Bergen residents recall Armenian Genocide victims

Northern Valley Suburbanite (Bergen, North Jersey)
May 1, 2014

Bergen residents recall Armenian Genocide victims

Chris Perez

HACKENSACK – Friends, families, and neighbors gathered on April 24 in
front of the Bergen County Courthouse on the anniversary of the
Armenian Genocide for a day of remembrance and reflection.

County officials and local members of the Armenian community,
including The Knights and Daughters of Vartan, were in attendance to
remember the 1.5 million lives that were lost at the hands of the
Ottoman Turks between 1915 and 1920.

Every year, Armenians of Bergen County have held a requiem service at
the Genocide Memorial in Hackensack in remembrance of those who lost
their lives.

This is the 24th meeting since the memorial was dedicated in the
summer of 1990, and is the 99th anniversary of the day these events
took place.

“The Armenian Genocide should not be forgotten,” said John Lawrence
Shahdanian, past commander of the Knights of Vartan. “We have to speak
about it, we have to tell the story, and we have to let others know.”

Beginning on April 24, 1915, this genocide, which forced countless
numbers of people from their homes and into prison, was the first of
the 20th century.

The systematic destruction took place during and after World War 1,
and forced people to march hundreds of miles without food or water,
where they were ultimately massacred indiscriminately of age or
gender.

“Everyone has a story, and it’s important to keep the story alive,”
Shahdanian said. “If we forget, it’s going to happen again.”

Shahdanian opened the program with the story of his grandfather, a
U.S. citizen who had been murdered during the genocide.

“He was taken from his home, thrown into jail with other Armenians in
Turkey, and one day, he just wasn’t there anymore,” he said. “The word
was they had taken them into a field and shot them all. They were
never found, they were never buried.”

At that point, Shahdanian said his father, who was 9 years old, had
convinced his mother to leave the area and relocate to a family
business in Istanbul.

“The most important thing we can do is remember our ancestors and what
happened to them so our children don’t forget and so the world doesn’t
forget,” he said.

The keynote speaker for the event was Khatchig Mouradian, an adjunct
professor at Rutgers University and editor of the Armenian Weekly.

“There is an importance in our environment for recognizing injustice,”
Mouradian told the crowd. “If we can find time to dedicate ourselves
to truth and justice, the world would be a better place.”

After the program, Mouradian said that events like these are great
opportunities to once again renew their call for the United States and
eventually Turkey to recognize the Armenian Genocide.

“These atrocities, these crimes against humanity, are part of our
national and international history,” he said. “They should be a part
of national and public consciousness.”

For the sixth straight year, President Obama observed the massacre of
the Armenian people, but refused to use the word “genocide,” failing
to uphold his 2008 campaign promise to do so.

“A full, frank and just acknowledgement of the facts is in all of our
interests,” the President said Thursday. “Peoples and nations grow
stronger, and build a foundation for a more just and tolerant future,
by acknowledging and reckoning with painful elements of the past.”

As a senator, Obama co-sponsored a resolution calling for the use of
the term “genocide” when discussing the Armenian tragedy.

“My firmly held conviction is that the Armenian Genocide is not an
allegation, a personal opinion, or a point of view, but rather a
widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical
evidence,” Obama said in 2008.

Mouradian believes that the United States, which has hosted and
embraced many survivors of this tragedy, has a duty to recognize the
Armenian Genocide on the federal level.

“We must acknowledge the stories of the children and grandchildren who
are gathered here today and who are first-hand witnesses to the
stories of the survivors,” Mouradian said.

River Vale resident Sona Manuelian has been attending the day of
remembrance for many years and continues to recognize the need to
never forget what happened.

“We’re all connected, and this is our heritage,” she said. “My husband
lost his grandfather when he went out for candy cigarettes one day and
never came home. His parents were also victims of the genocide.”

The program concluded with a requiem service held in front of the
Genocide memorial. The Armenian clergy led guests in prayer, sang
hymns and laid red carnations in front of the memorial stone in
remembrance of those who lost their lives.

“This years day of remembrance has been another testament of the
commitment of the Armenian American community to see recognition and
justice for the Armenian Genocide,” Mouradian said. “Here in the
United States, the freedoms that we have put us in greater
responsibility to help out with the struggles and rights of people
around the world, and also the responsibility to acknowledge and
confront crimes that have taken place in the past regardless of
politics or outside pressures.”

From: A. Papazian

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