ASA and Hillel commemorate Armenian genocide through poetry

In remembrance of the 1915 Armenian Genocide, Hillel B.C. and the Armenian Student Association (ASA) jointly organized a poetry contest on the theme of genocide.

Carried out by the Ottoman Empire, the genocide saw the systematic decimation of its civilian Armenian population -- modern estimates put the death toll at approximately 1.5 million. And yet this atrocity, often dubbed the "forgotten genocide," has received limited international attention. What is more, Turkey, the successor state of the Ottoman Empire, denies the legitimacy of the genocide to this day.

Avetis Muradyan, president of the ASA, contends that the Armenian Genocide remains highly relevant in modern times. According to Muradyan, Turkey’s denial of the genocide stands both as an affront to the tragedy of the event and as an obstacle to dialogue.

“Turkey, being a NATO ally, usually pressures other western countries into avoiding any conversations or any public discourse on the Armenian Genocide,” said Muradyan. “There’s very little coverage.”

While some see this issue as distant from Canada, let alone UBC, Muradyan disagrees. “We feel that even though there is official recognition, Canada’s foreign policy does not act as though that recognition is in place,” Muradyan said.

Although Canada has officially recognized the Armenian Genocide, the government continues to tiptoe around the history of the atrocity.

For the ASA, international acknowledgment of the genocide is not the only goal. According to Muradyan, remembrance of the tragedy is also a preventative measure against future abuses of human rights.

“I’m a descendant of a survivor of the Armenian Genocide. We feel this form of moral obligation to stand up for human rights, especially when it comes to extreme situations which deteriorate very quickly,” said Muradyan. “We saw it happen in Darfur.”

The partnership between the ASA and Hillel evokes the parallel between the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust. While the latter has drawn more awareness, Muradyan believes that both incidents stand as cautionary tales of the consequences of hatred.

“You see a lot of connections between the Holocaust and the Armenian genocide,” said Muradyan. “It’s very obvious, it’s very stark.”

The poetry contest aims to raise awareness and encourage activism, said Muradyan, who believes that student activism regarding human rights is lacking at UBC. Entrants competed for the $200 Lemkin-Tehlirian Prize for Poetry, named after Raphael Lemkin, the man who coined the term "genocide," and Soghomon Tehlirian, a survivor of the Armenian Genocide.

“What this is all about to me is grievance, an extreme sense of grievance for everyone who has died in genocide,” said Muradyan. “We’re grieving even more that it happens over and over again without any engagement from our governments.”

The genocide commemoration poetry contest took place at 7 p.m. on Sunday, March 29.