BEIRUT: For the first time ever, Armenians around the world will not be coming together on the fateful day of April 24 to commemorate the Armenian Genocide, as the coronavirus pandemic forces them to resort to virtual events.
This year marks the 105th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. Armenians in Lebanon will not be holding a march – usually organized by Lebanon’s three leading Armenian political parties, Tashnag, Hunchakian and Ramgavar parties – through the streets of Beirut, a traditional event that symbolizes unity, pain and the demand for justice yet to be served.
“The spread of COVID-19 hindered our ability to gather as a community to mark this solemn date,” Arine Ghazarian, interim executive director of the Armenian General Benevolent Union, told The Daily Star.
This year, nationwide commemorations are being carried out through virtual events, Ghazarian said, with AGBU – the world’s largest non-profit Armenian organization – organizing a special global screening of “The Other Side of Home,” a story that illustrates how the Genocide has created a ripple effect for descendants of survivors.
As commemoration events are cancelled, many are sharing pictures, videos, stories and reflections on the painful event online.
On April 23, the eve of the Genocide commemoration date, Armenians held candlelight vigils in different parts of Lebanon, an alternative event organized by the three leading parties, in light of unforeseen circumstances, Hagop Havatian, media representative of the Tashnag Party, told The Daily Star.
“A torch was lit in the square of Burj Hammoud in the presence of Armenian community leaders, who then toured areas in Beirut and Metn, with Armenians lighting candles at their balconies and building entrances, in memory of the victims who perished during the Genocide,” he said.
The torch made its final stop at the Armenian Embassy, after which a small commemorative ceremony was held at the Armenian Catholicosate in Antelias.
Armenians in the Bekaa Valley, Jbeil and the north of Lebanon also participated in a similar fashion.
The candlelight vigil ceremony was broadcast live, as social media brought Armenians together and provided them with a sense of togetherness and unity even though they couldn’t experience it physically.
For many, coming together is the best antidote to going through a solemn day and period in general, as many descendants are reminded of what their ancestors endured and survived, and reflect on how their present lives have been shaped as a result.
A Mass was held at the Armenian Catholicosate in Antelias on the morning of April 24 which was attended by a limited number of people, including Armenian officials, MPs and ministers.
“This is how Armenians across all of Lebanon remembered the martyrs of the Genocide,” Havatian said, adding that Armenians reaffirmed once again, their fight and demand for justice.
The Armenian Genocide was the systematic massacres and forced deportation of Armenians perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire – modern day Turkey – between 1915 and 1923, that sought to wipe out the entirety of the Armenian ethnic group.
Turkey to this very day refuses to label the death of 1.5 million Armenians as Genocide, arguing that the deaths were as a result of instability and conflict affecting Turks and Armenians alike during World War I.
Even though the coronavirus lockdown has changed the way events will take place this year, “the meaning and the memory of our victims will stay alive,” Talar Haidostian, 21, told The Daily Star.
“Our history has been ingrained inside each one of us, it has shaped us, and our identity and actions are products of that history,” she said.
Thousands of Genocide survivors escaped to Lebanon after being tortured and displaced from their lands.
Having risen from poverty and anguish, Armenians today make up an integral part of Lebanon’s social fabric, bringing their own expertise into the industry and culture to the country.
Lebanon was the first and only Arab country to recognize the Armenian Genocide in 2000, until Syria’s official recognition in February 2020.
Lebanese people have also suffered under decades of Ottoman rule. The famous Martyrs’ square in Downtown Beirut was named in memory of those executed by the Ottomans in 1916.
“Even though 105 years have passed since the Armenian genocide, the pain and loss are still there,”