Mar 21, 2019
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A student with Fresno State’s Armenian Student Organization, waves the Armenian national flag while standing in the university’s free speech area at Wednesday’s Silent Protest. Photo by Khlarissa Agee / The Collegian

Standing in Silence: Armenian Student Organization brings awareness of genocide

The Armenian Student Organization, composed of Fresno State students, silently stood in the free speech area on Wednesday to remember the lives lost in the Armenian Genocide. This year marks the 98th anniversary commemoration of the genocide. The genocide refers to the deliberate destruction to the Armenian population in which 1.5 million Armenian were killed.

“This event is very important to us because it educates the youth and community. That tragedy had struck our culture years ago, and we want recognition,” said Marine Vardanyan, a member of the Armenian Student Organization at Fresno State

A student with Fresno State’s Armenian Student Organization, waves the Armenian national flag while standing in the university’s free speech area at Wednesday’s Silent Protest. Photo by Khlarissa Agee / The Collegian

A student with Fresno State’s Armenian Student Organization, waves the Armenian national flag while standing in the university’s free speech area at Wednesday’s Silent Protest.
Photo by Khlarissa Agee / The Collegian

The systematic destruction of Armenians in 1915 by the Ottoman Empire sometimes seems to go unnoticed in modern day society. Some attribute this to the fact that the Turkish government denies the fact that the genocide took place.

“As an Armenian, we know about the events that took place in 1915,” said Vardanyan. “We want the Turkish government to acknowledge what they have done and give us justice that is long overdue.”

The Armenian genocide started April 24, 1915, when Ottoman authorities arrested 250 Armenians including community leaders in Constantinople. Massacres, deportation, death marches, rape and sexual assault were all used as mechanisms by the Ottoman Empire to eliminate the Armenian population, he said.

“I am motivated by the fact that some Armenians did survive,” said Hagop Ohanessian, president of the Armenian Student Organization. “My great-grandparents survived this tragedy, which brings me here today, and we understand that we are blessed to be here in the United States to promote our culture.”

According to Ohanessian, the genocide happened for two reasons. First the Turkish government did not see Armenians fit for their society. Turkish rule wanted to “Turkify” everyone in Central Asia, and the Armenian population was the only race standing in its way of completing this objective. To “Turkify” people that lived within the Turkish society, individuals would have to practice the same religion as Turkish people, regardless of racial background.

He says also the Turkish government could not “Turkify” the Armenian race because of religion. The Turkish government promotes and advocates for Muslims, while the Armenians practiced Christianity.

The timing of this event played a large role as well. The genocide took place in the middle of World War I and is considered the second-largest genocide behind the Jewish Holocaust of World War II.

Many Armenians managed to escape the grasps of the Turkish government and relocated to other areas. Many came to the United States where they could practice their religion and other cultural aspects in relative peace. Many of those Armenians moved to Fresno. By the 1950s, Fresno County was home to the second-largest Armenian community outside of Armenia. Today, that has changed. Los Angeles has the second-largest Armenian following outside of the nation itself.

“Silent protesting is significant to me for my family.” Marine Vardanyan said. “My great-uncle disguised himself as a woman and went through deportation just to survive. That’s the reason why he escaped. What he went through is why I am here today, standing here, advocating and speaking for those who lost their lives.”

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