BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
The unparalleled reception that the Los Angeles Armenian community gave to Garo Paylan, the Armenian member of the Turkish Parliament representing the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), not only demonstrated the deep-rooted affinity toward Armenians in Turkey but also highlighted an unwavering commitment to the pursuit of democracy, human rights and justice.
Whether it was the Armenians and Progressives conference on Saturday at Woodbury University, the community reception at Ferrahian’s Avedissian Hall that same evening organized by the UACLA, or the town-hall forum at the Krikor and Mariam Karamanoukian Youth Center in Glendale organized by Asbarez, Paylan’s presence captivated the crowds and reminded them that the Armenians in Turkey are equally invested in the pursuit of the Armenian Cause and justice. The challenges facing their efforts are more existential and more urgent than anyone could fathom.
During his stay in Los Angeles, Paylan also visited the Diocese and met with Archbishop Hovnan Derderian; the Holy Cross Cathedral in Montebello, where he met with Western Prelate Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian; and visited the Montebello Armenian Genocide Monument. On Monday, Paylan paid a visit to the Holy Martyrs Ferrahian and the Rose and Alex Pilibos Armenian Schools.
That is why in Paylan we not only saw a dedicated activist determined to advance the very basic rights and freedoms we have been advocating, but a tireless leader whose activism is propelled by a conviction for justice and freedom and whose actions simply humble those around him. A humility that with it exudes a resolve that propels one to comprehend the very depths of our struggle for justice and the treacherous roads that must be travailed in its pursuit.
Paylan said his grandparents survived the Genocide and “they stayed.” Their stories of unimaginable hardship instilled in him a sense of righting a wrong and catapulted him to advance that notion by not only getting involved but to bring together like-minded people to create a movement, which not only seeks justice for the Armenian Genocide but also recompense for others who have been oppressed and those who have been silenced.
The current situation in Turkey, he said, is very reminiscent of the conditions our ancestors lived through more than a century ago. The minorities in Turkey are no more protected than they were then and their very existence is threatened by despotic leaders (whom he freely criticized) whose policies are aimed to rid the country of non-Turkish elements.
Soon after Paylan and his allies were elected to Parliament in June 2015 and the ruling party began to realize that its chokehold on power was waning, they began a systematic campaign of violence and persecution that resulted in a revote last fall. Paylan said their romantic idealism was short-lived and replaced by the necessity to confront not mere opposition but terror.
The image of Paylan standing in parliament holding pictures of Armenian members of the Ottoman legislature who were murdered during the Genocide has been etched in our memories—collective and individual. Paylan claimed that he was moved by the simple realization that in order to drive a message to a collective who is unfamiliar with history and unwilling to face the past, he had to simply put a face to the story for it to resonate.
Paylan was clear that the coup attempt in July has not had the uniting effect that many thought it would have. Rather, it has unleashed a more violent and divisive effort by the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan now threatens the very basic fabric of life in Turkey.
Yet despite what might seem as insurmountable obstacles and adversity, Paylan’s courage, and that of his colleagues and countless others, gives us pause and forces us to regard the current developments in Turkey with as more urgency and resolve and to pledge our support for his ambitions, for they are the same as ours.
Paylan’s visit brought us face to face with some of the grueling realities facing our people in Turkey and the need for our community to realign its priorities vis-à-vis the Turkish tyranny, which greatly impacts our communities not only in Istanbul, but also in Diyarbakir and elsewhere. Paylan urged the Armenian-American community to hold the US government accountable for turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to the human rights violations in Turkey in lieu of short-term military successes, which if the events of the past few days are any indication can be deemed as failures.
Paylan said that fear has no place in the fight for democracy, human rights and justice. The Paylan Effect proved that to succeed in any movement one must be above all patient and must be guided by resolve and commitment.