The following speech was delivered during the April 24 commemorations led by the AYF in Washington, DC.
First of all, I would like to thank the “Ani” Chapter of AYF Greater Washington DC for organizing this powerful two-day event and to everyone who showed up today for making your voice heard and demonstrating, without the shadow of a doubt, that we are here, united and strong.
Over the past year or so, I have had this thought resurfacing in my mind every few months. I felt that Armenians experience the notion of time differently from others. Our collective presence is not divided into past, present and future. We talk about it, we write it and we live it in tandem. How can we say that genocide happened 106 years ago, when we saw it happen again in Sumgait and Baku in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when we saw it take place again not six months ago in Artsakh? The horrors and tragedies experienced by our grandparents or great-grandparents during the genocide did not end with them. We carry intergenerational trauma from unhealed wounds.
Genocide denied, genocide continues. It’s not just a song. This is our reality.
Our reality is cluster bombs. Daesh mercenaries. Chemical warfare. Psychological warfare. This is the shortlist of the deluge of war crimes committed by Azerbaijan during this last Artsakh war. It wasn’t war. It was and continues to be an attempt at annihilation.
But I also realized that we, the Armenians, are not the only ones living together our past, our present and our future. As long as Turkey continues to deny the genocide, deny its history and build its national identity on a fragile foundation of lies, it is destined to repeat its past. Turkey knows only the genocide. He only knows destruction. As long as the Azeri identity is built on hatred against Armenians, they too will crumble.
They did not learn that we are powerful like our mountains. They didn’t know that every time they tried to annihilate us, we would be resurrected, stronger, more dedicated, with an unwavering spirit. Our calls for justice will stifle their denial. We will confront every lie with an irrefutable truth. We will engulf their savagery with deep humanity; they will suffocate in their own hatred.
You see, for these countries, love for Turkey or love for Azerbaijan is framed and understood only through contempt for Armenians. When the notion of national love is understood only through hatred, there is no nation. There is no future for Turkey and Azerbaijan when they poisoned their people with hatred. As rust corrodes metal, they will crumble from the inside. They carry a curse of their own accord: a curse that cannot be broken as long as they deny their past.
106 years ago Turkey rounded up and slaughtered Armenian intellectuals, able-bodied men and boys. Those who remained were forced into death marches. We have been uprooted, displaced and scattered across the world. But in their attempt to destroy and divide our nation, we have found each other and created homes outside of our homes.
I grew up in California, but decided to go to college across the country in Massachusetts. I didn’t know anyone, let alone Armenians. But as fate would have it, I met an Armenian girl in my first grade dormitory. It’s a school of 22,000 undergraduates with maybe six Armenians. As we became friends, I found out that his family was from Tomarza, a town in Kayseri province in Western Armenia, and the same town where my family is from. I learned that our families were neighbors in Tomarza and that the two families met in Beirut after the genocide, where we were neighbors again. I learned that my uncle and my father worked for his grandfather in Lebanon. More surprisingly, I learned that we were linked. Across time and space, from Tomarza to Beirut, via LA and Bedford, two parents found themselves in Amherst, Massachusetts.
What Turkey did not realize, and what Azerbaijan did not learn from Turkey, is that in their attempt to destroy, when they forced us to leave our lands all over the world world, and despite death and destitution, we created life. Once again we have risen like mountains. We have built communities, erected monuments honoring our past, and built schools to secure our future. We Armenians are not just survivors. We win. We triumph. Even in the face of devastation.
Although displaced from our homelands, we have created new Armenies thousands of kilometers apart. We will never stop asking for justice. We will continue our struggle every day, until we reunite with our homeland.
While Turkish and Azeri identity is based on hatred, Armenian identity is fundamentally based on love. We may have tragedies and traumas running through our veins, but we are united by love for one another and for our country. When you are in an unfamiliar place and you meet an Armenian and the place suddenly seems less strange, it is unity. When we have seen diasporas around the world rise up in protest against Azerbaijan and in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who are fighting in the military, it is unity.
Yes, we feel overwhelming fury, despair, fear and anxiety. But there is immense love and hope that strengthens our collective selves. I feel and see this hope everywhere. I see it today, in each of you. I see it in my ungers who raise signs of peace when our enemies throw up fascist Gray Wolves placards. I see it in my friends who plan their future around how they can best contribute to the success of Armenia’s future. I see it in the relentless advocacy of the Armenian National Committee (ANC).
Today we have seen the result of years of tireless advocacy. Just a few hours ago, we saw that President Biden officially recognized the Armenian Genocide. America stood up for justice and asserted that no foreign lobby can dictate the American platform on fundamental issues of rights and justice. While this is a pivotal moment in history, the work does not end there. We continue to move forward and are now taking our next steps towards reparations and legal action. It’s barely the start. But a start full of energy. We will overlap and increase this momentum, until we achieve our goals.
Year after year, we will continue to show ourselves, to seek justice, to stand alongside our soldiers. But this year has taught us how crucial it is to fight for our cause. Never fall into complacent apathy. And to persist.
Each of us carries the fire and light of Vahagn in our hearts, fueled by a love for Armenia so limitless and deep. This eternal flame stirs our perseverance. And it fuels our revolution. It lights our way to a free, independent and united Armenia.