The Armenian Students Organization held a “Multicultural Genocide Awareness Event” on Thursday, April 20, to raise awareness about genocides around the world. The event also served to bring attention to the Genocide Commemoration planned for Monday, April 24.
ASO students set up tables in the Free Speech area of campus, with posters and banners providing information about the Genocide. They displayed a blank poster with the question “what does injustice mean to you?” to encourage students to think about the injustices of genocide and to write their responses. Members applied tattoos of the Armenian flag or the “forget-me-not-flower” on students. They also conducted a raffle for a free ASO Genocide commemorative t-shirt.
On April 24, the 102nd Commemoration of the Armenian Genocide commenced at noon in front of the Armenian Genocide Monument at Fresno State. ASO president Diana Gasparyan was the Master of Ceremonies for the event, which began with ASO alumna Faten Kassabian singing the American and Armenian national anthems.
Students Michael Rettig and Lucie Ekezyan then shared their family stories from the Genocide. Rettig spoke about his great-great-grandfather Mardiros Gashagortzian’s brother, Harutyun, and his family. Mardiros left Bitlis for Fresno with his family in the early 1900s while his brother Harutyun remained in Bitlis with his wife, children, and mother. Harutyun and half of his family were killed in the Armenian Genocide. Rettig displayed a poster-sized photograph of Harutyun and his family from 1912, three years before many of them were massacred. “I chose to talk about them today to preserve their memory, as they were so nearly lost to history,” said Rettig.
Ekezyan shared her great grandmother Araksi’s story of survival. She was orphaned early in the Genocide and was then enslaved by the very people who had murdered her family. Araksi was able to protect her three younger siblings and preserve her Armenian identity until she was rescued by Armenian soldiers, who took them to an orphanage in Gyumri.
“Despite having lost everything, Araksi still thrived for the sake of her family. She dedicated herself to nurturing and caring for her siblings so that they might be capable of doing the same for their families in the future,” said Ekezyan.
Students from the Charlie Keyan Community School then sang, “Adanayi Voghpe,” (The Tragedy of Adana) and “Mshetsi Mor” (Mother from Moush). The audience appreciated seeing the Armenian culture preserved in the next generation through music.
Associated Student Body President Tim Ryan, spoke about how the Fresno State Associated Students Senate has affirmed the Armenian
Genocide in resolutions.
Aramayis Orkusyan, on guitar and vocals, and Rettig, on oud, performed “Sareri Hovin Mernem.” “I chose this song because it speaks to a common yearning I think all Armenians in the diaspora share—a desire to set foot in their homeland again,” said Orkusyan.
Professor Hagop Ohanessian of the Armenian Studies Program was the keynote speaker of the event. Ohanessian’s presentation focused on “how the memory of surviving the Armenian Genocide and the resilient spirit of the Armenian people over the course of our history have shaped who we are today as Armenian-Americans.” Ohanessian in particular used the example of the Armenian community in the San Joaquin Valley to illustrate his point that it is possible to overcome tragedy and to thrive. He discussed how stories his parents told about his own family and the challenges they faced, have shaped who he is as an Armenian-American.
“Never lose sight of the sacrifices your ancestors made and the memories that they shared with you because truly our survival is a testament to their sacrifices,” stated Ohanessian.
More than 250 students and community members attended the noon commemoration, which concluded with Orkusyan playing the duduk as those in attendance placed carnations in the center of the Genocide Monument.