Every year, on April 24, hundreds of thousands of Armenians around the world hold their hands together to demand justice and pay homage to the victims of the Armenian Genocide, the first genocide of the 20th century.
In 1915-1923, more than 1.5 million Armenians were deliberately killed or sent on death marches by the authorities of the disintegrating Ottoman Empire. The Genocide became the greatest atrocity of the First World War. It left deep scars in the psyche and body of Armenians, and remains the conflict’s most bitterly contested legacy, having been met with 105 years of denialism from the Turkish authorities. Around 30 countries have formally recognised the Armenian Genocide – among them France, Italy, Germany, Russia and the European parliament. In 2019, the US Senate and House of Representatives have joined them.
But the story of Armenians is not about death, but about survival and celebration of life. The first Christian state, which had suffered from one of the worst crimes of our age, was able to re-establish its independent statehood in 1991 and since then has been building a prosperous and modern country, proud of its millennia-old history but fixed firmly on the future.
One of the examples of the Armenian renaissance is the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative founded in 2015 on behalf of the survivors of the Armenian Genocide and in gratitude to their saviors. Since then the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity established to recognize modern day heroes whose actions have had an exceptional impact on preserving human life and advancing humanitarian causes. The Aurora Prize Selection Committee, chaired by the Director of the Institute of Global Health Innovation at Imperial College London Lord Ara Darzi, includes Nobel Laureates, former presidents, human rights activists and Hollywood stars, such as Óscar Arias, Leymah Gbowee, Samantha Power, Benjamin Ferencz, George Clooney and many others.
Every year a commemorative march takes place through central London, but due to current circumstances huge gatherings this year are cancelled. However, Armenians in the United Kingdom have been initiated a Virtual March, the candle-lighting ceremony and a number of other online campaigns to commemorate the memory of their martyrs. Moreover there is always a chance to pay tribute in St Yeghiche and St Sarkis Armenian Churches (both located in Kensington), or at the Armenian Khachkars (cross-stones) erected in Cardiff and in the Canterbury Cathedral’s Memorial Garden. For all those interested there are also The Promise movie, which is available to watch on Netflix and the BBC Documentary “The Betrayed”.