the news of what was happening back home, my grandfather’s brother returned to the “old country” to defend his people and fight the Turks, and was killed while doing so.Second, my grandmother’s family, who were planning to move back home and had even bought a trunk in preparation for their move, decided to stay.My grandfather, who raised my mother as a widowed single parent and helped to raise my brother and sister and myself until his death in 1986, spent the rest of his life here, never returning home to see his family again.
I have always been proud of my Armenian heritage, always placing it above my father’s French background, probably to my grandmother’s annoyance.But I am most proud to be an Armenian because we are a strong people, a people who have survived an attempt to eliminate us and who have persevered.It is important that we keep the memory of those who suffered and died during the genocide alive and that we not let the world forget what happened, for as we know all to well, when we forget the atrocities that were committed in the past, we are all too likely to see them committed again the future.History has shone us time and time again that this is true, from the Nazis to the Balkans to Rwanda to the current President of Iran, who is trying to develop a nuclear program and has stated his desire to see Israel whipped off the map. As Armenians, we must keep reminding the world of what happened to us, because if we allow the world to forget, we are not only dishonoring the memories of those who have gone before us, we are ensuring the suffering of others who will come after us.Let’s not let that happen.
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