On Sat., April 25, the Armenian Youth Federation-Youth Organization of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (AYF-YOARF) Eastern Region took over New York City’s Bowling Green Park to educate and engage the general public about the Armenian Genocide during a busy and high-profile 100th anniversary weekend.
The AYF organized this event with the intent to spread awareness of the Armenian cause and to educate non-Armenians about the atrocities of 1915. AYF Eastern Region members from different communities—Racine, Chicago, Providence, Boston, New York, and elsewhere—came together in unity to show that Turkey’s mission to annihilate the Armenians under the guise of World War I had failed.
“This event came about because the Central Executive wanted to make some noise in one of the biggest cities in the world on the Centennial weekend of the Armenian Genocide. We succeeded thanks to the drive and passion of our members, who were eager to educate non-Armenians about our cause,” said AYF Eastern Region Central Executive Chair Michelle Hagopian.
The AYF ER Central Executive stressed the importance of the weekend, and made attendance at the Times Square April 26 Genocide Commemoration mandatory for all who participated in Saturday’s event. The AYF also attended the “100 Years & Beyond” cultural event at the Hovnanian School in New Jersey on Saturday evening.
Taking school buses into Manhattan on the morning of April 25, the AYFers gathered in Bowling Green Park early in the day, ready to go once lunchtime hit and foot traffic would be high. The weather cooperated fully, making it easy to talk to people in the park as they passed through.
AYFers wore the same T-shirt (with the region’s hashtag #TurkeyFailed in large font on the back) for a cohesive message as they were divided up in the park. There was a table set up with several iPads that displayed educational YouTube videos on the genocide, the ANCA’s March to Justice campaign website, and the Kanye West concert in Swan Lake a few weeks earlier for passers-by to stop and watch. AYF members walked around the park and sidewalks handing out educational postcards about the genocide. The postcards also had an invitation to the Times Square April 26 genocide commemoration event.
“It’s great to see that we have representation from almost all of our AYF Eastern Region chapters, and we’re seeing a lot of younger ungers educating others and engaging with the public in a professional way,” said Nairi Khatchatourian, AYF Eastern Region Central Executive member.
Participants asked the park-goers to sign different banners to stand for human rights and the victims of 1915. The banners had three major hashtags that the AYF and Armenian community have been using for months: #TurkeyFailed, #ArmenianGenocide, and #NeverForget1915. The AYF plans to use these banners throughout the Centennial year at major events.
Throughout the day, AYFers used different languages—including French, Arabic, Chinese, and Spanish—to draw in tourists visiting Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. The 40-foot long #NeverForget1915 banner became a tourist attraction in its own right.
One group of participants talked to several street performers who were eager to help spread awareness. They took dozens of postcards and approached others on the street themselves.
Not all interactions were as positive, as the AYF inevitably came across some Turkish government supporters. One man yelled “There was no genocide!” loudly at an AYF member.
AYFers were creative in how they approached those walking by. Quick pitches to pique the public’s interest included the following:
– Do you know what Pope Francis said a few weeks ago that riled up Turkey?
– Do you know where Kim Kardashian visited this month?
– Do you like Kanye West?
Once they had captured people’s attention, the AYFers were able to carry on a discussion by providing basic genocide facts that we all have learned over the years, including the Ottoman Turks’ use of the Euphrates River to dispose of the bodies, Turkey’s denial that a genocide ever took place (instead referring to it as mutual loss during World War I), and Raphael Lemkin’s coining of the term “genocide” decades ago.
“It was a great experience to see people from different backgrounds come up to me and ask about what we were doing. After we explained our cause to them, they would spread the word about it to others by handing out postcards through the goodness of their hearts,” said Gio Aktchian, a young Providence AYF member.
The AYF used the recognition Armenia has received in the global news cycle over the past month, and pulled up articles, video, and photos in the park for all to see.
AYF members stayed in the park from roughly noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday, succeeding in obtaining thousands of signatures from non-Armenians and emphasizing the need for global recognition and education about the Armenian Genocide.
Before leaving the park, the group got on the steps of the nearby history museum and sang “Mer Hairenik” loudly and proudly while holding the #NeverForget1915 banner, and chanted “Turkey failed” afterward. The public stopped to take photos and video as AYFers wrapped up a day packed with activism.
That 40-foot banner was filled to the brim with signatures, as the AYF took it to Sunday’s events as well. Armenians and non-Armenians alike were thrilled to see the support garnered from something as simple as a signature. The AYF capped off the Centennial weekend by walking in unison in the Sunday march, leading chants, holding the banner, and experiencing the program in Times Square with more than 13,000 other Armenians.