The Armenian Students Association staged a silent demonstration in Red Square on Feb. 8 to raise awareness about the 1915 Armenian genocide and its global legacy today.
Seven representatives of the ASA, which is in the process of becoming a university-recognized student organization, distributed 400 flyers about the history of the genocide throughout the demonstration. The students wore black tape over their mouths to protest in silence.
The Armenian genocide occurred in 1915, when leaders of the Ottoman Empire developed a plan to kill or forcibly push out Armenians living in the region. Nearly 1.5 million Armenians were killed during the genocide, which did not end until the early 1920s.
The genocide is widely recognized as such by many historians and governments. The United Nations defines genocide as the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group,” combined with the use of certain destructive methods, including killing, to eliminate that group.
The event commemorated the annual national ASA “Stain of Denial” protest, when chapters at dozens of universities organize silent protests to spread awareness about the genocide, according to the Daily Bruin. The demonstration aims to condemn denial of the Armenian genocide, particularly by the Turkish government.
Haik Voskerchian (COL ’19), president of the ASA, said the demonstration was well-received by the student body.
“Students have been very welcoming and active,” Voskerchian said about the demonstration. “Most people have been very interested.”
However, the Turkish Government denies the genocide, particularly its scope and extent, Voskerchian said. Turkey does not deny that deaths occurred, but refuses to refer to it as a genocide and estimates the number of Armenian deaths to be around 600,000.
“We’re trying to commemorate the genocide and condemn it,” Voskerchian said.
The United States does not consistently refer to the events as genocide, though in several capacities it has.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed resolutions acknowledging the genocide in 1975, 1984 and 1996, according to the Armenian National Committee of America. On April 22, 1981, President Ronald Reagan lamented the Armenian genocide in a proclamation in remembrance of the Holocaust. In addition, 48 out of 50 states have officially recognized the genocide, with the only exceptions being Mississippi, Alabama and the District of Columbia.
Recent presidents, however, have refrained from using the word “genocide” when referencing the massacres. Former President Barack Obama abstained from referring to the Armenian Genocide as a genocide on the 100th anniversary in 2015, CNN reported. Similarly, President Donald Trump was criticized when he did not use the term “genocide” in a statement released April 24, 2017, on Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day and the 104th anniversary of the genocide.
ASA is a national student organization with chapters at 31 colleges and universities, including Harvard University, Brown University and Stanford University, according to the ASA website. Georgetown University’s chapter has 12 active members, though there are around 30 people on the listserv, according to Voskerchian.
For Armenian students like Nareg Kuyumjian (SFS ’21), an ASA member, the demonstration had personal meaning.
Kuyumjian said his great-grandparents on both sides of his family were the only survivors of the genocide in their families. His great-grandparents on his mother’s side were able to escape to Syria, while his great-grandparents on his father’s side left for Lebanon. Eventually, both families made it to the United States and settled in Los Angeles.
“I’ve had the privilege to grow up as an American citizen, but I owe it to my ancestors and the struggle they went through,” Kuyumjian said. “I’ve had the opportunity to grow up in such a great nation, and I realize that it is because of their sacrifices that I have been able to do so.”