Society 15:05 20/04/2024 World

109-year-old Armenian Genocide survivor honored at Mass. State House

Thundering applause filled the House of Representatives chamber at the Massachusetts State House Friday morning, as lawmakers and visitors rose to their feet to honor Mary Vartanian, a 109-year-old survivor of the Armenian Genocide, the Boston Globe reported.

“She’s just an amazing blessing,” said Jeanine Shememian, Vartanian’s grandaughter. “We look up to her, and we will always follow in her footsteps. We’ll never, never let her sacrifices go in vain.”

Vartanian received a Boston police escort from her home at the Armenian Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Jamaica Plain to the State House for the 10:30 a.m. ceremony to mark the 109th Anniversary Commemoration of the Armenian Genocide.

Vartanian, who wore a purple “remembrance necklace” around her neck and a white-beaded headband in her hair, did not forget to send blessings and kisses to everyone she passed.

“Absolutely, I’ll take it,’” said Sergeant Ryan Cunningham of the Boston Police Department with a smile, as he accepted a wave and a blessing from Vartanian.

Once inside the packed chamber, Vartanian was recognized for her “contributions to the Armenian American community” in Massachusetts, said state Senator William Brownsberger, who presented the joint resolution of the House and the Senate.

At the commemoration, which comes ahead of Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day on April 24, children from St. Stephen’s Armenian Elementary School sang the American and Armenian national anthems.

State Representative David K. Muradian Jr., a Republican from Grafton and one of two representatives of Armenian heritage serving in the house, presided over the 90-minute ceremony.

“The Armenian Genocide is not just the tragedy of the past, it is a wound that still bleeds in the fabric of our humanity, our every fiber of being,” Muradian said during his closing statements. “Today, we refuse to remain silent. Today we raise our voices in solidarity with all Armenian people.”

Justice Gabrielle Wolohojian, the newest appointee to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and a fellow Armenian, was the keynote speaker.

Wolohojian said Armenian Americans have an “obligation” to participate in public service and to “protect the rule of law.”

“Throughout much of its history, the Armenian people have lived under the laws and governments of others,” she said. “Now that we have grown and prospered here for over 100 years, it is time for us to do our part to preserve and promote those institutions for future generations. "

Wolohojian said her mother’s grandfather was arrested by Ottoman authorities and sent to prison where he later died. “What were regarded as his crimes you may ask?,” she said. “The crime of being Armenian.”

Vartanian was born Mary Ouzghoushian in 1914 in Ainteb, a city in south central Turkey, her family said. A year later, the massacre of untold thousands of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire would begin. Over the next eight years, 1.5 million Armenians were killed, and many more were removed from their homeland. Vartanian was 3 years old when her family escaped, moving first to Syria and then to Lebanon, according to her family.

She was widowed at age 55, a mother of six young adult children. She immigrated to the US in the 1970s, settling in Watertown.

In Massachusetts, Vartanian became active in her new community, particularly at St. James Armenian Church in Watertown, where she was once named Mother of the Year. She would crochet items with a cross and the words “Armenians, Armenians do not forget April 24,” and donate them to churches, her family said.

Her daughter, Lisa Darian, said her mother has reinforced that message for all of her life.

“Tell the new generation not to forget the Armenian Genocide,” Darian said, recalling her mother’s advice.

It was for that commitment to her homeland that Vartanian was honored Friday at the State House.

“My joy and my pride is with the Armenian people,” Vartanian said, speaking in her native language, and translated by Darian. Her mother “could not explain” how honored she was to be at the State House Friday, Darian said.

Vartanian, who is due to turn 110 in August, has 15 grandchildren, 21 great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild. While her family is scattered around the world, her daughter, Darian, her granddaughter, Jeanine, and her husband, Raffi Shememian, and her two great- granddaughters, Natalie and Lianna, attended Friday’s ceremony.”

Shememian, and her two great-granddaughters, Natalie and Lianna, attended Friday’s ceremony.

“She’s walking history,” Natalie, 21, said. “We’ve spent so much time with her and the stories we hear from so long ago are absolutely incredible.”

Natalie and her sister, Lianna, 18, said watching their great-grandmother be honored is a “miracle.”

“It’s special not only for our family, but for the Armenian community,” Natalie said. “We think it’s very important to not only recognize her but all the survivors, and all the people who didn’t make it.”

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