The Armenian National Committee of America-San Fernando West Chapter brought together more than 500 community members for an Armenian Genocide commemoration event at Ferrahian School’s Avedissian Hall on April 22. The event featured keynote remarks by ANCA-Western Region Board chair Nora Hovsepian.
Several federal, state and local officials attended the event including Representative Brad Sherman, Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel, Los Angeles City Councilmembers Paul Koretz, Nithya Raman and candidate Sam Yebri, who addressed the community with commemorative remarks and their commitment to advance the issue of Armenian Genocide recognition.
The event kicked off with the Homenetmen Massis Chapter scouts leading a flag ceremony that was followed by the U.S. and Armenian National Anthems.
The event which was co-organized by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation’s local Rosdom featured the participation of the Holy Martyrs Church, the Ferrahian High School, the Hamazkayin Barouyr Sevag Chapter, the Armenian Relief Society Anahid Chapter, the Armenian Youth Federation Sardarabad Chapter who all came together to mark the 107th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.
The Mistresses of Ceremonies Katia Karageuzian and Tala Minasian welcomed the participants in English and Armenian respectively, while Anthony Aroyan presented the AYF’s message, stressing the key role the youth play in the advancement of the Armenian Cause.
ARF Rosdom Chapter chair Garo Kamarian voiced his appreciation to the community for always coming together with a commitment to advance the aspirations of the Armenian Nation.
In her keynote address, Hovsepian, the ANCA-WR Board chair, spoke of the challenges facing Armenia, Artsakh and the Armenian Nation, emphasizing that “not since the Genocide of 1915 have We faced such an existential threat as we do today.” She urged the community to “join us in the trenches… until victory is achieved.”
Below is the complete text of Hovsepian’s address at the commemoration event.
Over the course of millennia, the Armenian Nation has been subjected to persecution, oppression, deportation, massacres and genocide. Yet somehow, against all odds, when logic says we should have been erased from the face of the earth long ago, we have survived.
In the course of our long history, the Armenian Nation has had an independent homeland for a total of just 34 years since the last Armenian kingdom fell in the 14th century. Think about that for a moment. 34 years – initially from 1918-1921 and recently from 1991 to the present. 34 years out of 4,000—a seemingly impossible statistic made even more incredible by the fact that we have consistently been persecuted. Yet, our culture and our language have survived. Our spirit and desire for freedom have survived. And our quest for justice has intensified.
How many nations in human history can claim the same achievement? Perhaps only a handful.
Today, as we gather to commemorate the 107th anniversary of the start of the Armenian Genocide on April 24, 1915, as we mourn the loss of at least 1.5 million innocent Armenian souls, as we continue to demand justice for this unpunished Crime Against Humanity, we are grateful for those who have joined our fight along the way.
We are grateful to the American people for Near East Relief, the first national philanthropic effort in US history which raised the equivalent of nearly $3 billion in today’s dollars and established over 400 orphanages, vocational training programs, and refugee processing centers, all to rescue over 132,000 orphans of the Armenian Genocide, orphans who statistically now represent at least 600,000 Armenians. This story is particularly personal to me as the proud granddaughter of Vergine Jihanian Kalebdjian, a Near East Relief orphan and sole survivor of her large family all killed during the Turkish massacre of Armenians in Erzinga, whose legacy I honor as I try my best to fulfill the responsibility she placed upon me to seek justice for our family and for our People.
We are grateful to elected officials who have supported us along the way, from President Woodrow Wilson to President Ronald Reagan, and most recently, to President Joseph R. Biden for having the courage and commitment to finally speak the truth about the Armenian Genocide; and to our friends in Congress, on a bipartisan and nearly unanimous basis, for passing strong resolutions recognizing the Armenian Genocide, pledging to end US complicity in Turkey’s ongoing denial campaign, and encouraging public education and awareness about this dark chapter of human history.
All these accomplishments are because we – the collective Armenian-American community, led by our advocacy organizations such as the ANCA whose Western Region I am proud to chair – through generations over a period of decades, never let go, never gave up, never surrendered to the massive and deceitful PR campaign waged against us by the Turkish government’s paid lobbyists and denialists, and incredibly, we always kept the Armenian Cause on the US foreign policy agenda despite such strong competing interests.
