As Erdogan Allies Celebrate Genocide, AYF Rallies for Genocide Justice

WASHINGTON—Armenian Americans joined with members of the Greater Washington, DC Greek, Assyrian, Yezidi, Christian, and Kurdish communities in a demonstration demanding justice for the Armenian Genocide, against the backdrop of a disruptive April 24 “celebration” organized by allies of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The event, held in front of the Turkish Ambassador’s residence on Washington, DC’s iconic Sheridan Circle, was organized by the AYF Washington, DC Ani Chapter, in coordination with the Armenian Genocide Commemorative Committee of Greater Washington, DC. The Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC), In Defense of Christians (IDC) and Kurdistani American Committee encouraged broad member participation at the event. This year, once again, over 50 students from the Holy Martyrs Ferrahian Armenian School 8th grade class from Southern California joined the DC Armenian community in this rally against Genocide denial.

The Turkish American Steering Committee’s (TASC) last-minute request to secure a portion of Sheridan Circle for a “first amendment” counter-protest was exposed as a blatant effort to intimidate and dampen Armenian American participation when only a handful of pro-Erdogan supporters occupied the space they had reserved for 250. It also resulted in the National Park Service rejection of a separate permit request by the Hellenic American Leadership Council, citing space considerations.

Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ) called on the National Park Service to revoke the TASC protest permit, tweeting, “it is shocking that @NatlParkService would grant TASC a permit to stage a protest right next to the Armenian Genocide Commemoration in DC given the genocide-denying, pro-Erdogan groups’ past provocations of violence in the US. I call on them to immediately revoke this permit.”

Most TASC supporters gathered, as they have in past years, in front of the Turkish Ambassador’s residence, where they alternated between dancing, singing, and cursing at descendants of genocide survivors.

“On this day, I am proud to say that we confront this wall of hatred, this wall of genocide denial, with our piercing power of love,” said AYF Ani Chapter member Nareg Kuyumjian, who offered his poignant remarks with TASC members dancing gleefully in the background. “The Armenian-American community is rising and the Armenian Cause is more powerful than ever.”

Protesters also expressed their concerns to President Trump in light of his Armenian Remembrance Day Statement, issued just hours before the protest, in which he once again failed to properly commemorate the Armenian Genocide. “Today we protest yet another year of silence on behalf of our government to recognize the Armenian Genocide, but let us not forget all that we have accomplished,” said Kuyumjian. “Let’s not forget that every state except Mississippi recognizes the Armenian Genocide. Let’s not forget that Armenian Genocide education is mandated in 15 states. Let us not forget that two Armenian Genocide bills that have been introduced in Congress that already have over 100 co-sponsors. And let us not forget that America’s improving relationship with Armenia and Artsakh is working to stop the murder of Armenians on the Azerbaijan border – murders that are a direct result of the lack of accountability.”

“The courage, the conviction of the AYF and all the others – young kids, the students, the Homenetmen scouts and all of you – to reclaim the circle, to set foot on that soil, that’s a sacred act – as an Armenian and as an American,” noted Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) Executive Director Aram Hamparian, during remarks later in the day. “As Armenians, we are saying ‘we won’t back down.’ As Americans, we are saying ‘we have our rights, and they won’t be taken from us – not by another nation, not by a foreign dictator.”

Following the rally, Armenian Americans marched to the Embassy of the Republic of Armenia, led by the Greater Washington DC Homenetmen Scouts and Drum Corps, American and Armenian flags held high. The participants joined in the Embassy of Armenia’s annual Armenian Genocide memorial event at the “Khatchkar” monument dedicated to the eternal memory of that crime.

The prayer service, wreath laying ceremony and program, organized by the Embassy of the Republic of Armenia, featured remarks by Armenian Ambassador to the U.S., His Excellency Varuzhan Nersesyan, ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian, Armenian Assembly Government Affairs Director Mariam Khaloyan, and Jake Bournazian of the Washington, DC Knights of Vartan ‘Ani’ Lodge.

Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, Diocesan Legate of the Diocese of Armenian Apostolic Church Eastern US was joined by Soorp Khatch Armenian Apostolic Church pastor, Fr. Sarkis Aktavoukian and St. Mary’s Armenian Church pastor Hovsep Karapetyan in offering a community prayer for the sainted victims of the Armenian Genocide. Sarine and Arya Balian offered moving renditions of the Armenian and American anthems. The program concluded with song and poetry recitations by the Hamasdegh Armenian School and Shnorhali Armenian School students, including a presentation of Moushegh Ishkhan’s “Hayots Askhar” by Victoria Penenian, a dance simply titled, “Hayastan,” and a number of patriotic songs.

At the beginning of the program, Washington, DC Homenetmen Scouts stood at attention, in tribute to the 1.5 million victims of the Armenian Genocide and the survivors who helped rebuild the Armenian nation, and then participated in a special flag-raising ceremony.

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