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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) 

Comments (25)

Nazeni, seriously there is a website called gofindlife.com You seem someone that needs to visit that website. And for every human being with brains All Lives Matter. Not only blacks!!!!!!
Bravo... I’m proud of our new generation... Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Ella Fitzgerald, Muddy Waters.... and you name it... this is in their honor!!
What an embarrassing collection of comments from a people who should know better. As an Armenian I am wholly offended by the ignorance of lack of empathy. Get an education Armos. No one spoke up for our people and look what happened. Don’t become just like the Turks. Because you’re behaving like them.
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
John Ohanessian
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.
abdullie your're an idiot
Good on these activists.
No David, Johno, John, Kevork and other ignorants, YOU have NO CLUE! https://gma.yahoo.com/video-shows-unarmed-man-ground-hands-police-shoot-103603747--abc-news-topstories.html
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.
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!
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.
Drastamat Kanayan
To the leftist lost lambs pictured above and to the unnecessary schoolmarms in these comments: Stop appropriating Ashkenazi culture.
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.
Maral Wozniak
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: http://www.puckermob.com/lifestyle/black-lives-matter-just-delivered-their-10-point-manifesto-and-this-is-what-they-want 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.
Doing this at the American embassy would be much more appropriate. Don't bring protest signs to a peaceful memorial.
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.
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!
What these people did is inappropriate, insensitive, disrespectful and completely out of context. It's quite offensive...
Go home children, you haven't a clue.
Ani Carla
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.
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!
How would you like for the international community to refer to the Genocide simply as 'an armenian issue'?
First thing first. All life matters. White people killed by cops 237 Black people killed.by 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.
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!!

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