Monday, 23 July

Black Lives Matter Solidarity at the Armenian Genocide Memorial in Yerevan

By Melanie Nakashian

As outrage over images of police killings of black men in the US flooded social media, a group of local and diasporan Armenians gathered at the Armenian Genocide Memorial in Yerevan to express solidarity with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.

The event was essentially a conversation about why people felt a responsibility to speak up – not just as Armenians, but as human beings.

The call for the July 14 event was announced by the The Hye-Phen Magazine and Collective in response to the release of multiple videos depicting the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile on July 5 and 6 respectively. Soon after their release, another video surfaced of the July 4 murder of Delrawn Small. All were unjustifiably killed at the hands of policemen, none of whom have been arrested. In fact, the only people to be detained were those who filmed the shootings, posted the film online, or were present at the shooting of their loved one.

Though these incidents are not at all isolated or unusual but rather symptoms of systemic racism in the US, the clear imagery released one after the other renewed and widened this sense of urgency that has sparked a surge of protest and organizing.

BLM first emerged as the hashtag #blacklivesmatter in response to the 2013 acquittal of the man who shot dead unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin. Some of the movement’s activists have outlined policy goals including the independent investigation of police misconduct and the creation of standards for reporting police use of deadly force.

So, why hold such an event in Armenia – and at the Genocide Memorial, of all places?

The event description read: “As a people that has experienced genocide, we recognize the pain and trauma of denialism, state terror, dehumanization, normalization and justification of systematic killings of Black people by state agents and representatives.” It also stated a commitment to fight against “oppressive genocidal systems” by confronting state violence, racism and white supremacy in Armenia and people’s respective communities.

A small group of nearly 20 people – locals, expatriates and repatriates – attended the meet-up. The vast majority of participants were women. Each person had the opportunity to share their opinion on the significance of standing with BLM.

One young woman from Yerevan explained that she believes the world must stand together against discrimination of any kind. “As a lineal descendant of Genocide survivors, this gathering was very important for me because if people in different countries had stood next to Armenians in 1915, we might have had another history.”

Another local recounted her experience of colorism while growing up in Armenia, when her childhood peers called her ‘Blacky’ for having a darker complexion. Another mentioned her brief time living in the US when her landlord refused to rent his house to black people – his house that was adorned with a mural portraying black people as animals.

Both locals and US citizens alike expressed that while they may not be well-versed in the struggle of BLM, they want to learn more about systemic racism and understand how to best support the movement, and this is one reason they came to the event.

Milena Abrahamyan, an Armenia-born New Yorker currently living in Tbilisi, attended because she is concerned about violence, “especially by forces in uniform.” She believes that “it is crucial for us in Armenia and the diaspora to have this conversation about the racism we have been fed by the former Soviet system, by mass media and by our own internalized anti-blackness.”

Some Armenian-Americans spoke of how they felt it is essential to confront anti-blackness within their own communities in the US. Others spoke of how they grew up in diverse communities, in an entirely black community or have black family members – so to support BLM is, as one person put it, “a no-brainer.”

Maral Firkatian Wozniak from West Hartford, Connecticut spoke about how she cannot remain silent on the issue because “If we are silent, we are complicit, the way so much of the world was complicit in the Armenian Genocide,” she said. “The one thing I can do to support BLM, as an American living in Armenia, is to share my knowledge with my peers who do not understand the importance of the movement, but want to.”

As explained by one young woman from New Jersey, “Racism, in all its forms, is not an issue reserved for black people in America… If you’re a human in the world, you should be concerned. Having open conversations like this one of the most effective ways to combat racism from its root.”

Nare Kupelian from Los Angeles felt that the conversation that took place was “of absolute importance” and “long overdue in both Armenia and among diaspora communities,” pointing out that despite its mostly homogenous population, “Armenia has experienced ‘othering’ consistently throughout its history.”

Kupelian also spoke to the significance of holding this gathering at the Genocide Memorial, which she sees as “testament to human struggle” for all marginalized people worldwide. “At one point in our history,” she said, “we were deemed problematic, and subject to dispersion and disposal. Today, a black person in America is subjected to systematic repression and is deemed to be ‘killable’ based on a biased set of standards. We have a responsibility to ourselves and to our ancestors to stand in solidarity with those whose history is following a similar trajectory.”

Hye-Phen has published pieces addressing anti-Blackness in the Los Angeles Armenian community and suggesting how Armenians can stand with Black Lives Matter. A recent Armenian Weekly piece about Sterling and Castile pointed out Armenians’ obligation to “be at the forefront of the efforts to prevent future killings of innocent people.”

