Members of the Fresno State Armenian Students Organization (ASO) continuously demonstrate their fierce love of Armenian culture and undying passion for bringing justice to the victims and survivors of the Armenian Genocide. On no occasion is this more evident than during the week of April 24.
As has become long-standing tradition, members of the ASO organize commemorative events during the week of the Armenian Genocide that brings together the Armenian community and the community of Fresno State. This year’s activities consisted of two contrasting events: a celebration of life and the resilient Armenian culture, followed by a solemn commemoration of the 1.5 million martyrs of the Genocide.
On Monday, April 20, the ASO demonstrated to the Fresno State community that the Armenian people and culture are still very much alive and thriving 100 years after the Armenian Genocide. Traditional and contemporary Armenian music filled the free speech area of Fresno State, and ASO students danced to the sounds of the duduk (Armenian woodwind instrument) performed by Aramayis Orkusyan, dhol (two sided hand drum), and kamancha (bowed string instrument) played by Gevork Gevorkyan. The lively music accompanied a photo booth, where students had the opportunity to dress up in traditional Armenian garb and take a picture with Mt. Ararat in the background.
The week culminated with the commemoration of the Genocide on Friday, April 24, held at the newly built Armenian Genocide Monument on the Fresno State campus. Over 500 people gathered to remember the tragic event in history and the 1.5 million Armenian lives lost.
As ASO president Marine Vardanyan stated in her opening remarks, “The Armenian people stand firm and united.” The commemoration began with the playing of “Bells of Peace” on the campus carillon at 19 seconds passed noon, and lasting for 15 minutes, signifying the year 1915—the year in which the Armenian Genocide began.
The commemoration included heartfelt remarks from Fresno State President Dr. Joseph I. Castro; Fresno State Associated Students President Moses Menchaca; and Associated Students Vice President of External Affairs Kiran Dhanjan.
“I would like to thank the faculty and the staff of the Armenian Studies Program because we would not be a leader in this field without their leadership and many contributions…I also want to thank the Armenian Students Organization and the Armenian students as they are also leaders among the entire community and they are among the finest scholars and leaders that we have at Fresno State,” stated Dr. Castro.
“This monument is deeply meaningful for us at Fresno State and for people throughout the nation and the world. And the letters that are coming to us regarding the monument are extraordinarily inspirational. Our community stands with all communities around the world to commemorate the Armenian Genocide and genocides like it that have occurred in the past. My hope is that we will be able to work together so that we do not have them occur in the future,” concluded Dr. Castro.
Students from the Charlie Keyan Armenian Community School also participated in the commemoration and sang Soorperoo Achkeruh (The Eyes of the Saints) and Kilikia (Cilicia). The program continued with a stirring reading of Vahan Tekeyan’s poem “Bidi Inas” by Haverj Stanboulian, and an emotional reading of survivor memoirs by Megi Hakobjanyan—who presented the recollections of her own family—and Tadeh Issakhanian.
ASO member Menas Arisian performed an original song “1915-Never Again,” composed especially for the commemoration of the Genocide. Accompanying Arisian as part of the chorus were Faten Myaznih Kassabian, Gayane Petrosyan, Tatevik Hovhannisyan, Sosse Kendoyan, and Aramayis Orkusyan.
This year’s keynote speaker was former ASO president Prof. Arakel Arisian from the Department of Finance and Business Law. Prof. Arisian spoke of the significance of the Armenian Genocide, not only for Armenians, but also for all people.
“This type of injustice transcends nationality, race, color, politics, religion. This is a crime against humanity, and no matter what your background is, it is important for you to care and seek justice and truth,” stated Prof. Arisian. He also stressed the importance of persistence. “We must be persistent in fighting for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide.”
Equally as important, Prof. Arisian remarked “We also must be persistent in our zeal to live productive and honorable lives so that we do not waste the opportunities given to us by the sacrifices of our ancestors.” His words were both inspirational and thought provoking.
The commemorative program concluded with the placement of carnations around the Armenian symbol of eternity in the center of the new Armenian Genocide Monument, accompanied by a performance of “Hovern Engan” on the duduk by Aramayis Orkusyan.