Student protesters from the Armenian Student Association gathered at the eternal flame last Thursday, Jan. 31, with red tape covering their mouths to symbolize the repression of justice and lack of acknowledgment of the Armenian Genocide. In an attempt to increase awareness of the genocide and the ensuing denial campaign by the Turkish Government, University of California, Santa Barbara’s Armenian Students Association, in coordination with ASA clubs across California including on Capital Hill and in Washington D.C, participated in the second annual silent protest, The Stain of Denial.
The choice to protest at the eternal flame was a symbolic and meaningful one, as the flame itself represents a commitment to peace. The Stain of Denial protest is essentially that; it is an attempt to raise awareness of the denial of the Armenian Genocide, the systematic killing of 1 to 1.5 million Armenians at the hand of the Turkish government, and to the continued issue of genocide in general. It’s goal is one of humanity and the recognition of atrocity.
“There is a line between humanity and politics. When it comes down to a genocide, politics shouldn’t take a role,” said ASA member and fourth-year political science major Shant Mirziains.
Over 20 countries have recognized the Armenian Genocide as a genocide, but the United States and Turkish governments have not officially done so. This year’s protest in particular was one of importance for the movement, it happened in the wake of President Barack Obama’s inaugural address. The president has continually made promises to the Armenian community to officially recognize the Armenian Genocide as a genocide but the promise has fallen through. He has mentioned the atrocity multiple times but has never used the word genocide. This is because Turkey is one of America’s few allies in the Middle East, and has the second biggest standing army in North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Adam Jaratanian, President of UCSB’s ASA and a fourth-year political science major, along with many others in the movement, believes that if the U.S. government officially recognizes the genocide, the political pressure will be such that the Turkish Government will be forced to do so as well. The issue has become one of political pressure through public awareness by means of protests and other methods, including calling attention to the actual commemoration on April 24.
“If even one person gets educated, that’s a success,” said Jaratanian.
Anna Kupchyan, ASA representative and a fourth-year black studies major, regards the protest as a complete success because it has stuck in the minds of those who witnessed it.
“Throughout the protest people came up to me and said things like, ‘I remember you guys from last year,’” said Kupchyan. She describes that the movement’s goal in the end was “to fight for human rights” and for the “peace of mind” for the Armenian community.
“You don’t want them to have died in vain,” said Jaratanian.
The ASA is very active within the community and works with humanitarian efforts in the Republic of Armenia, including the Hidden Road Initiative, an effort to help rural communities and schools in Armenia. It equally works with other Middle Eastern culture groups in preserving and celebrating their unique cultural heritages.