Richmond, VA – The month of April was busy in Central Virginia with many commemorative events taking place to honor the victims of the Armenian Genocide, educate the wider community and ensure that such atrocities are never repeated again in the future.
The 8-member Armenian Genocide Centennial Committee of Central Virginia (AGCCCV) was formed under the guidance of Father Mesrob Hovsepyan, who had encouraged members to spearhead events in the region. The small but vibrant Armenian church of 125 active members made a big impact within the community as well as all of Virginia through various events.
“There is a sea change in awareness of the Armenian Genocide,” stated Khoren Bandazian, a native of Richmond and Chairman of the Armenian Genocide Centennial Committee of America, Eastern Region, in a letter written to the committee. “While these national and international events dominate the media, it is the local community events that can have the most lasting impact. For a small community, you do big things and it does not go unnoticed.”
A Visit to the Virginia Council of Churches
In November 2014 Bedros Bandazian and Sona Kerneklian Pomfret, both members of the Armenian Genocide Centennial Committee of Central Virginia asked for participation by the Virginia Council of Churches in November 2014 to join the genocide centennial commemoration. As a result, the Council agreed to participate and issued a proclamation to help raise awareness of the Armenian Genocide and to help prevent future atrocities. The Reverend Jonathan Barton, General Minister of the Virginia Council of Churches, requested that all member churches of the Virginia Council of Churches, on Sunday April 19th, pray en masse from their own pulpits, for the souls of the victims of the Armenian Genocide and for all genocide victims and their surviving families, past and present.
A Visit to Congressman Dave Brat’s Office
The Armenian National Committee (ANC) of Richmond visited Congressman Dave Brat’s district office on March 30th. The delegation consisted of Melanie Bandazian Kerneklian, Dr. Murad Kerneklian, Bedros Bandazian, Sona Kerneklian Pomfret, and Dr. Paul Mazmanian. During the meeting, ANC of Virginia leaders acquainted Congressman Brat with the Armenian-American policy priorities, such as the Armenian Genocide Truth and Justice Resolution H.Res.154, ensuring the right to self-determination of the people of Artsakh, etc.
A Visit to the City of Richmond City Hall: Honored with a Proclamation
On April 13th, 2015, the Mayor of Richmond, Dwight Jones and the City Council of Richmond proclaimed April 24th, 2015 Armenian Remembrance Day in commemoration of the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. Members of the City Council and the Mayor, in the chambers of Richmond City Hall, stated their desire to unite in solidarity to officially recognize, honor and celebrate all Richmond residents of Armenian heritage. The Honorable Jonathan T. Baliles, District City Councilman and sponsor of the proclamation, stated, “I am proud to represent the many residents of Armenian descent of the Richmond community and of St. James Armenian Church, which is in my District. The Richmond Armenian Community is an important part of our business, faith, and cultural enhancement for the City of Richmond, Virginia.”
The Proclamation was accepted by Bedros Bandazian, representing the ANC of VA. Also accepting was Sona Kerneklian Pomfret of the AGCCCV, and Robert M. Norris, Chairperson of the St. James Armenian Church Parish Council.
“What you see happening in the Middle East, the decimating of Christians and other religious minorities, is a repeat of what happened in 1915. Man’s inhumanity to man must stop,” implored Bandazian. “One person killed is a crime. 1.5 million killed is a genocide. We must learn from the past in order to prevent genocide and move forward to reconcile these crimes.”
The Centennial Commemoration Church Prayer Service and Luncheon
On April 18th, twelve diverse multi-denominational religious leaders participated in the ecumenical service at Saint James Armenian Church, in memory of those who perished in the Armenian genocide. The Very Reverend (and Vicar) Hayr Simeon Odabashian led the service and welcomed each religious participant to the podium. The tone of the event was global. Man’s inhumanity to man was part of this theme of ‘Awareness, Unity, and Gratitude.’ The Virginia Council of Churches, led by general minister Jonathan Barton, also publicly launched the shared prayer throughout the Commonwealth to all its member churches on Sunday April 19th, to pray for the victims and their families of the Armenian Genocide and to pray for the end of genocide in every corner of the globe.
At the luncheon, Hayr Simeon Odabashian welcomed all the religious leaders and four visiting Virginia politicians. His benediction was a blessing “to raise up a united prayer for a just and humane world, where respect and kindness rule everywhere.”
Aram Hamparian, Executive Director of the Armenian National Committee of America, gave the keynote address. “This should be a time of solemn mourning for Armenians,” he said, “but instead it is a time of frustration, fighting with Turkey to express the truth. The United States is a less safe place when there is denial. If America accepts denial as a foreign policy, it is siding with evil. Let’s work to put America on the right side of the issue.”
Congressman Dave Brat also spoke at the ecumenical centennial commemoration luncheon. “I was a former seminary student. I understand the morality and ethics of this historical situation. It is because of the issue of genocide that I had decided to run for Congress. And that is why I have cosponsored the Armenian Genocide Truth and Justice Resolution [H.R. 154].”
A Visit to Virginia Commonwealth University: Music and a Genocide Scholar
On April 23rd, at least 60 members of the Richmond Armenian Community attended one or both events at Virginia Commonwealth University, sponsored by Dr. Mayda Topoushian, a professor at VCU in the School of World Studies and in the Department of Political Science, and faculty adviser to the Armenian Students Association. She had invited the Middle Eastern Music Ensemble from William and Mary College to perform, led by Dr. Anne Rasmussen, Director, an ethnomusicologist, who also soloed on her oud.
After a brief reception, internationally known resident genocide scholar and VCU political science professor Dr. Herbert Hirsch, introduced the visiting award-winning scholar of the Holocaust and Genocide and his esteemed colleague, Dr. Paul Bartrop, director of the Center for Judaic, Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Florida Gulf Coast University.
“Armenian Genocide is as relevant today as it was in the Twentieth Century, “ said Dr. Bartrop. “Why bother to remember these horrible events? Because they are still going on. The Armenian Genocide began in 1915, the Jewish Holocaust in 1942, Biafra in the 1970s, and in more recent times, Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur, Burundi. Today there are ongoing conflicts resulting in unresolved genocides in Syria, Sudan, Congo, and the Central African Republic. Intolerance is still with us.”
A candlelight vigil took place immediately after the talk, led by the Armenian students of VCU. Professors Bartrop, Hirsch, and Topoushian each held a lit candle while the Lord’s Prayer [Hayr Mer] was recited in Armenian by the VCU Armenian students, members of the Richmond Genocide Commemoration Committee, and other visitors. This quiet vigil ended the night of remembrance. They held a candle’s light to brighten their path to meet our goals of peace and recognition for the future.