By Rachel Melikian
The night before the Armenian Genocide commemoration on April 24 there is a candlelight vigil, but this year, 2020, the commemoration of the 105th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide was different. It was virtual, without any marches in Little Armenia, or publicly held candlelight vigil nights, due to the novel Coronavirus global pandemic outbreak.
However, last year, during the gathering for candlelight vigil on the night of April 23, 2019, a reporter from Channel Seven Eyewitness News asked the crowd gathered at the Glendale City Hall Parcher Plaza why this particular night matters so much to the Armenian community. The reporter asked if the interviewee knew of any victims from the Armenian Genocide. The same morning, the Russian Voice Radio asked similar questions.
The overall response to the question why it matters so much is that the candlelight vigil is the precursor to the Armenian Genocide commemoration of April 24; the official date of the genocide. The candlelight vigil is the eve of the Armenian Genocide commemoration.
The vigil is not a big public event, and it is not publicized for the general population, but is very important to the Armenian community because it’s meant to be like a prayer, which is private. It’s for Armenians to remember, commemorate, and honor the victims of the Armenian Genocide. We are here, and whether you hear our voice or not does not matter because prayers are not meant to be heard but whispered. While some nationalities might make so much noise, it is our way to commemorate in silent reflection and prayer; this typifies the spirit of Armenian values and character.
Our presence shows our miraculous survival. We are here in the United States, silently making noise for a voice to be heard in the Glendale Parcher Plaza, remembering the 104th anniversary of the genocide. The martyrs’ voices cannot be heard but their prayers will be heard through us. The vigil is the voice that carries those who were massacred inhumanely and were crowned saints in heaven, in 2015 on the centennial of the genocide.
The police department was also present at the 2019 vigil. Police Chief Carl Povilaitis greeted and thanked the crowd in Armenian with perfect pronunciation. It is important to emphasize that he said “the police are part of the community,” “the police are yours,” and that he appreciates the Armenian culture and the Armenian food. This shows that the police department cares about the Armenian community.
Many other local and statewide political figures and representatives from different offices were present also.This illustrates that the Armenian Genocide and the Armenian people are part of the American community. This shows the recognition of the Armenian Genocide at the local political level. It can be concluded if not at the international level, then at least at the local level the recognition of the Armenian Genocide is there.
For the first time a troop traveled from Armenia to perform at the vigil. Yerevan Drums, composed of 12 year-old children, marched while playing their drums on the stage. These children signify the survival of the nation, the spirit of Armenia on the night of the vigil. Yerevan Drums is a group that came from Armenia’s capital Yerevan. This is a city that is over 2,800 years old. These are not the drums of protest to call attention to passersby but they are the drums of the vigil to pay respect to our holy Saint 1.5 million martyrs.
The vigil ended by everybody laying tea candles on a rectangular barbecue called Manghal, which is an Armenian invention style barbecue. Candles in the color of the Armenian flag (red, blue and orange) were placed in front of an Armenian ornamental cross.
The martyrs died without having a burial in a cemetery. Many were just thrown in the Euphrates River, Lake Van, or the Black Sea, and many were burned alive in the churches, fighting for their faith.
As a result of the Armenian Genocide, Armenians scattered all over the world, with no physical cemetery in Armenia or anywhere in the world. Now it falls on the shoulders of Armenians to carry with them the memorial of those innocent fallen souls. And on the night of the candlelight vigil, when we are lighting candles, we are symbolically making a mobile cemetery where their souls can rest. As they are now sanctified martyrs, their prayers can bring peace to the world.
The candlelight vigil isn’t just a ceremony for those who are old enough to be affected by the genocide, but also for the youth and children, who stayed till the end. It’s a sad history, the darkest pages in human history, but as we light candles we plant a hopeful seed within us.
It’s important that the flag of Armenia’s Artsakh Republic was the main attraction at the vigil draped on the city’s wall, and there is Artsakh Avenue, a small two blocks in Glendale recognizing the local community of Armenians. On the flag was written “We are Artsakh”. Artsakh is endangered by the constant border attacks by Azerbaijani Turks, forcing Armenians to withdraw from our sacred sovereign ancestral territory. It matters that Armenians still have Artsakh and we can raise its flag.
What matters during the night of the vigil is not the long-term recognition of the genocide but that we can raise Armenia’s flag along with the U.S. flag. With Armenia’s and Artsakh’s flags draped on the cars’ hoods or attached to the antennas, we can cruise around in Glendale expressing our cultural identity to the city of Glendale while safely driving and honking our horns, letting the world know we are Armenians.
There are few remaining survivors since the Armenian Genocide was over a century old. We are here representing the descendants from the survivors.
Thereafter, what matters is that Oct. 29, 2019, the U.S. Congress almost unanimously recognized the Armenian Genocide and Dec. 12. 2019 the US Congress did so unanimously.
This was last year! This year we were alone at home, yet our hearts were together with our martyrs, as our prayers are private so was our commemoration. The Armenian American community instead of candlelight vigil and marches raised funds and donated five million meals in support of Feeding America, in the memory of our 1.5 million sanctified martyrs. Tony Robbins will match the fundraising to make twice the impact.
What matters is that in our candlelight vigil we pray silently for our sanctified martyrs’ voices to be heard. We light a candle to bring light to this darkened world, for justice to be served and for there be peace on this Earth.
Rachel Melikian is the former GCC Woman of the Year