The group will likely continue meeting in Yerevan to have deeper discussions on the issues and to draw parallels around the world and in the local context.

(Melanie Nakashian currently lives in Yerevan. She is from New York and has been involved with various international political, media and environmental organizations) 

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Comments (30)
1. Kevork21:41 - 20 July, 2016
What an outrage, what mockery of our martyrs. Get the hell out of Armenia, American trash!! And I will tell this to you from USA. Black Lives Matter is an American issue and it has nothing to do with human rights nor Armenian Genocide. Black men in America getting shot because they are not following orders from cops after committing crimes, what in hell does that have to do with the Armenian Genocide!? Stupid God-damned disgusting Kardashian generation of social media idiots!!
2. John Ohanessian22:42 - 20 July, 2016
Do these clueless millennials know they are supporting a terrorist group? Thanks for bringing dishonor to the Genocide memorial by honoring anarchisms and terrorism. This is no place for your political agenda, or special interest group. Have some respect to the millions who lost their lives at the hands of the turks. I am sure this comment would not be published. After all, the site that gave platform for this would probably disagree with opposing opinions.
3. Yego08:15 - 21 July, 2016
First thing first. All life matters. White people killed by cops 237 Black people cops 134 Latin people killed by cops 87 This problem is created to divide and concur. In the US they are trying to start a race war so they can control thru Marshall law. So get this bull shit fake movement out of Armenia.
4. WithFriendsLikeThese...09:52 - 21 July, 2016
Both of your comments appear seemingly uncensored. If you dont see solidarity as a positive action, refuse intersectionalism and quickly denounce an entire group of people than your words speak much more to "Americanism" than this action. Oh, how I would love to hear your thoughts on Հայ Յեղափոխական Դաշնակցութիւն, ՀՅԴ or the Dashnak.
5. OhAndByTheWay09:54 - 21 July, 2016
How would you like for the international community to refer to the Genocide simply as 'an armenian issue'?
6. Johno 10:52 - 21 July, 2016
How can anyone allow this? Do these young Morons know that Black Lives Matter is a Terrorist Group in America? Hey Dipshit Security arrest or kick these walking trash out of our Sacred Grounds!
7. Anna11:57 - 21 July, 2016
People like kevork and John are alive, because elsewhere in the world there were humans who thought their ancestors should be helped to overcome grave human rights (the right to live) violations. They seem to be oblivious of human solidarity. They also seem to be ignorant of what's going on the US against the black population and the level of state violence there. I pity you both!
8. Ani Carla12:28 - 21 July, 2016
Thank you all for standing in solidarity (from across the world) in the name of human rights. It's important for individuals to gather peacefully and speak freely about whatever issues of concern that they choose, and educate others in the process. I know our African American brothers and sisters in the states absolutely appreciate this and stand in solidarity with Armenians as well. If Armenians remain ignorant, isolated, and unsupportive of other worldy issues other than their own, then no one will ever listen and support our voice for genocide awareness. It's all about UNITY and weaving the web of peace through diversity, after all, we are all fighting for one cause: the freedom to love and be loved. We all deserve it. Bless.
9. David17:10 - 21 July, 2016
Go home children, you haven't a clue.
10. L.V. 17:35 - 21 July, 2016
What these people did is inappropriate, insensitive, disrespectful and completely out of context. It's quite offensive...
11. sos18:34 - 21 July, 2016
12. Hrag19:02 - 21 July, 2016
Thank you for doing this and this is the right way to remember those in our families that were taken by the Genocide. Don't pay attention to the anti-black bigots in the Armenian community, as they are stuck in their provincial 20th-century bigotries. This action makes me proud to be Armenian and it makes me proud that people like you understand that the lessons of the Armenian Genocide include the fight against all types of oppression and resisting assimilation into racist ideologies like white supremacy. BRAVO!
13. Raffi19:04 - 21 July, 2016
What a depressing sight seeing armenians disrespecting other armenians because they choose to recognise the suffering of others. Look in the mirror, some of you.
14. Meri20:04 - 21 July, 2016
All these ignorant, racist, fake Armenian "patriot"men!!! Always have some nasty shit to say about peaceful, equal-rights activists, especially women!! Get outta here!! BRAVO to these amazing activists indeed!...and NO I don't give a shit what any of you ignorants think, or have to say about me or my comment! Your opinion doesn't mean anything.
15. Karo20:47 - 21 July, 2016
Ah yes the final frontier for our beloved social justice warriors. I don't know where to begin. I am simply ashamed. We've reduced our most sacred monastery to a stage for political activists. FOR SHAME.
16. Meri20:49 - 21 July, 2016
No David, Johno, John, Kevork and other ignorants, YOU have NO CLUE!
17. Kolya23:47 - 21 July, 2016
