on to history: two young Armenian-Americans at the Armenian
Genocide Memorial on the Capitol steps. Photo by: John
Us Not Forget
the 89th anniversary of the first genocide of the 20th century,
Armenian-Americans are still seeking recognition
Trojian is matter-of-fact about why his family came to the
United States. “I’m here because my grandfather escaped and
was able to evade capture,” he said. “I had a lot of my family
Paul DerOhannesian, a prominent Capital Region lawyer, has
similar stories. He once asked his grandmother why they had
no big family gatherings. The answer was that most of the
family is dead.
If they sound like children of Holocaust survivors, it’s more
than coincidence. Trojian and DerOhannesian are both Armenian-Americans,
and during World War I their families faced what has been
called the first genocide of the 20th century, at the hands
of the Ottoman Empire. The United Nations defines genocide
as the “intent to destroy” a people, “in whole or in part,”
including creating deadly conditions without outright killing.
On April 24, 1915, after more than a decade of increasing
hostilities and massacres, the ruling party of the Ottoman
Empire, the Young Turks, started a campaign of forced deportations
and mass executions that eventually claimed the lives of 1.5
million Armenians and drove many of the survivors into a worldwide
diaspora. Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity
as a state religion, and Armenians say they were targeted
because of their religion.
Although there is a massive amount of documentary evidence
of the atrocities—they were well covered by the U.S. media
at time and decried by the U.S. ambassador to the Ottoman
Empire, and a German medic smuggled out pictures, among other
things—neither Turkey nor the United States has acknowledged
the genocide. Turkey, in fact, actively denies it.
The connection to the Holocaust is not just circumstantial.
Adolf Hitler, before his invasion of Poland in 1939, reportedly
concluded remarks to his military leaders by saying “Who still
talks nowadays of the extermination of the Armenians?”
Members of the Capital District Armenian Genocide Committee
are quick to point out Hitler’s quote as a reason why the
genocide should not be forgotten. Rafi Topalian, owner of
Top Custom Jewelers in Watervliet, echoes Elie Wiesel, the
well-known Holocaust survivor and writer: “Once you deny a
genocide, you’re committing another genocide.”
On Monday (April 26), the committee held its third annual
Armenian Genocide Memorial on the Capitol steps in Albany.
Two dozen people, mostly from the local Armenian community,
gathered to hear a phalanx of politicians pledge their support
for the formal acknowledgement of the genocide. Speakers included
Rep. John Sweeney (R-Clifton Park), Assemblymen Jack McEneny
(D-Albany) and Ron Canestrari (D-Cohoes), and Troy Mayor Harry
Tutunjian, an Armenian himself.
Marianne Tashjian, one of the event’s organizers, said the
rainy weather made the turnout smaller than expected. A busload
of 45 people, including many of Monday’s attendees, had ridden
down to New York City the day before for a large event in
Times Square, braving pouring rain. “It’s a little sacrifice
to make compared to what our families went through,” said
The Capital Region, especially Troy, is one of about a dozen
population centers for Armenians on the East Coast. In the
2000 Census, 2,310 people in the Capital Region indicated
that their ancestry was Armenian. Members of the community
put the number at more like 4,000.
New York, along with 32 other states, has acknowledged the
genocide. This year, resolutions sponsored by Canestrari and
State Sen. Neil Breslin (D-Albany) recognized the observance
on Monday, and a proclamation from Gov. Pataki declared April
24 Armenian Remembrance Day.
In Congress, however, repeated resolutions to acknowledge
the genocide have failed to pass. A high-profile attempt in
2000 was widely acknowledged to have been set aside because
of pressure from Turkey, which threatened trade sanctions
and withdrawal of military cooperation.
Though the genocide is nearly 90 years in the past, the active
movement for recognition feels young to Topalian. “For many
years, Armenians throughout the world were in shock,” he said.
“They didn’t know what hit them. It’s only in the past few
decades that we started to talk about it, to lobby. . . .
We’re thankful that we’ve reached this point, though it’s
taken 90 years.”
