State senator approaches campus organization for aid

STAND is a student-led anti-genocide coalition comprised of internationally established chapters. The organization’s mission is dedicated to empowering individuals and communities with tools to prevent and end genocide worldwide.

On April 19, hundreds gathered to support Senate Joint Resolution 23 (SJR23). California State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), an advocate of officially recognizing the Armenian Genocide, recently approached STAND to speak in support of the resolution.

Prominent members of the Armenian community, including Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian of the Western Prelacy and Consul General Grigor Hovhannissian, attended the session. The UC Davis Armenian Student Association was also in attendance.

“While this has great resonance for me as a member of the Armenian community, this is a human rights issue, a question of fundamental decency,” said Simitian, a principal author of the resolution.

The resolution would designate April 24, 2012 as “California Day of Remembrance for the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923.”

The UC Davis STAND chapter consists of a passionate group of students engaged in advocacy, awareness and activism. Among its members is senior Andrew Bedigian, a political science and history double major, who has an invested interest in the accuracy of historical records.

As STAND’s Advocacy Coordinator and member of the Armenian community, Bedigian immediately jumped on the opportunity.

“Having heard horror stories of my great-grandparents’ experiences during that time, I felt it was my chance to speak up for my ancestors’ struggles,” Bedigian said.

Allotted two weeks to write his speech, Bedigian said he completed his assignment within just a few hours.

“As soon as I got off the phone with State Senator Simitian, I knew exactly what I wanted to say,” Bedigian said. “I wanted to write a speech that matched the triumph and tragedy of the stories my father told me.”

Outside of Armenia, California is home to the second-largest Armenian population in the world.

“The Armenian experience is truly a California story,” said State Senator Kevin De León (D- Los Angeles), a principal co-author of the resolution, at the Senate session.

Because this piece of legislation is a resolution rather than a bill, it does not require California Governor Jerry Brown’s stamp of approval.  However, this makes it necessary for the legislation to be brought back to the Senate floor annually.

Senator Simitian hopes this legislation will finally influence federal-level recognition.

“The goal is to encourage them to act likewise in memorializing this day on a national level,” Bedigian said.

“What is vitally important is that non-Armenians have kept this story alive year after year,” said State Senator Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), a supporter of the resolution.

The resolution has been brought to the California Senate every year and passed for the last 12. However, adoption of the resolution has yet to be met at the federal level.

Bedigian said he was honored by the presence of these distinguished members.

“I didn’t understand the magnitude of what I was doing, but as soon as it came to session and they called my name I realized it was now or never,” Bedigian said.

With the session’s conclusion, senators voted unanimously, 38-0, in support of the resolution. The resolution went to the State Assembly, where it was passed unanimously as well.

“Our hope is that this resolution will influence the United States government and the Turkish government to recognize April 24 as an annual historical event,” Bedigian said.

According to Senator Simitian and his team, they want to make sure that the word “genocide” becomes obsolete.

“I think it is important to understand that this is not a statement of hostility to anyone,” Senator Simitian said. “This is about the recognition of historical fact and being able to move beyond it.”

“It’s a domino effect; if we can get the federal level to recognize one genocide, they would be more likely to recognize others,” Bedigian said.

As he said in his speech, “By not recognizing this event that began on April 24, 1915, we are not only placing a tremendous injustice on the Armenian community, but all those who are experiencing mass atrocities today, like in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.”

“As a non-Armenian but a United States citizen, I am embarrassed that our administration has not recognized this known fact. I want to live in a country where morality comes first,” said Hannah Brown, former co-president and current member of STAND. “From the STAND perspective, this passage gives us hope for prevention and the end for future genocides of mass atrocities worldwide. But until past genocides have been recognized, how can we be expected to move forward in the prevention of future genocides and the termination of current ones?”

ANI UCAR can be reached at city@theaggie.org.

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