We are grateful for the survivor generation who instilled in us the Armenian spirit, who created and established well-organized and broad-based Armenian communities in the Diaspora and who lit the flame within their own children to maintain their heritage; and for the next generation who built upon that foundation by establishing schools, churches, and community centers, which nurtured us and instilled in us the sense of duty to pursue our Cause and to pass the same legacy down to next generations.
We are grateful for the Armenian leaders of 1965, a pivotal year, when they joined forces in Diasporan communities all over the world as well as in Soviet Armenia, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide for the first time not only by mourning our martyrs, but also by calling for justice, demanding reparations, giving birth to Hye Tad – the Armenian Cause- and going far beyond the sadness and despair which dominated during the first 50 years.
Yes, we are grateful to all who came before us and who kept our spirit alive. But today, we face an entirely new challenge and indeed, another existential threat. Today, as we honor a horrific event that began in 1915, we must realize that it did not end in 1923 or 1930 as the history books tell us. No, in fact, it did not end at all. The same pan-Turkic genocidal intent that was the driving force of the Armenian Genocide has remained alive and well for over a century, and now, we see how it has grown and intensified with impunity even in this so called “woke” age where the well-known slogan “Never Again” has literally lost all meaning and impact.
For this reason, I must confess that this is a very hard speech to give since it is not just meant to address the historical injustice and consequences of the Armenian Genocide, but rather in some small way, I hope to trigger some thought processes on how to navigate the exceedingly difficult and challenging times we are all facing as we witness the devastating aftermath of a war we tragically lost in 2020 and of an Armenian government being forced with a gun to its head to accept one-sided terms imposed by its enemies and even by its friends and allies in the name of some elusive so-called peace and reconciliation.
It is exceedingly difficult because we feel helpless and defeated, incapable from these faraway shores of changing the reality on the ground, emasculated of any input into determining Armenia’s path forward, and completely kept in the dark and excluded from whatever negotiating process may be occurring. It is truly enraging to witness this unfolding process of reconciliation and reopening of borders not only when there has been no reckoning with the past, no accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity, but even worse, when it is happening simultaneously with an ongoing threat, ongoing cultural genocide and ongoing attempts at ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Armenian population from its ancestral homeland. The sheer injustice of it all is truly staggering, as Armenia is left alone on the world stage to navigate these geopolitical realities with not much but rhetoric and tokens of assistance to back it.
Since 1991 as the Soviet Union dissolved and as both Armenia and Artsakh declared independence, as the Armenian Nation fought with all its might to successfully defeat Azerbaijan, that same pan-Turkic agenda reared its ugly head as both the Turkish and Azeri leaders boldly claimed that they would regain the territory they had lost, that their flags would fly over Yerevan, and that all Armenians of the world are their enemies.
To understand how we got here, it is important to analyze our collective missteps and failures. We must be honest with ourselves if we are going to find a way out of this crisis. It’s true that many mistakes have been made along the way during the past three decades of independence: Artsakh should never have been excluded from the negotiating table; Armenian military commanders should have modernized their arsenal and kept up with changing technology; Armenian political leaders should have taken threats and war rhetoric from Azeri leaders seriously rather than dismissively; repatriation in massive numbers should have been prioritized and incentivized; Diasporan investment should have been encouraged with business-friendly policies and incentives; the strength of the Diaspora should have been harnessed and fully engaged beyond mere fundraising; laws encouraging dual citizenship should have been adopted; the Diaspora should have been given true representation in Armenia’s legislative and policy making processes; and Artsakh’s independence should have been fully recognized and promoted either through principles of remedial secession or through reunification with Armenia.
Alas, while our enemies became increasingly belligerent and prepared for war with the most updated technological weapons, Armenia sadly remained enamored with its 1990’s victory and old fashioned tactics of war, blind to the growing and obvious threat looming on the horizon, and failing to engage the strength of the Diaspora to counter it.
These are hard lessons and costly ones, but the failures and pitfalls must be recognized and acknowledged so that we can learn from them and correct our course. For no matter who or what transitory regime is in power governing Armenia or Artsakh, our collective duty is to preserve and protect the nation-state, our sovereignty, our security and our democratic values.
