RUZAN ORKUSYAN – STAFF WRITER
The Fresno State Armenian Students Organization (ASO)has blossomed into a thriving Armenian community charac-terized by a fierce love of Armenian culture and an undying passion for bringing justice to the victims and survivors of the 1915 Armenian Genocide. On no day is this clearer than on April 24, the fateful day marking the start of the atrocities and massacres committed by the Turkish government during World War I.
As has become a long-standing tradition, members of the ASO and Armenian Studies Program organized commemorative events during the week of April 22-24. 2014 marks the 99th anniversary of the Genocide, and sadly, the perpetrators remain in denial of the horrific events.
Spurred by ignorance, the Genocide has remained unpunished for 99 years; therefore, the ASO Armenian Genocide Committee worked tirelessly for three months to create events aimed at raising awareness about the Genocide and honoring the victims and survivors. Long hours of research, planning, advertisement, and community outreach culminated in a week of educational and interactive events that captivated students and community members alike. In honor of the 99th anniversary, members of the Committee gathered 99 facts about the Armenian Genocide and displayed them on trees around campus.
The week began with a memorable event to raise awareness of crimes against humanity. “Genocides Around the World” was organized by ASO and USU Productions, to educate students about the horrific events occurring worldwide and to poignantly illustrate the similarities between these tragedies.
ASO Vice President Marine Vardanyan explained that students had the opportunity to walk in the shoes of those who experienced atrocities during various historic genocides. Aramayis Orkusyan stated it was an “eye opening event because there was information about more current genocides.”
Tuesday, April 22, the Committee prepared an emotional evening with two documentaries that allowed audience members to travel back in time to witness the trauma and emotions of victims and survivors. “20 voices,” by director Araz Artinian, introduced the audience to twenty survivors who recalled their experiences from the Genocide. As 2015 nears, there are few survivors still alive; thus documentaries like “20 Voices” ensure that their stories are heard for years to come.
“My Mother’s Voice” offered a more personal glimpse into the life and experiences of Flora Munushian as told by her daughter, author Dr. Kay Mouradian. The powerful narration and at times disturbing black and white images moved many of the spectators, who had the distinct privilege of asking Dr. Mouradian, who attended the event from Los Angeles, their questions.
The movies were followed by a candlelight vigil at the Free Speech area, where they were greeted by traditional Armenian music. Rev. Fr. Yeghia Hairabedian, pastor of St. Gregory Armenian Church in Fowler led the requiem service (hokehankisd) and expressed his thoughts on the occasion. The night ended with a musical number by ASO members Aramayis Orkusyan (duduk) and Michael Rettig (oud), who performed two Armenian folk songs.
The climax of the week was on Thursday, April 24, and the Committee planned an unforgettable afternoon. During an hour-long “Silent Protest” at noon, the students held informational posters and banners calling for justice and recognition of the Genocide.
The commemoration began at 1:00PM with welcoming remarks by Prof. Barlow Der Mugrdechian, Director of the Armenian Studies Program, followed by ASO President Vartush Mesropyan. Students of the Charlie Keyan Armenian Community School sang two songs, “Hye Enk Menk” and Mushetzee Mor Enk.” The program also included an emotional and stirring reading of Siamanto’s poem “A Handful of Ash, Home of my Fatherland” by Haverj Stanboulian and Noel Lenard.
Menas Arisian and Tatevik Hovhannisyan then performed “Open Wounds” by R-Mean and their contemporary beat and rapping captivated the audience, particularly the younger students.
Ovsanna and Armen Simonyan bravely shared their family’s stories, recounting the experiences of their grandparents during the Genocide.
The first keynote speaker, Fresno County Superior Court Judge Houry Sanderson, spoke about the events of 1915, and also addressed the “personal responsibility of each Armenian…to not only commemorate this historical reality, but to see to it that the world recognizes the Armenian Genocide.” Furthermore, Judge Sanderson urged the attendees to be “gatekeepers” protecting “others from suffering similar tragedies.”
Special guest Congressman Jim Costa (D-16th District) spoke with tremendous respect and knowledge about the Armenian culture and history, and called for recognition of the Genocide.
Dr. Sergio La Porta then revealed plans for construction of an Armenian Genocide Memorial on campus in time for the 100th Anniversary, news that excited many students and community members.
The event closed with the song “Aghunik,” performed by Aramayis Orkusyan, as the attendees placed carnations on the model of the Armenian Martyrs Monument.
In all, the events were very successful, especially the April 24 Commemoration that according to Vardanyan reached a greater audience and attracted “students of all backgrounds.”
“The professionalism, preparedness, and wonderful performances of the students, along with our honorable guest speakers helped make this event appealing to the crowd,” stated Vardanyan, “especially to students who prior to the event lacked a good understanding of the Genocide.”
Indeed, all the events ran smoothly, in large part due to the efforts of the Committee members and led by ASO president, Vartush Mesropyan, who was prepared to solve any problem that came her way. For all the executives and Committee members it was exciting to see the product of their hard work and dedication.
“Our duty as ASO is to always educate our peers about the Armenian Genocide and make sure they understand the truth and facts about what occurred on April 24,” stated Mesropyan.
The commemorative events certainly accomplished this, and for Mesropyan, the greatest part was “seeing all the faculty, students, and community members come together in one place.”
As we approach the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, ASO will continue its activism, educational activities, fight for justice, and commemoration in hopes that one day, the truth will heal our wounds and bring peace to our souls.