Bucking a century of anguish

Photographs by Belen Campirano and Ricardo Varela

Words by Dede Ogbueze and Ricardo Varela

Valley College’s Armenian Student Association Club commemorated the 101st anniversary of the Armenian Genocide with a trifecta of events the week of April 25.

The ASAC collaborated with Valley’s Associated Student Union and Student Equity Committee to host three events: Monday’s Armenian Genocide Commemoration in Monarch Hall, Wednesday’s Armenian Heritage Celebration Day in the Student Services Plaza and Thursday’s Armenian Cultural Game Night in the Fireside Room. A halved pomegranate fruit was the overarching symbol of the week, adorning banners, flyers and ASAC-member T-shirts. The pomegranate is “one of the main fruits of Armenian culture” and represents fertility, abundance and marriage, according to The Armenian Weekly. Margaret Sarkisyan, an international students counselor at Valley, spoke chiefly about Wednesday’s event.

“The main purpose of the event was to commemorate Armenian culture and bring some of our heritage to [Valley],” Sarkisyan said. “We want to share who we are, where we come from, we want to bring our ancient, ancient history.”

A varied lineup of musicians and caterers served up a slice of home to a crowd of more than 200 at Wednesday’s Armenian Heritage Celebration Day event in the Student Services Plaza. The rousing sound of dhol drummers, woodwind instruments, a violin and vocalists saturated the air.

“I thought it was cool,” freshman James Englund said. “You don’t really get to hear music from other cultures unless an American artist steals it first.”

Each performance tapped into a different mood and evoked distinct reactions from the audience. Some songs were solemn dirges, and others were playful dances that got the audience on their feet. Some Armenian students were brought to tears by the performances.

“Many of the Armenian people in the crowd were crying,” Sarkisyan said. “Many of the songs were about soldiers away from home, their mother’s grief, and it was very sad by nature. Students who didn’t speak Armenian came up to us and said that they couldn’t understand the words, but they could feel the pain.”

All performers were invited on stage for the finale, and the audience mirrored them with a large circle dance.

The Armenian Genocide, as reported by The New York Times, was a campaign of retribution against Armenians in WWI-era Young Turk-led Turkey. The Young Turks seized government control from the ailing Ottoman Empire in 1908 and entered WWI in support of the Central Powers in 1914. The reformist government blamed the failure of Turkish military campaigns on Armenians allied with Russia and painted them as dangers to the state. The Turkish government summarily arrested, displaced, tortured and executed thousands of Armenian people from April 24, 1915 until the end of the war.

The International Association of Genocide Scholars put the total death toll at more than 1 million in its 1997 resolution recognizing the mass killings of 1915 to 1917 as a genocide. Governments the world over, including the United States and Turkey, refuse to acknowledge the carnage as a genocide in the face of rising global pressure to do so.

“In one ear, out the other,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in response to a European Union resolution encouraging Turkey to recognize the Armenian Genocide in a 2015 Al Jazeera America article.

Armenian people march the streets of Hollywood every April in protest and to grieve the atrocities that took place on their homeland.

“We have to acknowledge the past, otherwise things like this will keep happening and no one will ever be held accountable” Sarkisyan said.

 

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