The congregation – also observed as Tibetan Martyrs' Day since 2013 – commemorated the 56th anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising against the Chinese occupation of Tibet, where estimates of Tibetan deaths range between 80,000 and 430,000 lives.
A rousing communal performance of the Gyallu [Tibetan national anthem] and Dentsig Monlam [Prayer of Truth] was led by the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts, before Penpa Tsering – Speaker of the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile – addressed the crowds on the lower concourse of the Temple.
"On behalf of the Tibetan Parliament in Exile, I would like to commemorate with great fervour the patriotic men and women of Tibet who sacrificed everything – including their very lives – for the religion, polity and people of Tibet, and to express solidarity with those who continue even today to suffer oppression and torture under the policy of violent repression of the Communist Party of China," he said.
Tsering recounted the formative years of China's occupation of Tibet, stating that the "spontaneous protest" of thousands of Tibetans in 1959 is "indelibly etched in the history of Tibet. At the time, the communist government of China resorted to distortion of Tibet's history and its sovereignty. It took to amalgamating Tibet's culture with its own despite the fact that the two were entirely incompatible, thereby seeking to destroy its unique identity."
"It deprived the Tibetan people of their religious faith and freedom. It vandalised and recklessly exploited Tibet's territory and its resources, thereby setting out to destroy the environment of the Tibetan Plateau. It trampled on the Tibetan people's rights as human beings and put an end to the Tibetan people's freedom of speech," he added.
These are elements of Chinese rule that continue today, and which have been continually protested against by Tibetans in a non-violent manner. Tsering stressed that "the Chinese leadership should understand that it is impossible for peaceful Tibetan protests to come to an end so long as there is no just resolution of the issue of Tibet."
Tsering also expressed that, despite the "outstanding efforts" of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in regard to Sino-Tibetan relations, "successive leaderships of China have invariably taken recourse to nothing but subterfuge, never even remaining true to their own words. Apart from numerous other breaches of faith, they did not respect even the so-called 17 Point Agreement, which was entirely dictated by them and which they forced the Tibetan side to sign at gun point."
Due to this, Tsering commented that it is "not surprising that in 1987 and 2008, the second and third generations of Tibetans – who have been brought up under the red flag of China – led protests which were widespread and took place in all three traditional provinces of Tibet, including in Lhasa."
After paying tribute to the known 136 Tibetans who have committed acts of self-immolation between 2009 and March 5 2015, Tsering honoured Tibet's spiritual leaders – including His Holiness, the leaders of the four great schools of Tibetan Buddhism and of the Yungdrung Bon religion – who managed to escape into exile and "preserve, defend and spread the substance of the Tibetan religious traditions and Tibetan culture in free foreign countries, including India."
However, he demanded that "today's generation must prove it is up to the task of carrying forward the accomplishments and aims of the older generation. All sections of the Tibetan people must therefore make concerted efforts by assuming responsibilities in an all-round manner and without any shortcoming."
"In particular, it must be understood that the most important essence of the life of a people is its linguistic culture, both spoken and written. We must look up to the young Tibetans in Tibet for the kind of efforts they are making towards protecting the Tibetan linguistic heritage under the violent repression of the Chinese government. It is important for us to make efforts to ensure that we do not become Tibetans who are ashamed to call ourselves Tibetan."
Tsering followed this plea by detailing the enhanced repression more recently felt by Tibetans under occupation: "New leaders of China have contended that in order to govern China, the border areas should be well governed. Through the use of such remarks, tens of thousands of Chinese officials have been sent to Tibetan inhabited areas, including in the Tibet Autonomous Region, and have taken up long-term residence within the Tibetan communities, including in the monasteries, and have carried out surveillance on the activities of local Tibetans day and night. In doing so, they have harassed the monastic communities by rendering them unable to devote their times to prayer services and religious studies."
"They have also exercised tight controls and restrictions on the local Tibetan people's political rights, freedom of speech, their day-to-day occupational pursuits, their freedom of movement, and so on. This situation continues today. [...] Not a week passed [in 2014] without there being at least one arrest or imprisonment of a Tibetan. [...] We would again like to make an emphatic call on the Chinese leadership to implement a policy of seeking truth from facts and of being true to their own words in addressing the situation in Tibet. [...] There is absolutely no change in our resolve to seek a negotiated solution through the Middle Way approach, which is mutually beneficial to China and Tibet, as a part of our efforts to resolve the current critical situation in Tibet."
Tsering concluded his address by returning his thoughts to Tibet's supporters and its leadership: "I would like to take this opportunity to express immense gratitude to the countries, organisations, and individuals – especially the government and people of India – who have been extremely kind in giving support on the issue of Tibet and in providing humanitarian and other forms of assistance to the Tibetan people living in exile."
"The Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile also takes this opportunity to express immense gratitude for every bit of the infinite concerns His Holiness the Dalai Lama has shown and the deeds he has accomplished for the benefit of the Buddhist faith and all sentient beings."