The Armenian community at UC Irvine solemnly gathered to the “Survival to Revival: Annual Genocide Commemoration Event” hosted by the Armenian Student Association, Alpha Epsilon Omega and Alpha Gamma Alpha on April 21 at the Student Center. ASA, AEO and AGA also presented “Lift the Silence: Genocide Awareness Week” on campus April 18-21.
“The event was very successful, and it had over 100 people in attendance and our mission was to get our message across and I think we did,” ASA President Sevan Kalaydjian said. “Recognition and the remembrance of genocide is the only tool that prevents future atrocities from happening.”
With the assistance of the “Lift the Silence” planning committee comprised of ASA, AEO and AGA members, there were large, informational posters about the Armenian Genocide of 1915 as well as the genocides in Herero and Namaqua, now modern day Namibia in 1904-1907, the Holocaust, the Cambodian Genocide in 1975-1979 and the Genocide in Darfur 2009 to present placed along the wall.
Guest Speaker Serje Tomassian, chairman of the World Affairs Council of Orange County, spoke of the atrocities of the Armenian Genocide and his disappointment toward the continued denial by the international community to address them. These atrocities include the torture, rape and murder of 1.5 million Armenians.
Posters that told five Armenian UCI students’ stories of the impact of the Armenian Genocide on their lives and on their families’ stood among the different exhibits.
Masters of Ceremony ASA Social Chair Araks Galstyan and AEO President Aren Ebrahimi welcomed UCI student Evana Grigorian to perform the Armenian and American national anthems to begin the evening.
ASA Cultural Chair Nicole Karayan asked the room of over 100 guests to allow for a moment of silence for all of the victims of genocide and violence.
Dr. Levon Marashlian, a lecturer in the UCI history department, described some of the reasons for the perpetration of the Armenian Genocide including social, political and economic issues and commented on the “passive denial” of the Armenian Genocide on an international level.
“There are powerful forces against Armenia and there are people that want to see Armenia disappear,” Dr. Marashlian said. “There are too few people fighting for this injustice.”
UCI Alumnus Aleksan Giragosian was invited to recount his story and the experiences he had when he completed an educational semester abroad at an American University in Turkey. He found it ironic that he was given a scholarship by the Turkish Coalition of America through a program enabling the organization to reach out to the Armenian-American community in a constructive manner, as Turkey and Armenia relations began to blossom.
Giragosian told a story to the audience about his history class and professor in Turkey when he knew that she would be discussing World War I in the next class, and he was anticipating what she would mention about the Armenian Genocide. As he was sitting in class, she finished her discussion on World War I and went straight to the Treaty of Sèvres, overlooking the genocide completely.
Giragosian admitted that he did not want to bring up the topic due to fear of animosity toward him but he did tell his international friends about the genocide. Then, his friend asked their professor, “Excusez-moi Mademoiselle, but what about the Armenian Genocide?” Although he was grateful that his friend asked for him, the professor was very brief in her explanation and was not very descriptive.
In an exhibition of Armenian culture, UCI student Grigor Sarafian played the violin to the “Krounk” composition by Komitas, vocalist Christina Issa and Marina Terteryan, a “Dhol” drum player, performed the songs “Adana” and “Sareri Hovin Mernem.” The music and dancing that the Armenian people use as an outlet for their emotions were represented by the Yeraz Hamazkayeen dance group, which featured performers Anoush Merdjanian, Shogher Mguerian and Chantal Guldjian dancing in traditional Armenian style to a song called “My Sweet Harp.”
“The event was very passionate, and the speakers and performances expressed what happened during the Armenian Genocide but also how we have survived and how our traditions live on,” ASA member Talish Aghababayan said.
As well as the commemoration event, there were informational and interactive booths throughout the week. On Monday, April 18, “Imprints of Genocide” was featured in the Student Center Terrace where passerby were invited to join in handprinting to raise awareness of all genocides.
On Tuesday, April 19, a silent protest was held at the flagpoles throughout the afternoon to represent the many years of silence, and to make a statement that the silence must be lifted in order for the truth to prevail. Currently, the American and Turkish Governments do not recognize the Armenian Genocide of 1915.
On Wednesday, April 20, UCI Armenian students were able to share their stories of the effect of genocide on their lives and their families through “The Poster Exhibit.”
“We need to remember, to recognize and stand up in what we believe in,” Kalaydjian said. “These 96-year-old wounds can finally [begin to] heal.”