Kevork, John and the others, you'd most likely not be able to feel safe where you currently are and comment here if the world would "host" more selfish haters like you in the past, who would not give a fuck about the lives of your grandparents (for their color, ethnicity, nationality, etc). Claiming a better protection of a specific group is also beneficial to the rest of the communities, as all would live in a safer and healthier society.
18. H.00:13 - 22 July, 2016
Good on these activists.
19. Lia02:29 - 22 July, 2016
Doing this at the American embassy would be much more appropriate. Don't bring protest signs to a peaceful memorial.
20. Shant03:38 - 22 July, 2016
In 2015, 581 whites were killed by police, compared to 306 blacks. So far in 2016, 297 whites have been killed compared to 148 blacks. With the numbers adjusted (per captia) more blacks are killed than whites per 1,000,000 people - 2015: 7.27 (black) to 2.93 (white); 2016 3.52 (black) to 1.5 (white). One only needs to look at the crime rate and have an elementary understanding of basic mathematics to understand way these numbers fall right in line with what's happening on the streets, and the fact no one is being "unfairly treated".
21. Maral Wozniak10:22 - 22 July, 2016
I think my ancestors would be ashamed of me if they knew I was silent while people around me were murdered due to their race or any type of discrimination. This is why I think Tsitsernakaberd was an appropriate place to stand in solidarity with BLM. It is a place of love, not hatred. I honor my ancestors by standing up for the lives of others. For future reference, you can read the requests of the BLM movement here: If you take the time to read, you will notice that most of these policies, when put into place, will benefit everyone in the community- not just Black people. This means a reduction in police brutality as a whole in America. I'm fairly certain that, whether you support BLM or not, we can agree that less police brutality would be a good thing.
22. abdullie16:06 - 25 July, 2016
By the looks of these rag tag crowd they don't appear to know that a protest of this kind should not take place in a sacred and hallow ground , the eternal sanctuary of genocided victims. First and foremost the authorities s are to blame for allowing these rag tag crew of social misfits to violate the sanctity, respect, honor and dignity of the grounds and demean it to a mere protest spot, as if it were a football pitch or an amusement park If they want to protest, they should go to a corner street, a flea market or to the American embassy grounds, not to a holy shrine. Black miscreants get shot by police in Amerika for disobeying orders or ignoring bylaws, one must not turned such events into an act of misplaced solidarity and give the impression that the police in Amerika is hunting black people for the fun of it. No sane person would believe that nonsense. I wonder what would have happened if these crew of malcontents tried to do the same kind of solidarity protest at Yad Vashem in Israel ? They would not even got closer to 1000 meters of the building.
23. Nina04:46 - 31 July, 2016
abdullie your're an idiot
24. Drastamat Kanayan03:19 - 13 August, 2016
To the leftist lost lambs pictured above and to the unnecessary schoolmarms in these comments: Stop appropriating Ashkenazi culture.
25. John Ohanessian11:22 - 10 September, 2016
Anyone else sees this suspicious? The comments that are blasting this as an disgraceful act, desecrating a memorial designed and exists to honor innocent lives lost due to a genocide, with a lunacy brought by uninformed social justice loon millennials, all mention facts, and did not post juvenile personal attacks. Yet the ones supporting this crap came from all seemingly unhinged person(s) using female aliases. Anna Meri Kolya Maral Wozniak Nina Very interesting. I think they are either one or probably two females at best. Uninformed ones who buy into leftist propaganda, then call others names for pointing out facts to them. Yes, whoever you are, you are the idiot you call others for simply pointing out facts to you. Get out of our memorial you crazy leftist punks. You have no business descrating the memory of the innocent martiers with the agenda of the "Black Lives Matter" militant racist group. What is more outrageous, you equate that criminal group's agenda with our cause of recognition of what injustice our ancestors suffered? Our grand parents are rolling in their graves. They never fired a single shot, never hurt anyone, were minding their own business when their lives were turned upside down, lost everything and lost their loved ones. Compare that to the BLM thugs and criminals who shot several officers who died protecting others and in the line of duty. Shame on you for bringing dishonor to this sacred memorial. If BLM members do not want to be shot, then maybe, just maybe, they have a better chance, like the rest of us, if they abide by the laws and STOP committing crimes or challenging officers/attacking them. Grow up you leftist loons and grow a spine. Keep this trash out of our Genocide memorial. Your propaganda peddling a hate groups message does not belong there.
26. John Ohanessian11:26 - 10 September, 2016
