With the soft duduk playing in the background and the dimly lit candle illuminating the theater, the stage was set and ready to for the evening to begin, to commemorate the 1.5 million Armenians who died 94 years ago.
About 200 students, professors, and Santa Barbara residents gathered in the Isla Vista Theater on Thursday, April 23, to remember the Armenian Genocide in an event hosted by the Armenian Students’ Association (ASA) at UCSB. The evening showcased a number of performances that celebrated both modern and traditional cultural expression.
Students David Boyajian and Ani Babayan led the program, introducing the first presentation of the evening, “20 Voices,” in which members of ASA read survival stories of victims Manoug Khatchadourian and Dikranouhi Safarian to the audience. In addition, ASA Vice President Vana Kouyoumji read a speech about the importance of Armenian identity and the remembrance of Armenian heritage. She spoke about her great-grandfather and his survival story and how it shaped her sense of self. Kouyomji also urged the audience to take action and find their own identity.
R-MEAN, a renowned Armenian rapper from Los Angeles, performed two original songs featuring his feelings and thoughts about the current problems of the Armenian community. Varying from the traditional Armenian ways of expression, R-MEAN’s songs hit the audience hard, loaded with depth and creativity. In his second song, “Open Wounds,” R-MEAN spoke about the deep-rooted wounds of the Armenians that remain open due to Turkish denial of the genocide. He went on to say that these wounds would not be healed without the recognition of the past, “Cuz we’ll never, ever! give up on our cause / Cuz we owe it to all the people we lost.”
However, it was not only R-MEAN’s lyrics that evoked emotion but also his creative methods, mixing old and new styles of Armenian music. When one of his songs mixed in the familiar Armenian “Kilikya,” the audience was noticeably moved.
Vache Tovmassian stressed the urgency of continuing to take action and recognize the Armenian Genocide, emphasizing the transition from denial to recognition. “They will first ignore you, then they will ridicule you,” Tovmassian said. “Then you will fight, and then you will win.”
The event concluded with the blessing of Father Hovel Ohanyan from the Parish Priest of Ventura and Santa Barbara County. Afterward, members of the ASA sold tricolor bracelets to raise money for Act for Armenia, an organization that helps fund six elementary schools in Armenia.
Nanor Balabanian is a first-year Political Science Major and a member of the Armenian Student Association.