Denver, CO – On Friday, April 22, 2016, community members gathered at the Colorado State Capitol in Denver to participate in the Advocacy Day organized and hosted by the Armenian National Committee of America – Western Region.
Following a briefing led by ANCA-WR’s San Francisco-based chief legislative consultant Haig Baghdassarian and Denver-based community development coordinator Simon Maghakyan, activists from across the state started the day with early morning meetings with members of the Colorado House of Representatives and Senate. After a moving commemoration of the Armenian Genocide in Senate then House chambers, meetings continued throughout the day. Focal points of discussion with officials centered around the recent Azeri aggression, attacks and war crimes in Artsakh and Armenian Genocide education.
“Our heartfelt appreciation and gratitude goes out to the fierce leadership of the CO House of Representatives and Senate, all the Colorado legislators who stood in solidarity to commemorate the 100+1 Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, and our vibrant Armenian-American community who once again demonstrated their determination to fight for our cause and make our community’s voice heard. As we move forward with our initiative and priorities, we know we have both an educated legislature on our issues and an emboldened grassroots ready to take our cause to the next level,” stated ANCA-WR Executive Director Elen Asatryan.
The highlight of the day was the moving presentation and unanimous adoption of a joint resolution in commemoration of the Armenian Genocide. Since 2002, Colorado’s House and Senate have commemorated the Armenian Genocide through a joint resolution, which led to the authorization of the Colorado State Capitol Khachkar, unveiled on April 24, 2015. SJR 37 was first read at length in both legislative chambers, after which the resolution’s bipartisan sponsors and many others made moving remarks on the importance of recognizing the Armenian Genocide. Announcements on the Senate floor included the Mile High Church’s showing of Denise Gentilini’s I AM ALIVE musical on April 29, and the May 2 opening of Armenian offices by the Colorado State Capitol.
Several Representatives took the time to recognize the Armenian Genocide and reflect on its modern as well as universal ramifications. Rep. Dominick Moreno requested a moment of silence, which was joined by all lawmakers, staff, media members, and guests. In his opening statement, Rep. Moreno mentioned that it is important to “remember the victims and effects of the Armenian genocide” every year.
Rep. Paul Rosenthal stated that he “had the wonderful pleasure to visit Armenia last year,” then shared the dazzling silence he encountered in Turkey while asking locals if they realized that Armenia’s song in the 2015 Eurovision music contest was about the genocide: “The silence jarred me. This is the very reason why we do need to talk about this.”
Rep. Daneya Esgar shared her disbelief of not knowing the Armenian Genocide until she learned about it from a coworker at a social justice organization. Rep. Tim Dore shared of learning how Nazis modeled the Holocaust after the Armenian Genocide. Rep Cole Wist stated that “about 27 years ago I became a member of an Armenian family – my wife’s family,” and that he is “proud to be an honorary Armenian.”
Rep Gordon Klingenschmitt requested staff to screen a map from ANCA-WR Advocacy Day Packet, which he received during an early meeting, where the genocide took place. Pointing to the displayed map, the Representative stated that “every red dot is a site of a massacre.” He then pointed to Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) on the map, stating that “this region was given by Stalin to Azerbaijan. Now they are independent Christians but are surrounded by Azerbaijan. I don’t want to forget these people as this is connected to the Armenian Genocide. I support their movement to determine their own destiny – whether they join Armenia or become an independent nation.”
Rep. Faith Winter thanked “the Armenians for their tenacity, and courage, and bravery in telling their story and not letting history forget what happened.” Recalling her visit to Turkey, Rep. Winter spoke of Turkish youth who “want to build bridges, acknowledge, apologize, and move on” – something that would be impossible had Armenians “not spent 100 years of that tenacity and courage to never forget and teach all of us.” Rep. Daniel Kagan, the son of Holocaust survivors who met in a Nazi concentration camp, concluded the House commemoration by quoting Hitler’s infamous argument that he would get away with the extermination of an entire people since “who, after all, speaks today about the annihilation of the Armenians?”