To "Hrag" (I doubt that is your real name): Opposing BLM's hateful agenda is not racist. Grow up will you?Supporting race hustlers is racist. Typical clueless millennial, you got everything backwards. You, Kolya and other clueless, foul-mouthed clowns are so brave to insult others for being outraged by this outrageous act, yet miss a simple fact. Those who were lost to the Genocide DID NOT ATTEMPT TO MURDER ANYONE. Comparing them to the thugs that attempting killing police officers and got shot as a result of their criminal actions is not only a disgraceful act but also INSULTING Genocide martyrs, assuming you are Armenians and know your own history. Shame on you.
27. Gevorg19:03 - 5 October, 2016
It's good to stand in solidarity for any type of tragedy from any group of people. But I really couldn't help but comment on this post. Black lives matter is a good idea, saying "all lives matter" would be ignoring/masking the actual problem. Saying Black Lives Matter doesn't mean that no lives matter and only blacks do, it means "Hey, our lives matter too" kinda like "acknowledge us". But what's wrong with Black Lives Matter is the movement itself. What Black Lives Matter actually does is segregate each other, now not only do we have blacks against whites, we have whites against whites and even blacks against blacks. (FYI there are many blacks against the movement). Many people don't acknowledge the fact that more whites are killed by cops than blacks. Until you all can grasp, the fact that 93 % of black murder cases were committed by other blacks, all of you will live in this victimhood. I apologize, but facts don't care about your feelings. Thus being said, black lives don't matter to Black Lives Matter. So we see that the problem is within the roots of the movement, its own people... Now you can have a counter argument against my point, saying that "well the white man/government sabotaged the black community", sure, go ahead... You're only continuing to live in the same victimhood. The only way to resolve this problem is to take their heads out of their asses, acknowledge the facts, unite and stop killing each other. I live in Los Angeles, born and raised here, but I see what goes on, only very few innocent blacks are killed by cops, and majority of blacks killed by cops is because they tried to run away or charged at the police, or caught with a stolen vehicle or ran away as they robbed a liquor store. Look and it's not cause we're racist, we would stand in solidarity for the Rwandan genocide, or the Sudan genocide, but not for a movement that only segregates and the problem being is in its own roots. And please, social justice warriors, don't resort to ad hominem attacks. I have never seen Black Lives Matter stand in solidarity for the Armenian genocide... We can't take care of our own little problems in Armenia, we're trying to solve a problem for a group of people that dont even make up a population in our fatherland? If you all are so brave then go fight the oppression that the Armenian government is imposing on it's own people. You can't, because you know your asses will be handed to you.
28. Antranik17:50 - 6 October, 2016
Wow whay does "Black lives matter have to do with Armenian Genocide memorial and with American racial issues? Brain washed little kids educated in American socialt progressice liberal system!! Just one question I'm looking for the oeople who say black lives don't matter who are they? Or Asian lives Latinos live ect. Someone needs to slap you morans to reality go get a life and help your poor parents trying to make ends meet in todays stupid world your profesors created!
29. Gevorg08:30 - 12 October, 2016
Antranik, it's a form of opression that they are making people aware of. We of all people, have seen one of the worst days and tragic types of opression for over 800 years. Put our opression and their opression on a scale, you'll see which one is worse, but that's not the point, saying one form of opression is worse than the other is wrong because you would be marginalizing that certain group of people, so I understand and agree standing in solidarity with another group of oppressed people. But Black Lives Matter? Their movement and their reasoning is trash as to why they terrorize the likes of other beings when the problem is within THEMSELVES. Like I said, Rwandan or Sudanese genocide, fine.. the Spaniards against the Moors, fine... 1.5 million Slavs held as slaves and sex slaves by Africans, fine. But BLM? Grow up. And Don't compare this Hay Heghapokhagan Tashnagcucyun or ASALA. Our motives were justified and they're the reason why we exist today. And again, oh so courageous Armenian students with BLM posters from liberal universities, fix the opression in Armenia. We are on the brink of losing our country and you guys with your privileges from Europe and America who have your homes and comfortable pin striped couches from IKEA, have the audacity to show your faces supporting a ridiculous movement.
30. Nazeni22:25 - 14 February, 2017
All of the haters of the BLM movement are as clueless as the communities they most likely grew up in and are probably still a part of. Please do yourselves and others a big favor and check your knowledge, and the REAL facts, not the ones fed to you by the racist and shovenistic mainstream Armenian media before speaking, because you sound as stupid and ignorant as you are. Not everything is about you, especially YOU, Armenian men...Relax
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