By TAYLOR HARTZ
Hundreds of Armenian Americans took to the capitol this Saturday to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide.
As the Armenian flag flew above the golden dome in Hartford, voices rang out with the Armenian national anthem inside the Hall of the House, followed by promises of “We will remember,” and “We’re still here.”
Among those who gathered to remember was New Britain resident Harry Terdjanian, owner of Automaster in Southington.
Terdjanian was born in Turkish-occupied Armenia in 1968, 53 years after the Ottoman Turks have been accused of massacring 1.5 million of the 2 million living in Armenia during WWI.
A century later, the Republic of Turkey still adamantly denies that an eight-year genocide took place.
Growing up, Terdjanian said he directly felt the effects of the massacre and saw the hatred the Turks held for the minimal number of Armenians who survived. As Christians, he said, they were treated as infidels, they were looked down on not only as minorities, but as less than human. “They still reminded you every day that they were going to finish the job,” said Terdjanian.
Although his family did not want to leave their homeland, Terdjanian left Armenia with his grandmother, parents and siblings in search of a nation where they could find equality. “We wanted somewhere we could call home, where we could make our own choices,” he said.
By the time his family arrived in the U.S. in 1975, they had lived in over 20 countries across the globe. When they found New Britain, they settled in to the community that would finally be their home.
While Terdjanian and his family have found an abundant Armenian community in Connecticut, with four Armenian churches nearby and many cultural groups, the population still struggles with one fight for equality in the country they thank for their freedom.
Just this month, Pope Francis recognized what happened to the Armenians as the first genocide of the 20th century, and Armenia’s national church canonized all the victims as martyrs last week. The United States has not joined the list of 23 nations who have officially recognized the genocide.
While President Obama has acknowledged the massacres and honored Armenian Remembrance Day each year of his presidency, he has for seven-years not used the word “genocide.”
Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America, issued a statement this week calling the lack of recognition a “sad spectacle of President Obama playing word games with genocide.”
Despite the lack of national recognition, Connecticut is one of 43 U.S. states do refer the events as “genocide.”
“Here in Connecticut we have a strong Armenian community that has influenced our very culture in this state and has made a contribution to our political and overall success,” said Gov. Dannel Malloy (D-Conn.,) who spoke at the capitol on Saturday to voice his support for national recognition.
The governor stressed the importance of remembering what happened to the Armenian peple and applauded the Connecticut community for their annual efforts, “we need to be leaders in this movement,” said Malloy.
The governor’s statement embodied the way Terdjanian is helping Armenian culture thrive both internationally and here in Southington.
In addition to fighting for recognition worldwide and responsibility in Turkey, Terdjanian focuses his efforts on bringing Armenian culture into the local community.
Terdjanian credits his accountability in the community to the honesty of his business and said his culture and upbringing influenced the way he runs Automaster.
“I give people choices, because I grew up without choices,” said Terdjanian of repair services offered at his shop.
Outside of his own business, Terdjanian is the founder of the Armenian Business Association. “There aren’t too many Armenians worldwide, so I try to unite them,” he said. His work in the association encourages networking among local Armenian business owners.
While the Armenian community in Connecticut has brought their culture to Connecticut’s soil, few were born in the homeland and even fewer remain in the land that once held their culture. Terdjanian vows that he will not forget where his journey began nor will he stop fighting for justice.
“I grew up with the survivors. I know their stories, I have seen the tears in their eyes and I have heard their nightmares,” said Terdjanian, “I have to be their voice.”
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Taylor Hartz, email her at THartz@SouthingtonObserver.com.