Students, members of local Armenian community commemorate 100th anniversary of Armenian genocide

Caleb Wong

Students and members of the local Armenian community lit candles inside a replica of an Armenian monument in memory of a historical tragedy. 

Volunteers from the Armenian Cultural Association built a replica of the Tsitsernakaberd Memorial Complex, located in Yerevan, Armenia, on the West Mall to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 1.5 million Armenian people killed in the Ottoman Empire, now Turkey, in 1915. Most historians consider the deaths one of the first modern genocides.

Karen Aroian, who helped organize the commemorative event, said the goal was to increase awareness of the Armenian genocide and other mass killings. 

“If we, as [the Armenian genocide] descendants, do not speak out for the voiceless and vulnerable, then genocide is bound to continue to today,” Aroian said. “What more do you need beside the mass murders of women, children and men who are defenseless?” 

Brandon Keropian, co-owner of South Austin Studio and member of the Armenian community, said the genocide personally affected his family members. 

“My great-grandparents went through this,” Keropian said. “My great-grandmother was one of seven kids, and they were all murdered, and she was lucky that she was spared. Her parents hid her with some Mormon nuns in Armenia.”

Advertising graduate student Davit Davtyan said he was frustrated President Barack Obama broke his campaign promise to recognize the Armenian genocide in such terms. During his first presidential campaign in 2008, then-Sen. Obama called the events in Armenia in 1915 a genocide. He has not referred to the killings as a genocide since his election.

A White House press release to acknowledge Armenian Remembrance Day referred to the historical event as a “mass atrocity.”

“He promised to recognize the Armenian genocide and name it a genocide,” Davtyan said. “Any time when a U.S. official, like a senator or someone like that, asks for support, and they promise to help us with recognition of that massacre, a later day they forget about this because they don’t want to damage their relationship with Turkey, which is an ally of [the] U.S.” 

No president since Ronald Reagan has used the word “genocide” during his term to describe the killings.

Undeclared sophomore Nyrie Kasparian said greater recognition of the 1.5 million Armenian deaths has long been a goal of the community. 

“I always made efforts to tell all my friends back in high school,” Kasparian said. “Even in elementary school, I would bring petitions to school and get my teachers to sign it. We’ve always been working toward recognition.”

Davtyan said the Armenian community is committed to remembering its past to prevent genocides from being committed again. 

“We are doing this for peace,” Davtyan said. “This is not only for the Armenian genocide. We devote this event to all genocides that were committed in the past.”