Heads Bowed, Flag Raised on Solemn Sojourn for Armenians in Lowell
LOWELL -- The quarter mile from John Street to City Hall is a short walk and a century long. It was the route traveled Saturday morning by more than 50 Armenian Americans in commemoration of the anniversary of the Armenian genocide 103 years ago.
Although April 24, 1915, is recognized as the official starting date of Armenia’s horrors, the relentless campaign of eradication actually lasted some eight years. The procession down Merrimack Street was a symbolic reflection of that dark period and the many generations of Armenians in attendance all knew why they were there.
The march culminated in a flag-raising ceremony at City Hall, where clergy, politicians and ancestrally-linked survivors of the genocide spoke, sang and saluted both a flag and a people.
The annual procession is held throughout the country on the Saturday morning before April 24.
Steve Dulgarian, 84, of Chelmsford, and carries with him the passed-down stories of his mother’s and father’s escape from the genocide. He still marches alongside the great-grandchildren of his countrymen. He estimates that there are about 3,000 Armenians living in the Merrimack Valley and as many as 1 million in the United States.
“About 2 million Armenians were murdered by the Ottomans,” he said.
His anger has been replaced by ethnic pride. Not only has he not forgotten myriad tragic stories he heard from his parents, but he has assigned himself the informal role of passing along those tales to subsequent generations.
But more than DNA and familial legacy have been passed forward to the younger Armenians. The language from the old country is just as vibrant as the culture itself, youngsters recite prayers in the language and sing their national anthem in Armenian. Each generation is eager to keep alive the voice of their ancestors and many study the history of their lineage.
Samantha Oldham is a 14-year-old from Arlington who stepped up to mic at the reception Saturday. She told of her, and her family’s, visit to Armenia last year, and what she saw and learned about her heritage -- at least from that epoch.
“I saw the vivid pictures and images of people slaughtered and starved, children abandoned and families lost,” she said.
The solemnity of the moment was punctuated by prayers and faith as each speaker was flanked by local clergy and dignitaries.
Hayk Demoyan is the director of the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute, which is located in the Armenia’s capital, Yerevan. Demoyan is a temporary Lowellian and visiting scholar.
“It has been more than a century but it is a new beginning. By honoring our fallen compatriots,” he said, “we bring justice to the perpetrators.”
The flag was raised by the youngest people in the group. Six children hoisted the rope that ran the red, blue, and orange banner up the pole. The colors are signifiers of the people and their place. The red represents the blood of the victims and the resisters, the blue is a trope to the people’s will and resolve while the orange is an homage to the toil and the fruits of hardwork; orange in color to resemble the country’s signature crop, the apricot.
Armenians are, according to Dulgarian, Apostolic Christians for the most part. Armenia itself, which has seen an array of various empires and armies pass through its mountainous terrain over the centuries, was the first country to officially adopt Christianity as its national religion, in 301 AD.