Today, as we commemorate the Armenian Genocide of 1915, which is deserving of our commitment and persistent attention, we must simultaneously sound the alarm in all circles of public opinion – from the White House to the halls of Congress and State capitols, from local, national and international media, to influencers, educators, and policy makers – it is our job to impress upon them that the pan-Turkic genocidal intent against Armenians continues to this day and must be stopped.
Azerbaijan is today engaging in ethnic cleansing in Artsakh. Azerbaijan is today committing acts of cultural genocide against our ancient churches, monasteries, cemeteries and landmarks in Artsakh just as it did in Nakhichevan with impunity and just as Turkey has already done in Western Armenia. They do it because they know they can get away with it. They do it because they know the world will turn a blind eye.
Azerbaijan is today terrorizing the Armenian population of Artsakh by threatening them over loud speakers to leave their homes, randomly shooting into towns and villages, cutting off their gas supply in the dead cold of winter, and by throwing rocks at passing cars as they enter Artsakh to intimidate them, all in an attempt to undermine international efforts and the Russian peacekeeping mission and to scare Armenians into abandoning their ancestral homeland.
Azerbaijan is today threatening our nation’s very existence by sending drones and troops across the border into the indisputably sovereign territory of the Republic of Armenia as it seeks to build a corridor to Turkey right through the middle of Armenia, trying to separate its rich southern province of Syunik from the rest of the country, further isolating and whittling down what is left of the Armenian Homeland.
So while we all suffer from the generational trauma and rage ingrained within our souls from knowing that what happened to our grandparents and their entire generation was with zero accountability for the perpetrators, we are now witnessing in real time the Azeri attempt to ethnically cleanse our Homeland of Armenians – which begs the question: what are we going to do about it? More importantly, what can we do about it?
On a grand scale, we must unite to face this existential threat against the Armenian Nation. We must realize that while we live here in the Diaspora where we are not directly suffering the threat of war, every threat to our Homeland is a threat to our national existence. We must create a unified and invincible force to fight against this threat. We must come together to formulate a pan-national agenda with voices both from the Homeland and the Diaspora together to strategize and discuss the most effective ways to counter this threat. We must pool our resources, our professional skills, our people power, to go on the offensive in every sector of society – media, government, education – to influence public opinion and public policy in our favor, to highlight that Azerbaijan and Turkey are the aggressors, that all our People want to do, all they want to do, like all people, is to live in peace on their land, and that we are deserving of the world’s attention and assistance.
Times certainly seem bleak right now. Our people have suffered a devastating loss of life and land. International pressure from both friend and foe mounts on a daily basis to sacrifice all that we have fought so hard for. These are the realities on the ground. But these are not the realities which should dominate our psyche. We must change our approach and stop acting like we are doomed. We must recognize that we have work to do, a lot of work to do, that our ancestors in the last century were in a worse predicament than we now find ourselves. They were slaughtered, marched into deserts, stripped of their identity and possessions, incapable of fighting back.
Yet those who survived did not give up. My grandmother, at the time a young girl who desperately held on to the branch of a weeping willow tree for dear life as the rest of her family drowned around her in the raging currents of the Euphrates River, could never have imagined that just a few years later, despite the Turks’ attempt to annihilate every Armenian, there would actually be an independent Armenian Republic in 1918. She could never have imagined that she would be part of a generation of survivors who created a vast and powerful Armenian Diaspora. And she certainly never could have imagined that one hundred years later, her granddaughter would be standing here on the other side of the world, in this impressive compound of a beautiful and successful Armenian school which is now about to expand even further, delivering a speech about her story to hundreds of other descendants of survivors of the Genocide.
During 70 years of Soviet rule, as we grew up with an impossible dream of a free and independent Armenia, none of us could have ever imagined that we would actually see it come to fruition in 1991, much less during our own lifetimes.
After the people of Artsakh petitioned repeatedly and unsuccessfully for reunification with Soviet Armenia to escape the oppressive policies of Soviet Azerbaijan, they could never have imagined that the powerful Soviet Union would cease to exist, and that they would be in a position to valiantly fight and win a war for independence, declaring the establishment of the Republic of Artsakh in 1991.
