--Anita Tokatyan, Santa Barbara
As we enter the silent hall, the sight of red and white flowers strikes our eyes. Our minds are suddenly drawn to the “Dzidzernagapert” memorial in Armenia, and our hearts beat as one as we picture the flowers placed in memory of the lives lost in 1915.
On April 24, 2012, members of the Santa Barbara Armenian community gathered together at the Embarcadero Hall in UCSB to commemorate the anniversary of the Armenian genocide. 97 years after what their ancestors went through, the new Armenian generation marked their presence in a lecture hall to remember the tragedies of the past and learn that this genocide, the Armenian genocide, is still not over.
Atina Manvelian, Master of Ceremonies of the event, guided the commemoration with inspiring enthusiasm, focusing on genocide education and global acts for recognition, while encouraging the audience to step forward, takes chances, and evoke change.
Ellen Oganesyan, president of UCSB’s Armenian Student Association, began the evening with an anecdote of her ancestor’s experience in the genocide. Almost a century later, the stain of these crimes encouraged her towards fighting for genocide recognition.
“[This is] a battle against human rights violations,” Oganesyan said. “All men are created equal.”
Fr. Vazken Movsesian, of the St. Peter Armenian Apostolic Church in Glendale and genocide activist, spoke of the similarities between Armenian ancestors and global genocide victims today. He compared the history of our Armenian ancestors to the current genocides taking place in the lives of civilians in Rwanda.
“We haven’t evolved,” Der Vazken said. “Genocide is the same all around.”
Vazken also discussed the negative impacts of labeling Armenian identity with the 1915 genocide. He pointed out that although Armenians are haunted by the murders, they must move past this association and acknowledge acts of genocide as a whole.
“We are conditioned as people to think of Armenian as genocide. It’s time to think of the next step. Our identity has been shaped by this tragedy,” Der Vazken said. “We have a duty.”
Der Vazken stressed the importance of genocide awareness and its impact on preventing future genocides.
“We need to be Armenian all the time and remember the genocide,” Der Vazken said. “We are victors...[and] we are all genocide survivors.”
To display the perseverance of Armenians and the growing prosperity of its culture, members of the Yeraz Armenian Dance Team Nanor Balabanian, Astkhik Hakopyan, and Atina Manvelian, danced to two traditional Armenian dances. Talin Nalbandian, a second year student at UCSB, also sang Dele Yaman, an Armenian love-song.
Outside the commemoration hall, organizations such as The Hidden Road Initiative and the Armenian Student Association were on display to encourage new members to partake in these associations. The presence of such organizations demonstrated the ability of the Armenian community to remove the negative connotations of genocide on the Armenian identity. HRI is evidence of Armenian survival and their forward move from the crimes of 1915.
As students, we have the opportunity to educate ourselves and give back the best we can to our native lands. The fight to recognize genocide is not limited to any one group, and with it comes the hope to change the future. The power to end ignorance is a power to change the world, and in doing so, demonstrate the prestigious characteristics of these targeted groups. As Armenians, we recognize what defines our identity daily and endeavor to make our homeland prosper.