By Hasmik Harutunyan

AGBU London: “Living Memory”  –
Genocide Centenary Commemorative Event

Organisations across the Armenian Diaspora have been commemorating the Centenary of the Armenian Genocide this year. AGBU London was no exception: a memorial evening named “Living Memory” was held at the dazzling Great Hall in Chelsea Old Town Hall on Friday 26th of June 2015. The commemoration evening was organised by AGBU members Mariana Haladj-Asmirian, Seda Nazarian and Shakeh Major Chilingarian.

The Commemoration at Chelsea Old Town Hall started with an exhibition of the works of Nairi Afrikian entitled Memory is Still Alive. The young artist displayed her modernist creations on the theme of the Armenian Genocide: a mix of sculpture, photography and patchwork. The exhibition was a mixture of imaginative and contemporary works of art based on the most painful period of modern Armenian history; the expressive and evocative show by the promising young artist would certainly attract the attention of the British specialists and art lovers.

The commemorative evening was opened by Mr. Assadour Guzelian of AGBU London, a well-respected public figure, passionate philanthropist and erudite intellectual. Mr. Guzelian welcomed the general public and the dignitaries – among those present were Baroness Caroline Cox, former Mayor of Chelsea Mr. Condon Semmondz, Honorary Alderman Mushtaq Lasharie, Mr. Tigran Galstyan representing the Armenian Embassy in London, Mr Ara Palamoudian – Chairman of the Armenian Community Council of the United Kingdom, Clergy of the Armenian Churches in London and representatives of Armenian organisations.

Mr. Guzelian spoke about his continuous campaign for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide, and mentioned his recent open letter to President Obama, Prime Minister Cameron and Prime Minister Netanyahu in which he had quoted words of recognition of the Armenian Genocide expressed by famous statesmen such as Sir Winston Churchill and Theodore Roosevelt.

Mr. Guzelian read the response he got from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and regretted that the British government had not changed its position on this subject.  “One can bury Justice, but Truth has never had a grave in history, therefore you could not bury the Truth”, said Mr Guzelian in his closing statement.

The founder of Komitas Institute in London, historian Ara Sarafian, delivered a presentation and photographic evidence entitled “Remembering Armenians Living in Turkey Today”. He shared some of the memorable episodes from his meetings with Turkish and Kurdish authorities, writers, historians as well as ordinary people, who acknowledged the massacres of the Armenians in 1915. The speaker highlighted that it was crucial to co-operate with the progressive thinkers in Turkey for the official recognition of the Genocide by Turkish government. There has been significant progress in recent years – once a taboo, now the Armenian Genocide can be openly and publicly discussed in Turkey, concluded Mr. Sarafian.

The final speaker was the celebrated British humanitarian and activist Baroness Cox, who delivered an emotional speech about her personal associations with Armenia and Artsakh. Baroness Cox recalled her participation in the Commemoration of the Genocide in Yerevan on the 24th April 2015, as an honoured guest of the Armenian government, with many foreign leaders, ambassadors and prominent figures in the fields of art and culture. She stated that the recognition of the Armenian Genocide by Western powers was vital for the world and for peace in the region. Baroness Cox continued her speech sharing her memories on the war in Artsakh, which she had witnessed through her multiple visits since early 1990s. She spoke passionately about the Rehabilitation Centre for the injured and handicapped people that she opened in Artsakh: it has already become a major recovery centre not only for Armenians, but equally for nearby nations. At the end of her presentation, Baroness Cox recited a touching poem written by an eleven-year-old boy called Gegham about his unconditional love for his ancient homeland

The second half of the evening was a well-selected programme showcasing Armenian artistic talent comprising classical singers, musicians, actors and dancers.

Popular artist of the Republic of Armenia, much loved actress Mrs. Jenya Nersisyan recited two famous poems: Bells of Calamity by national poet Paruir Sevak and Get up, Boy by poetess Silva Kaputikian, and true to her theatrical talent, he brought audiences to tears with her emotionally charged interpretations.

Pianist Artur Bobikyan performed Arno Babajanyan’s celebrated Elegy and one of the most beloved pieces of the Armenian folk music, Kilikia for the grande finale of the evening.

Young pianist and composer Kristina Arakelyan, student from the Royal Academy of Music, accompanied equally talented and elegant soprano Tereza Gevorgyan, who performed two masterpieces of the Armenian composer Komitas with intensity and flawlessness.

Maral and Tamara Baghdjian performed folk dance Armenian Maidens; with gracefully synchronised choreography, the strikingly attractive young duo appeared on stage with colourful national costumes – reminding the aesthetic flair of the Armenian costumes in Parajanov’s movies.

British-Armenian actor Seta White recited Siamanto’s dark and macabre poem The Dance in English, which was a horrid revelation of the barbarism of the Ottoman soldiers during the massacre of young Armenian girls.

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