But there’s also a sense of urgency, as fewer and fewer survivors
are around to tell their stories firsthand. “Now is a critical
time for us,” said Trojian, who noted that it probably will
take wider knowledge about the genocide to push the issue
at the federal level. “It’s tough to ask America as a society
to help us in having Turkey recognize this if they don’t know
what it is,” he said. “It’s like hit or miss. You speak to
some people and they’ve never even heard of the country. Others
know it very well. There’s a small part of the school curriculum
in New York that is supposed to cover the Armenian genocide,
but often it’s not taught, or it doesn’t sink in because it
was so brief.”
Many members of the committee are heavily involved in various
cultural organizations, including the Armenian Men’s Choral
Ensemble and the teenage dance group Sipan, which will perform
at the Egg at Empire State Plaza on Sunday. Armenian language
classes are held for both children and adults, often through
At Monday’s rally, Tutunjian, Troy’s first Armenian mayor
and clearly well-known to the crowd, got the largest applause
of the event when he closed his speech by reiterating, in
Armenian, that the community will never forget. By saying
it in Armenian, said Toplian, he showed that he was not forgetting.
Hall protest aims to keep the questions raised by David Scaringe’s
death from getting lost amid other Albany Police Department
Donald Kinsella, the special prosecutor assigned to investigate
the New Year’s Eve shooting death of David R.A. Scaringe,
said in a television interview that he hadn’t really heard
from the public on the issue, phone calls began to flood Loralynne
Krobetzky’s house. “They were saying ‘Oh my God, did you hear
this?’” she recalled. In response, she and other friends of
Scaringe organized a rally outside Albany City Hall last Wednesday
(April 21) to show the city that they remain outraged over
Over 100 people, friends and family as well as concerned residents
who hadn’t known Scaringe, gathered to demand action from
the Common Council, bearing signs that read “Here is your
public outcry,” “Justice for Dave, Safety for Albany,” and
“It could have been you.”
A grand jury is currently hearing testimony on the shooting,
but Krobetzky said that the issue is too important to wait
until the grand jury finishes its investigation. “They need
to act now,” she said. “This needs to not happen again.” She
said she wanted the council to do a thorough investigation,
with complete openness in the process, using all powers available
to them. Mayor Jerry Jennings pulled the Citizens Police Review
Board off the case on April 12, something he can do when an
incident is before a grand jury or the subject of a lawsuit
against the city. This means it’s up to the Common Council,
the officers were within the policy and the policy needs to
be changed or they were not within the policy and they need
to be prosecuted,” Krobetsky said. “There’s been no disciplinary
measures at all. What sort of message does that send?” Officers
Joseph Gerace and William Bonanni have been on administrative
leave with pay since the shooting.
don’t know what more movement they expect,” said Jim Miller,
spokesman for the Albany Police Department. “There’s been
a special prosecutor appointed to this, the process seems
to be going along at a smooth pace. . . . As far as our policies,
we’re not going to make any kind of snap judgments for nonlegitimate
reasons. We’ll await the outcome of the grand jury and the
Common Council, [and then] if we feel the need to adjust our
pursuit policy, or any other kind of policy, we will.”
Richard Conti (Ward 6), president pro tempore of the Common
Council, said the council was going to wait until the grand
jury investigation was finished. “There are so many layers
right now, that it’s difficult to sort everything out,” he
said, “which is not to say these issues won’t be discussed,
the issue is just when will that happen.” He added that he
thought that people continuing to raise concerns is helpful,
however, because it “raises sensitivity on how these policies
and procedures are implemented in densely populated neighborhoods.”
Conti lives around the corner from the spot on Lark Street
where Scaringe was shot, and says he sympathizes with other
residents’ concerns about safety there.
For their part, some members of the police department have
felt that officers Gerace and Bonanni were abandoned by their
leadership when the department claimed that several commanders
had tried to stop the chase, but hadn’t gotten through on
their radios. One letter signed “The Honorable Men and Women
of the Albany Police Department,” which was circulated to
the Common Council, called the investigation into radio traffic
a “red herring” while the “lives and careers of good, values
centered courageous officers like Officer Bill Bonnanni (sic)
and Joe Gerace . . . are in the balance.” Another letter,
posted on union boards in the station houses, said, “We fully
support [Joe and Bill] and know that in the end they will
get through this.”
