My thanks to Hyes for Black Lives

Malcolm Johnson
5 min readJul 25, 2016

The picture was relayed to me from a friend of mine, Zareh Sinanyan. He’s a City Councilman here in Glendale. He had shown me a photo of some Armenian kids, teenagers, half a world away, standing at the heart of Tsitsernakaberd, the official Armenian memorial to the Genocide located in Yerevan.

And they all held signs saying Black Lives Matter.

These were kids I did not know, and kids who had never met me. Still, I was moved nearly to tears. You can make the argument that this is not their fight, that shouldn’t be doing this…

…but they did. They reached across the world and told me that my life, and the lives of other African-Americans mattered to them. The sign (as you can see) is in both English and Armenian. Even though they didn’t know me, that I mattered to them.

Here’s the event statement from Hyes For Black Lives.

As a collective of Armenians committed to making visible and dismantling ongoing forms of oppression and physical and cultural violence, we invite all our friends in Yerevan to join us at the Armenian Genocide Memorial to stand together in a show of solidarity with the global Black Lives Matter movement.

As a people that has experienced genocide, we recognize the pain and trauma of denialism, state terror, dehumanization, normalization and justification of systematic killings of Black people by state agents and representatives. We are committed to fighting against oppressive genocidal systems by confronting racism and white supremacy in Armenia and in our communities, building and participating in solidarity actions to dismantle state violence, and engaging in joint struggle for our collective liberation.

Damn, that’s something.

There’s a reason why the Armenian-Americans who know me know that I’ll stand with them in every fight they have, ever cry for justice they make. I’m not Armenian, but the Armenian cause is worth fighting for because it is all too familiar to me as an African-American. The language used to denigrate, to separate to devalue is the same stuff that’s been directed at my people. They are words I viscerally react to.

When the Armenian Museum had it’s initial neighborhood meetings in and around the Rossymore neighborhood of Glendale, I heard the same arguments used against Armenians that were used against African-Americans in my home State of Maryland in the late 80s and 90s. “We’re not comfortable with how fast you’re moving”. “Wait your turn”

Not similar…the same.

When I see the Turks who deny the Genocide, it’s not too much to think of the Klan or the Confederates, the David Dukes of the world, who still deny me my humanity. When I hear Artsakh’s cry, it’s not hard to think back to the days of Apartheid and South Africa.

And now, thanks to a bunch of kids I’ve never met, I feel rewarded for doing the little I’ve done. I feel the bridge has been built

Now, I know some people are having a very hard time accepting the term Black Lives Matter, as well as the cause it fights for. They certainly made their voices here on Zareh’s thread. No matter how they want to spin it, they seek nullification of the Black Lives Matter cause through terms like “All Lives Matter”.

But here’s the simple truth: If you’re house was on fire, burning to the ground and the Fire Department hosed down every house on the block but yours (remember, the one actually on fire), and told you that “All Houses Matter”, I’m betting you’d be pretty pissed off.

As an African-American, our house has been on fire since the founding of this country. We’ve been dealing with deaths like Freddie Gray and Tamir Rice since before I was born (and dangit, I’m getting old)

The names change, but the faces are the same. The real difference is…Videocameras. Everyone carries a HD Video Camera in their pockets now with their Smartphones. Everyone can record what Police are doing, and that video can shoot around the world in seconds.

I’m sure those kids standing in the heart of Tsitsernakaberd saw some of those videos themselves and came to their own conclusions. Thus, Hyes For Black Lives was created.

Those Hyes For Black Lives kids, I’ll tell ya, they built a bridge across a chasm. It’s not big a bridge, and the chasm doesn’t need to be there in the first place, but they built it anyway. God bless ‘em.

While I will always stand with the Armenian cause, I can never stand at the center of Armenian cause. I can’t. My Great-Grand Parents and Grand Parents were not marched out into the desert to die. My kin did not know the death camps at Deir ez-Zor. That pain is not mine…

Tell me the difference between this…
…and this.

…but damn if it isn’t familiar.

As long as it is, I will always stand at the side of those who have suffered and lost, and I know I’m not alone. There will be Non-Armenians standing right there along with me. Friendships like these can cut across all sectors of society, and together we will move mountains.

One day there will be Coal Miner from West Virginia who will want to understand why his Government continues to allow Turkey to force them into silence on the Genocide. In that moment, he will think past his skin, past his nose, past what he’s always known and stand for something other than himself. He won’t be alone. Right now, there are old white ladies who go to Church every Sunday, who fight against Islamophobia. There are Straight people who fight for Marriage Equality. Men who fight for Reproductive Rights.

Armenian kids in Yerevan who say “Black Lives Matter”.

You can think past the skin your in.

The kids behind Hyes For Black Lives standing at Tsitsernakaberd taught us all that.