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Saturday, April 4, 2020

Remembering the Armenian Genocide: Students in the Middle Eastern Student Association share stories about how their families were impacted

Photos by Mona Ghorbani-Aghdam

By Mona Ghorbani-Aghdam

One hundred and four years have passed since the Armenian Genocide, and Western students are sharing their personal feelings of loss associated with the genocide that killed 1.15 million Armenians from the Ottoman Empire, now Turkey. As of today, only 30 countries and 49 states recognize the genocide.

On April 24, students apart of the Middle Eastern Student Association stood with signs in Red Square to raise awareness and pay their respects to those lost in the the Armenian Genocide.

Kate Arustamian is a second-year student at Western who helped coordinate the MESA-led demonstration around the Armenian Genocide. Arustamian’s great-grandparents were directly affected by the genocide. According to Arustamian, the Armenian Genocide is a very sensitive and heartfelt topic for her.

“As an Armenian, I need to carry on the story my ancestors faced,” Arustamian said. “My parents lost their homes, friends, and country because of their ethnicity as Armenians. My great-aunt was killed at her front door because of her ethnicity.”

Arustamian said her family later moved to Azerbaijan because of job opportunities, a common experience for Armenian families who fled the region.

Fourth-year student Yuriy Kalustyan’s family has also been touched by the tragedies of the genocide. Both of his parents were born in Baku, Azerbaijan. His grandparents fled Armenia because of the genocide. His parents moved to Russia for better career opportunities, where Kalustyan was born and later moving to the U.S. when he was four.

“Since I was little, I was well informed with what happened in Armenia,” Kalustyan said.
According to an article written by Prosser Gifford, The Armenian Genocide occurred from 1915 to 1923, before the Holocaust. Many Armenians who were able to escape to nearby countries such as Azerbaijan, Russia and Iran.

Third-year student Mikayla Arsenian said she always felt like she couldn’t connect with her identity because she was missing a connection to who she was. Both Arsenian and her father were born in the U.S. Her grandfather moved to the U.S. in the 1950s.

“Considering the migration patterns that happened to my family, I am pretty positive that my family was directly affected by the genocide,” Arsenian said. “It’s always been a kind of tricky topic to talk about with my grandpa.”

Arsenian is the granddaughter of Hovhannes (John) Arsenian and the great-granddaughter of Arshalouis and Bedro Arsenian. Arsenian’s great-great grandparents lived through the genocide. Her family later relocated to Lebanon.

Arsenian said she struggled immensely with her identity and connection with her Armenian roots because of the trauma that was left behind from the genocide.

“I still carry the generational trauma in my soul and my spirit,” Arsenian said. “We still have so much healing to do.”

Arsenian’s grandfather moved to Washington in the 1950s when he married a U.S. citizen. He experienced a high degree of assimilation coming to U.S. and adopted the dominant culture he experienced, leaving behind the culture we was brought up with, Arsenian said.

“One of the biggest thing’s my grandpa taught us as kids was the Armenian Genocide,” Arsenian said.

According to the Armenian National Committee of America’s website, although only 49 states recognize it, U.S. federal documents have not recognized the killing as a genocide.

According to a scholarly article titled “The United States and the (Non-)Recognition of the Armenian Genocide” by Julien Zarifian, Turkey does not recognize the genocide and no legislation has ever been passed by the U.S. Congress in order to affirm the country’s official recognition of the Armenian Genocide.

“In America, people aren’t really well-educated on the genocide,” Kalustyan said. “I think the United States can do a better job of informing in our education system.”
Kalustyan also said there should be more efforts to raise awareness around other genocides that he thinks have been overlooked.

“If you look at the Rwandan genocide, for example, people know about it but they don’t know the true scale of it,” Kalustyan said.

Washington recently amended Senate Bill 5612, which strengthens and supports the Holocaust Education in Washington schools, according to the Ray Wolpow Institute for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide, and Crimes Against Humanity website.

That also includes studies of genocide and crimes against humanities. Western recently announced a new minor in Holocaust and Genocide minor starting fall 2019.
Western is the first public university in the state with such a minor, according to Sandra Alfers, director of the Ray Wolpow Institute.

Kalustyan believes it is important for people, especially student know that even though the genocide happened over 100 years ago, its effects persist in our society today.

“Many people at Western, with our huge white population, did not know about what happened in 1915 in Armenia until MESA’s demonstration,” Arustamian said. “As students, we need to be in solidarity and support and help each other in America and our own homeland countries.”

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