European Day of the Righteous: Building a Positive Legacy

European Day of the Righteous: Building a Positive Legacy

The discussion titled “European Day of the Righteous: Building a Positive Legacy. An Armenian Perspective” was organized by the European Friends of Armenia (EuFoA), Gardens of the Righteous Worldwide – Gariwo, IDeA, and Aurora Humanitarian Initiative, and held on June 30, 2020. The event brought together Charlie Weimers, Member of the European Parliament; Simone Zoppellaro, Gariwo Ambassador; Gabriele Nissim, Founder and Chairman of Gardens of the Righteous Worldwide Committee – Gariwo; Nicola Stanisch, Executive Director of the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative, and Mirza Dinnayi, 2019 Aurora Prize Laureate and co-founder of Airbridge Iraq. The discussion was moderated by William Lavender, a representative of the EuFoA.

“The importance of this kind of commemoration is to make a collective memory for all human being to see that fighting against atrocities is the duty of everybody. Unfortunately, we didn’t reach the moment that everybody thinks that each of us should stand against atrocities. And until we reach that point, we need organizations like Aurora, like all other humanitarian organizations that empower those ordinary people who put their life at risk,” said Mirza Dinnayi, 2019 Aurora Prize Laureate.

The European Day of the Righteous, established in 2012 by the European Parliament, is celebrated every year on March 6, honoring those who stood up against the crimes against humanity. The inspiration and the concept of the day comes from Yad Vashem, Israel's official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, and its Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations, which seeks to pay tribute to non-Jews who, at personal risk, sought to protect and save Jews during the Holocaust. The discussion was originally scheduled for the spring but later moved to the end of June due to the COVID-19 outbreak that also forced the organizers to go online instead of holding the event at the European Parliament.

Charlie Weimers, Member of the European Parliament, touched upon the topic of denial, mentioning that the recognition is pivotal to overcome the Genocide and to mend its trauma: “As a Christian and a European and a human I share your duty to remember and to not forget. With remembering also comes our duty to speak up, to be a voice for those who can no longer be with us and, also to seek the empowerment of those who put themselves at risk to save others. [..] Rather than continue to deny the undeniable Turkey needs to reckon with its own history and crimes. We must remember and demand.” He concluded his speech with the last line of the Armenian poem by Paruyr Sevak: “We are, we shall be, and become many.”

Simone Zoppellaro, Gariwo Ambassador, talked about the story of his organization, established 20 years ago to raise awareness and promote interest for the Righteous, the individuals who fought and are still fighting in defense of human dignity. He highlighted the relevance of the Righteous today, as we still witness genocides in the modern world: “Why are they so relevant for us today? Because with this pandemic we saw how the institutions and our world is fragile. And we saw how the individuals can take responsibility and act for the sake of humanity in solidarity. Also, the Righteous are very relevant today because genocides will exist, as in the case of the Genocide of the Yazidis.”

Gabriele Nissim, Chair and Founder of Gariwo, reflected on the universal spirit of the memory and its educational and preventative character, as well as the crisis it’s currently in. “This is a big issue today,  because if memory is only a moment of identity it can no longer be a vehicle to empower the world and to have everybody’s responsibility. It’s not enough to say, I’m a Jew and I remember the Shoah, and I’m an Armenian and I want to commemorate the Armenian Genocide. We need to see how we can prevent evil in our time.” He underlined the importance of using the past to analyze the present challenges, as today the world witnesses the rise of nationalism, racism and hatred.

Nicola Stanisch, Executive Director of the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative, which celebrates its fifth anniversary in 2020, has brought up the concept of Gratitude in Action, which is at the core of the Initiative and the Aurora Prize itself. “If you are a survivor, you try to revive and thrive eventually. And once you thrive, there is an urge to give something back. That is what we call Gratitude in Action. The Aurora Foundation is the symbol of giving back from the Co-Founders. And we believe that this Gratitude in Action is a very universal concept that everybody can relate to.” She also urged everyone who knows extraordinary people and outstanding humanitarians whose work remains mostly in the shadows to nominate them for the 2021 Aurora Prize and celebrate the spirit of humanity and the righteous.

You can watch the full video of the discussion below.