The rally was scheduled for Wednesday because the city of
Albany’s Web site listed it as a date for a Common Council
meeting. The public-meeting calendar on the Web site has not
been updated since last year, but does not identify that the
dates are for 2003.
Although Krobetzky was pleased with the event’s turnout, she
said that more people, especially friends of Scaringe’s, would
have turned out if they had not been afraid of being arrested.
think they’d be more afraid of getting shot,” noted Carl,
another rally attendee.
Krobetzky agreed. “If I’m not safe on Lark Street on New Year’s
Eve, what makes me safe at the Tulip Festival?” she asked.
“I feel like I’m living in the Old West.”
Krobetzky said she didn’t expect to hold another rally, but
would encourage people to speak at the public comment period
at the next council meeting. “We invite everyone to come back,”
in Our Backyard
related to local depleted-uranium processing, and its use
in Afghanistan and Iraq, disconcerting to New York activists
and senators alike
uranium is radioactive, toxic and indestructible. It’s also
regarded as one of the most effective anti-tank weapons because
it pierces armor. DU has attracted international attention
lately because it’s being used in Afghanistan and Iraq, exposing
civilians and soldiers alike to its radioactivity. But try
telling National Lead’s neighbors that the risks associated
with depleted uranium are found only overseas.
Depleted-uranium projectiles were made at the former National
Lead site in Colonie until the plant closed in the early ’80s,
and some of the plant’s neighbors and employees say that is
the cause of their rare and many illnesses [“One Half-life
to Live,” Feb. 5]. Now local activists are working to connect
the issues of NL’s DU emissions and illnesses to the deployment
of DU munitions in Afghanistan and Iraq and their subsequent
The Depleted Uranium Weapons Network of the Hudson Mohawk
Region and a coalition of peace-oriented groups met recently
with aides for New York state’s two U.S. senators, Charles
Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton, to ask them to work on
eliminating the risks of DU exposure. Their staffers agreed
to bone up on the issue, and the group hopes to talk with
them again soon.
The activists want the senators to introduce a companion bill
to one in the House of Representatives that requires DU cleanup,
research and medical care. They also charge that the Pentagon
is not complying with its own regulations regarding informing
troops about DU risks and testing opportunities. They want
adequate testing of troops before and after deployment (which
Clinton was assured would be done prior to the invasion of
Iraq; she has since forcefully requested that the Department
of Defense fulfill its promise, so far to no avail) and to
make sure the troops are properly trained and equipped to
deal with DU. Locally, the group wants adequate health studies
to be done of NL employees and its neighbors, past and present.
Tons of DU was used in the Persian Gulf War and in the Balkans
during the 1990s, and now it’s seen action in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The DU weapons network wants to raise awareness about the
health effects of DU for soldiers and civilians. “There’s
so much evidence from the first Persian Gulf War,” said Tom
Ellis, who’s been active on the NL issue for years, adding
that many of the tens of thousands of veterans from that war
who have applied for disability were exposed to depleted uranium.
The cover-up about the illnesses those soldiers developed,
known as Gulf War Syndrome, and the repetition now of many
of the same claims, is particularly outrageous to Ellis.
One of NL’s neighbors, Ron Russo, pointed out that DU is a
nuclear by-product, so it is cheap. But Russo said cost ought
not be a factor, because DU is “ruining communities here before
they’re ruining communities overseas.” Russo is terminally
ill, which he believes is a result of living near the NL plant
as a child.
Network member Sheree Craigue called DU a “toxic boomerang,”
and said its actual cost would be higher “if they factored
in the cleanup costs and the medical costs” after its use.
It’s that boomerang effect that ultimately might help stop
the use of DU; unlike cluster bombs, DU exposure comes home
This month, several members of the 442nd Military Police Company
of the New York National Guard who served in Iraq have tested
positive for inhaled DU in independent testing done at the
behest of the New York Daily News after soldiers reported
symptoms and difficulty getting Army hospitals to test them.
