Armenian Students Association Remembers Genocide

When Anoush Baghdassarian CM ’17 learned about the Armenian Genocide in Sunday school, it was referred to as ‘the forgotten genocide.’ Since then, she spent years spreading awareness of the atrocities. Like for many of her fellow Armenian students and faculty at the 5Cs, the slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire still looms as a present issue to Baghdassarian. 

April 24 marked the 100th anniversary of the killings of Armenians. The Armenian Students’ Association of Claremont organized
events throughout the month of April to both commemorate and promote awareness of this piece of history. The
events ranged from documentary screenings to talks, culminating in the screening
of Eric Friedler’s “Aghet: A Genocide” April 21 and the Descendants of Survivor
Panel April 22.

Harvey Mudd College physics professor Vatche Sahakian played an integral role in choosing Friedler’s
documentary, as he was fascinated by the innovative view the director took
on the subject. 

“Friedler made a conscious effort to not involve anyone who was
Armenian so that the film would be objective,” Sahakian said. “Because of this, it is very
powerful.” 

In fact, Sahakian needed special permission from the director to show
the film on campus. The director also asked that there not be a discussion
after the screening because he would not be in attendance.

Tension around a
discussion of the killings in Armenia is not rare. Despite the passing of many
years, some still reject the validity of the massacre. 

Baghdassarian wrote a play, FOUND, during her senior year of high school and showcased it at Claremont McKenna College. It focuses on the life of a young girl who experiences the
atrocities firsthand. Baghdassarian wanted her audience to remember the genocide
by experiencing it through theatre.

“You are living through the person’s
experience with them, and this allows you to remember the lesson in a different
way than you would an excerpt from a history book,” Baghdassarian said.

Danica Harootian SC ’15 is an Armenian student who acted in Baghadassarian’s play. Like
Baghadassarian, she became interested in her heritage during high school and found herself especially curious about the Turkish denial of the Armenian Genocide. The genocide remains a contentious subject, and many cite strong reactions to the Turkish response, including Pomona Professor of Sociology Carina Giorgi. 

“I was daunted by
the fact that there were gaping segments of literature missing on Armenian women’s lives,” Giorgi said. “You cannot talk about contemporary Armenian identity without talking
about the Armenian Genocide.”

Giorgi’s
research assistant, Ani Schug PO ’17, felt these tensions arising on the 5Cs and
decided to start the Armenian Students’ Association along with Baghadassarian.
After writing the club’s constitution and filling out the necessary paperwork,
Schug focused on advertising and outreach. Despite its presence in Armenian identity, Schug said the Armenian Genocide is not common
knowledge. 

“It is an issue that is a hundred years old that a lot of kids do
not grow up learning about because it’s not taught in history textbooks in the
United States,” Schug said. 

It is this lack
of knowledge that inspired the Armenian Students’ Association to organize
commemoration events. The club’s leadership was especially excited for Giorgi’s two
talks, where she discussed genderqueer women, Fedai’e fighters and the idea of
Armenian loss.

It is a common
feeling among descendants of the survivors of the Armenian Genocide that there is a need
for closure. Without it, Sahakian believes that the cycle of violence will
only continue. 

Instead of
hoping that non-Armenians will educate themselves, Sahakian took
proactive measures to spread awareness. Sahakian created an iPhone app titled “Armenian Genocide.” With thirty to fifty downloads per day, Sahakian sees his app as an accessible platform for a topic that is difficult to discuss. 

Baghadassarian
believes that steps like these help raise awareness about this
genocide. 

“This knowledge might inspire some to realize history has
repeated itself for the last 100 years, and if we can recognize that, perhaps we
help stop this atrocious pattern,” she said.

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