Thousands of people came to Times Square on Sunday to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, and to demand the U.S. government recognize the slaughter of 1.5 million people as genocide.
In a speech at the event, USC Shoah Foundation Executive Director Stephen Smith said that the world must stand together speak for those who are not here to speak for themselves.
Here is a slightly edited version of remarks:
I am here. Standing.
You are here standing.
We are here standing on the side of memory, and history, and peace, and humanity, and justice, and truth.
Look around you.
See, you are not alone.
We stand together. Not because we are Armenian, but because we are people – people whose lives are bound up in the history of the world, in the values of humanity.
We are standing here because every Armenian life wasted on the altar of inhumanity is a loss to us all.
We are here because a century after their deaths their lives, every life, still matters.
We are here because the genocide of the Armenians, which began a century ago, will scar our world for millennia to come.
We are here remembering that when women and children were dragged out of their homes and sent into the desert, the fear and the pain and the cold and the heat and the hunger and the thirst and the rope and the bullets were all tools of a genocidal government, that determined those people would die just because of who they were.
We are here to speak out on behalf of the silenced. We will not be silenced. Not in their name, not in ours, not in mine. We will speak the truth of Genocide.
Listen. The bells toll 100 years of loss and agonizing sorrow. Where are the children who should have been born, the lives that should have been lived, the hearts that should have loved? Where is the laughter in the streets, the hopes and dreams of a generation lost? Where are the memories, the family trees that should have grown lush in fertile soil? Uprooted, wilted in the cruelty of our hostile world.
It was no accident that women and children burned up in the desert sun, no accident that town by town, street by street, house by house, one by one, homes were emptied, lives destroyed, until there was no one left to speak the unspeakable pain
It was no accident of history, or strange fate or misfortune that befell them, no consequence of war or famine. It was designed, planned, ordered. The foreboding of a century of genocide, that crime of crimes, the attempt to destroy the Armenians, wherever they were to be found, to destroy an ethnic and religious group by:
Killing members of that group;
Causing serious bodily and mental harm to members of that group;
Deliberately inflicting on members of that group conditions of life calculated to bring about their physical destruction;
Imposing measures intended to prevent births within that group;
Forcibly transferring children of the group to another.
And we call that, by definition, genocide.
There is no denying it.
No one has the power to deny the truth. No one has the power to deny their dignity. No one has the power to control the past, to redefine it. Memory outlives amnesia. History outlives politics. Fact prevails over falsehood.
We will not deny those innocents, our forebears, our family, the dignity of naming the crime that murdered them, the crime that crushes our soul. We will not let them get away with murder.
We stand here together because we know that if you deny the past, you are powerless in the present. And we refuse to be made powerless. If you cannot name genocide a hundred years on, how will you name it today? If you do not have strength to confront the evil of the past, how will you confront the evil of present?
So I say, ignore the deniers, let history find them out, be proud of who we are, reflect on the lives lived and lost, strong in our own conviction, of our place in the world, never to be cowed by vacuous threats, strong in our values, defenders of humanity. Lead by example because we have the strength of truth on our side. Rise above as ambassadors for humanity, because we know more than anyone why anger and hatred never pays.
So, we stand together in sorrow and in silence and listen to our past. Spend some time today and listen to the voices of those who have left their legacy for the world – survivors of the Armenian genocide who have spoken their truth. Listen to the witnesses whose faces you have seen on the screen here in Times Square today on the site of the USC Shoah Foundation.
Let their words linger in our minds and in our hearts, so that their truth, our truth, the truth, prevails.
That's why I am here. Standing.
Why you are here standing.
Why we are here standing on the side of memory, and history, and peace, and humanity, and justice, and truth.