All of these things happened in the not so distant past. So now, when we feel defeated, when we feel like there is nothing left for us to do, when we feel like the whole world has turned away, we must make a conscious effort to put things into perspective and figure out how to extract ourselves from what seems on its face to be a lose-lose situation.
Yes, Armenia and Artsakh are in a very dangerous neighborhood surrounded by belligerent enemies who are hell-bent on destroying us. But that has always been the case, and the sooner we realize that they failed, they failed to destroy us, the sooner we can muster the strength to fight against their evil intentions on every front, and win.
Just like 1918, just like 1988, just like 1991 and again in 2020, our only pathway to victory is unity – a unity that must be cultivated from the highest levels of Armenia’s government to the most local level here in California and beyond. A unity that must bring our resources and talents from the Homeland and the Diaspora, from every traditional and innovative institution, from all ages and vocations together toward one common purpose. Our fuel must not be hatred or bitterness. Our fuel must be our quest for justice, freedom, self-preservation and peace.
On an individual and local level, each of us must ask ourselves what we can do to counter the threat facing our People. What are our unique skills that we can bring to the table? At the end of the day, history will judge us both for what we did and for what we failed to do, and each of us must be able to look ourselves in the mirror and ask: is my conscience clear? Did I serve my Nation to the best of my ability? Did I do everything in my power to promote the Armenian Cause? Am I proud of the contributions I have made to that Cause?
On a practical level, we must continue to advocate for US engagement by invoking Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act to stop US military aid to Azerbaijan, imposing US sanctions against Turkey, pushing for robust US aid to Armenia and Artsakh, and keeping the OSCE Minsk Group engaged in the process of negotiating self determination for the Armenians of Artsakh. As American citizens of Armenian descent, it is our right and our duty to pressure our government here in the US into exerting its influence over supposed allies Turkey and Azerbaijan to stop their onslaught against Armenians, to be held accountable for their war crimes and genocidal intent, and to take genuine steps toward peace, justice and reparations beyond the destructive veil of fake reconciliation they are imposing on Armenia today. The West, led by the moral authority and might of the United States, must stand up for Armenia and Artsakh just as it is doing for Ukraine. In the face of the existential threat we now face, mere rhetoric and the imposition of one-sided measures which only benefit our enemies while jeopardizing our security and endangering our sovereignty are grossly insufficient and will never bring peace to the region. As Diasporan Armenians, it is our duty to use our collective voices in our home countries to influence foreign policy toward Armenia and Artsakh. That is what we can do and what we must do. That is what will bring concrete change and real results – not words, but action. Not just slogans, but real strategy. Not disunity through name calling and labeling, which is self-destructive and will get us nowhere but to failure, but unity through one message and one goal: to once and for all overcome the pan-Turkic threat against our Nation.
The time is now. This is no time for complacency or sitting on the sidelines. Not since the Genocide of 1915 have we faced such an existential threat as we do today, and we cannot forgive ourselves or each other if we fail to preserve our national identity, security and values. History will not forgive us, and neither will future generations.
So the question becomes, how to help. Well, if you have time, volunteer for any number of Armenian community organizations such as the ANCA, where we pursue all facets of the Armenian Cause. If you don’t have time, but you do have the financial resources, donate, donate, and donate generously and consistently. If you are able to articulate a message to bring attention to our Cause, communicate it loud and clear to your circles at work, at school, in public forums, in the media, anywhere you can. Find allies. Build coalitions. Silence the oppressors. Just serve. Serve your People. Serve your Cause. Because it is going to take the strength and talents of all of us, united in purpose, to rise up from these ashes to create a new reality, to overcome the injustice, and to propel our ancient people forward from the darkness into the light just like our forebears did so many times before.
And if we succeed in mobilizing individually and collectively, if we join arms together in lock-step, if we unite against our enemies and stand tall in pursuit of our goals, we will succeed. It may not be tomorrow, or next month or next year, but we will get there, and we will overcome that genocidal intent by our enemies to destroy us.
So join us in the trenches not just today as we once again commemorate April 24, but every day – every day until victory is achieved.