The Senate commemoration included moving statements by several Senators. The Democratic sponsor of the resolution Sen. Morgan Carroll, who is a social justice lawyer and candidate for Congress, explained the legal and historical background of the Armenian Genocide, drawing daunting parallels with the planning and execution of the Holocaust. “It was the Armenians specifically in mind that Raphael Lemkin coined the term genocide that we are now using for other contexts,” explained Sen. Carroll. She then explained the stages of the Armenian genocide – from Ottoman Turkey’s “big lie” that an entire culture was simultaneously inferior and dangerous to the arrest and execution of intellectuals then abled-bodied men, followed by the brutal wipeout and torture of women, children, and the elderly through systematic mass marches, drownings, gassings, concentration camps, intentional sickening, and slavery. “It is really a wonder that anyone survived,” reflected Sen. Carroll before thanking Colorado’s vibrant Armenian community for their contributions to the growth of the Centennial State: “Despite [the genocide], the [Armenian] community has been resilient and flourished… The fact they are here and thriving is an incredible testament because really they weren’t supposed to be here at all.”
The Republican sponsor of the resolution, Sen. Randy Baumgardner, while wearing the pin of the Armenian National Committee of America – Western Region, reminded his colleagues that it is still illegal to talk in Turkey about what happened to Armenians. He went on to express pride “that Colorado continues its support for the Armenian people and that we do everything we can that people are aware of [genocide].”
Sen. Tim Neville recalled the confiscation of guns during the Armenian Genocide as well as the heroic self-defense of Musa Dagh (Mount Moses) where “4,000 Armenians took up the hills of northern Syria with weapons; they resisted… they survived,” then concluded that “the Armenian people have a story of bravery that we should never forget.”
Sen. Linda Newell, who chaired the Capitol Building Advisory Committee that recommended the General Assembly to build an Armenian khachkar on capitol grounds, noted the need to educate Coloradans about the Armenian Genocide, and recalled the successful Centennial commemoration in Colorado.
“The beautiful [Djulfa] khachkar that is up on our grounds – I am so proud to have been a part of getting here – it was unveiled last April in memory of the crimes of all crimes against humanity… It is a replica of a medieval headstone that was destroyed in a state-sponsored hate crime in 2005. Few weeks ago the same perpetrator [Azerbaijan] committed war crimes again, this time against civilians… [such as] execution-style murders, mutilation of corpses and beheading of fallen soldiers.” Denouncing the lack of media coverage of Azerbaijan’s April 2016 war crimes in Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh),
Sen. Newell stated that “we need to acknowledge and support the Armenian Republic of Artsakh and its right to determine its own future.” Sen. Rollie Heath recalled growing up with children of Armenian Genocide survivors in Racine, Wisconsin. “Yesterday I talked about the silence in our family [during the Holocaust],” remarked Sen. Heath, “At least 10-15% of our class was Armenian but they never ever talked about it.” Sen. Kevin Lundberg, who has been a primary sponsor of the Armenian Genocide resolution before, mentioned that as a history major he learned about the Armenian Genocide not from history books but from a fellow classmate. He stated, “I appreciate that we focus on this tremendous tragedy that occurred so many years ago… [as] darkness has not gone away… May we not only never again [witness genocide] but may we never stop working to stop the killings.”
Sen. Larry Crowder chided Turkey’s demonization of Pope Francis after the latter’s recognition of the Armenian Genocide, as well as criticized the governments of the USA and Israel for failing to recognize the Armenian Genocide. “We owe [acknowledgement] to the people of Armenia, and I believe that we also owe it to the people of Turkey… I am very much in support of truth. The Armenian people deserve this. The people of the world deserve this,” remarked Sen. Crowder. Sen. Beth Martinez Humenik concluded the Senate speeches in support of SJR 37 by asking whether “we have learned” from the Armenian Genocide, concluding for the need “to make sure this kind of atrocity doesn’t continue throughout the world.”
The ANCA Western Region will open its shared offices with the Armenians of Colorado in Denver, Colorado on May 2nd. The official ribbon cutting ceremony and breakfast reception will take place at 8:30AM at 1373 Grant St. #101A | Denver, CO 80203. The event is free and open to the public. To rsvp, visit www.ancawr.org/DenverOffice. Community members interested in standing as a sponsor for the ANCA-WR Denver office, may make a contribution online at www.ancawr.org/denver-office-sponsorship or contact Elen Asatryan at email@example.com or 818.500.1919. To learn more visit www.ancawr.org.
The Armenian National Committee of America – Western Region is the largest and most influential Armenian-American grassroots advocacy organization in the Western United States. Working in coordination with a network of offices and supporters around the country, the ANCA-WR advances the concerns of the Armenian American community on a broad range of issues.