Research indicates that when a shell with DU hits a target,
miniscule radioactive particles are released into the air,
attach to dust particles and are inhaled by people. The Pentagon
initially said that because DU is a heavy metal, it would
fall quickly, making inhalation unlikely. But researchers
like Leonard Dietz have seen evidence of large dispersions
of DU from the original source, because as particulate matter
DU can be reintroduced into the air by any disturbance, like
Stories of exposure in the recent wars have gotten a lot of
attention and given anti-DU activists hope that the public
is becoming more aware about DU. Locally, the DU weapons network
is hoping to reach out to soldiers returning home, and as
well as the public. Russo noted that some people living near
NL don’t know about DU, but he’s organizing events to help
inform them and raise money to help fund testing for NL’s
neighbors. The next is a benefit concert at the end of May.
The DU Weapons Network is now working to urge the state Department
of Transportation to label DU as radioactive material when
it is in transit, because the permit allowing it not to be
marked is up for renewal at the end of June.
bottom line is to work on banning this,” said network member
Carole Ferraro. She said they also hope to “address the fact
that this is an illegal weapon that’s as illegal as land mines
and cluster bombs—it’s just that this country won’t acknowledge
of choice: Valerie Scott in a voting booth at 20 Rensselaer
St. in District 2. Photo by: Teri Currie
redistricting, lawsuits, court orders and ballot scandals,
the long-delayed Albany County legislative elections finally
happened on Tuesday (April 27).
County Democrats picked up a few seats, but just how many
depends on how some are counted, since two registered Democrats
won on smaller party lines, against Democratic Party-endorsed
candidates. And it could be said that the small parties came
out winners on Election Day: Three candidates won without
being endorsed by either of the two major parties. The Green
party also reported respectable showings in its three races,
garnering 25 percent of the vote in two.
In District 2, representing much of Albany’s South End, five
candidates faced off: Marilyn Hammond, who beat incumbent
Lucille McKnight in the primary for the Democratic line; McKnight
on the Working Families line; Green candidate Steven Segore;
Independence and Conservative candidate Stephen Stofelano;
and Norman Zidback on the Preferential Ballot line. McKnight
won by 63 votes over Stofelano.
In District 18, Shawn Morse, president of the Cohoes firefighters
union, won on the Independence, WF, and Conservative lines,
beating out the appointed Democratic candidate and a Republican.
“It sends a message that it doesn’t matter what political
line you represent, the people are going to vote for the person
who is going to do the best for them,” Morse said. It’s particularly
notable, he added, because Democrats have been dominant in
Cohoes for more than a century. He said people really responded
to his simple campaign promises to work hard and keep his
word, and that residents appreciated his earnest effort to
actually listen to their concerns.
In Colonie’s District 27, registered Democrat Michael Aidala
won on the Independence line against Richard Stack, Conservative
Party chairman, who was endorsed by the Republican and Conservative
parties. There was no Democratic Party candidate.
The counts at press time remained unofficial, and absentee
and paper ballots have yet to be counted, which could change
the outcome of some narrow wins. Currently, two races remain
too close to call, with just two votes separating the candidates.
Republican William Hoblock leads Democrat Richard Gross in
District 26 in Colonie and Republican Lee Carman appears to
have squeaked past incumbent Democrat Gene Messercola in District
During the primaries, races in the first four districts were
marked by heated competition and allegations of absentee ballot
fraud. Because of the earlier troubles, the general election’s
absentee ballots for all 39 districts were impounded.
In the controversial District 3 race, incumbent Democrat Wanda
Willingham won a do-over primary by a mere 12 votes over Jestin
Williams, whose campaign was accused of the absentee ballot
improprieties [“Redistricted, Reprimaried, Retried,” Newsfront,
April 15]. Williams’ supporters staged a write-in campaign
for the general election, and those votes have yet to be counted.
Meanwhile, a lawsuit over the absentee ballot tactics is pending
in federal court.