Claremont Colleges Commemorate the Armenian Genocide

The Claremont Colleges hosted a public screening of the documentary A Wall of Silence, a live violin performance by Maya Martirossyan HM ’17, and a play entitled Found at the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum on April 24 to commemorate the 99th anniversary of the
Armenian genocide, in which approximately 1.5 million Armenian people and other
minorities were systematically killed in present-day Turkey.

The Armenian genocide is not as well-known as other
large-scale tragedies such as the Holocaust. Most survivors have passed away, but there are descendants across the world, including at the 5Cs. 

Harvey Mudd College physics professor Vatche Sahakian’s grandparents were victims of the genocide. He said that events on campus serve as an important outlet and memorial for those personally affected by the Armenian genocide within the Claremont community. 

“It’s really become a struggle of raising awareness,” Sahakian said. “We want to not only commemorate and remember the deaths. We want to speak of it because we know that when something like this is ignored and not discussed in society, then there’s a very real danger of history repeating itself.”

Anoush Baghdassarian CM ’17, who wrote, directed, and acted in Found (see Life & Style, page 6)is Armenian, and her parents are descendants of survivors, which she said makes the Armenian genocide especially significant to her. 

“It’s always had this connection to me,” she said. “It’s been a part of who I am since I’ve grown up.” 

She said that in addition to commemorating the victims of the Armenian genocide, she wants to raise student awareness of similar atrocities around the world.

“One thing I’m really hoping is that students don’t only look at this as an opportunity to learn about the Armenian genocide, but also look at it as an opportunity to realize that we need to be aware of all the genocides that happen,” Baghdassarian said.

Both Baghdassarian and Sahakian mentioned that
many of the tactics of the Armenian genocide were reused by the Nazis during
the Holocaust. 

“When you have a traumatic event that is left to fester … there’s an element of closure which is crucial, which is why it’s essential for the perpetrator to make an apology,” Sahakian said.

While Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued a statement April 23 offering condolences to Armenians in Turkey and in the diaspora, the Turkish government refuses to describe the event as genocide. 

Sahakian said he hopes the events raise awareness of the Armenian genocide, as the tragedy has received very little attention compared to other events involving mass violence. Furthermore, he said, when genocides are overlooked, there is a higher likelihood of recurrence. 

“The only way you can act is if you have knowledge about something,” Baghdassarian said. “If you don’t have knowledge, there’s no way for you to take any action. With this knowledge, people can come more empowered to then have a voice about issues like this.”

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