Fifteen years ago, on September 11, 2001, the skies over Manhattan, Washington, D.C. and the fields of Pennsylvania were clear and blue. Much like today in Yerevan, the day seemed both picture perfect and very, very ordinary. Early that morning I don’t think anyone knew the terror that was about to strike; no one would know that the date “September 11” would forever be seared, tragically, in all of our minds and all of our hearts. As you all know, at 8:46 in the morning, the first plane struck the World Trade Towers and the horrors continued to unfold, as three other planes were crashed, the iconic towers crumbled and burned, and the Pentagon was targeted. That day 2,996 people – from more than 90 different countries — were killed. Countless others were injured, with injuries they still bear today. Many of us watched it on television – here in Yerevan and at posts around the world. I was just speaking to Narine, our colleague from USAID, who was telling me about her experience being here at the Embassy at 6 o’clock Yerevan time and watching
Some of us in this room were even in New York on that day. I was in Manhattan on September 11th. I was serving at the US Mission to the United Nations in 2001. Like all of you, I have memories, too, of that day — where I was, what I saw, what I felt. But there is one memory, in particular, that I kept and want to share with all of you today. After the planes hit, after an hour or two of confusion which I think was happening all over the world, everyone at the US Mission to the United Nations was sent home. Some of us actually housed other members of the staff who couldn’t get home, couldn’t out of New York City because the bridges were closed. In my case I returned to an apartment building where I lived, a 45-storey apartment building in lower Manhattan, where, like many other residents, I drifted up to the top of the building to watch what was happening at the tip of the island. When I went to the top, there were many people gathered there, transfixed, some praying, some crying. And we watched, horrified, as the second tower fell. There was an older woman on top of the roof, crying; and as the towers fell, she said loudly: “What will we do? What will we do?” And a young girl standing next to her said, quite simply: “We can hold hands.” And everyone that day on the roof of that building did just that; we all held hands. So today, we gather, I think, not to dwell on those dark hours. Not to remember when terrorists with a warped world view sought to destroy the freedom that all of us cherish.
But we gather to remember the time when the United States, around the world with our friends, we held hands. We held hands in a lot of different ways. That day in New York, firefighters and police rushed into collapsing buildings to save others. Thousands of New Yorkers went out of their way to donate blood to help strangers. In the weeks that followed, volunteers from around the globe devoted time and energy to make sure first responders and victims were fed, clothed, and cared for.
A lesson I think we have all learned from Armenian history is darkness cannot prevail in the long term. When great terror happens, when great tragedy happens, we may stumble, we may cry, and we mourn, but then we breathe, we gather ourselves, we stand, we rebuild. So today, I think we gather here not to focus on the darkness of 9-11 15 years ago, but rather celebrate the light that shone and continues to shine brighter still. It is a light of hope, which is strengthened by our friendships and alliances with peoples and countries that share our values – countries like Armenia. It is the light of friendship and partnership around the world that I was thinking about a few minutes ago, when Narine Sarkisian, the LES (Locally Employed Staff) Council Representative, and I laid a wreath at this Embassy’s 9-11 commemoration stone.
As we gather together, as the Embassy community gathers today, I think what we are honoring is the true legacy of September 11th — helping others, serving the community, celebrating diversity, and building trust and understanding among the peoples of the world. This is what I know we will have on our minds as we celebrate September 11, the National Day of Service, on Sunday. This is the spirit of America. And this is the spirit of Armenia. This is why our bilateral relationship is such a special one and why everybody in this room works every day to strengthen U.S.-Armenian relations.
Please join me in a moment of silence and reflection in honor of the victims and their families.