Orange County Community Commemorates Armenian Genocide Centennial

The Orange County Armenian Community gathered at St. Mary Church in Costa Mesa to commemorate the centennial of the Armenian Genocide, and to dedicate a memorial monument on the Church grounds

COSTA MESA, Calif.—Hundreds attended the celebration of Divine Liturgy at St. Mary Armenian Church in Costa Mesa on Sunday, March 8. The day’s celebrant and homilist was His Eminence Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Primate of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of North America.

Archbishop Derderian was assisted at the Holy Altar by Archpriest Fr. Moushegh Tashjian, Pastor of the host parish, Rev. Fr. Vazken Movsesian, Pastor of St. Peter Armenian Church in Glendale and the deacons of St. Mary Armenian Church.

In his sermon, Archbishop Derderian reflected on the significance of Christ’s Parable of the Shrewd Steward and also addressed the youth of the Sunday School encouraging them to become stewards of God’s most precious gift of life.

Following the service, the Primate led a procession to the church courtyard where hundreds had gathered for the blessing and dedication rite of the Armenian Genocide Memorial Monument in memory of the 1.5 million martyrs who perished and as a testament to the resurrected Armenian nation. With the assistance of Archpriest Fr. Moushegh Tashjian and the church choir, Archbishop Derderian performed the moving ceremonial rite.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (center) with community leaders

The sculpture features a pair of white marble pillars connected by a cross, set on a black granite base where a small fountain, flame and garden will eventually reside.

“The fountain and the flame and the black granite represent the memory of our tragic past and symbolize the life and immortality of the 1.5 million Armenians,” said Harout Joulahian, the monument’s sculptor. “And the white two pillars symbolize our new generation and the bright future. These two white pillars are attached with the cross, which symbolizes our ancestral Christian Faith,” he continued.

Following the consecration of the Memorial Monument, 100 white doves were released into the sky symbolizing the centennial of the Armenian Genocide and the Resurrection of the Armenian nation. In his ceremonial address, the Primate quoted the resounding words of the beloved Armenian poet Paruyr Sevak – “We are, we shall be and become many” («Կանք, պիտի լինենք ու դեռ շատանանք»).

Community Wide Commemoration
At 4 p.m., a commemorative ceremony was held at The Robert B. Moore Theater of Orange Coast College. The cultural program included performances by the Armenian Society of Los Angeles Choir and Orchestra, Children’s Choir, Armenian Folk Ensemble and Sebu Simonian of Capital Cities.

Among the dignitaries in attendance were the Honorable Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, Assemblyman Matthew Harper, Orange County Supervisor the Honorable Michelle Steele, Orange County Former Supervisor John Moorlach and the Honorable Sandy L. Genis Councilwoman of the City of Costa Mesa.

A scene from the day's ceremonies at Costa Mesa's St. Mary Armenian Church

The event’s Master of Ceremonies was Mark V. Asdourian who delivered a heartfelt welcoming message. Bianka Asik and Vahan Martirossian served as the Junior Emcees.

The Homenetmen scouts performed the flag ceremony, Emily Simonian performed the national anthem of the United States of America, and Ani Keropian and Ara Dakessian performed the national anthem of the Republic of Armenia.

Following the Primate’s opening prayer, Dr. Levon Keleshian, Chairman of the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide Memorial Committee delivered his message. Heartfelt remarks were also delivered by the Honorable Marty Simonoff, Mayor of the City of Brea.

As the keynote speaker, Chairman of the Centennial Commemoration Committee of the Western Diocese Rev. Father Vazken Movsesian spoke about the significance of honoring the memory of the 1.5 million martyrs.

Fr. Vazken began by reflecting on time he spent in Rwanda. “In 1994 a million people were killed in the Rwanda Genocide. By going to Rwanda in 2006, I was hoping to get a glimpse of what I might have found if I had an opportunity to go to Armenia a decade after our Genocide. Might this trip offer me a picture of Armenia in 1925? Our small group of seven educators was organized by USC Professor Donald Miller. After a 23 hour flight, the first place our Rwandan hosts took us to was not to a hotel or a restaurant but the Genocide Museum! This in itself gave me a picture of what was important and foremost on the mind of the people, after all, they had experienced the mass killings and here, in the museum, they were expressing their stories. I went through the museum and on the walls I read the stories that were exact copies of the stories I had heard from my grandparents. At night the men were rounded up by the police. The women were raped in front of their children. And the children were taken away, abused and/or killed. I learned that the Nile River had the bodies of victims in it and was in fact called the “Red Nile” because the waters were saturated with blood. The parallels to the Armenian Genocide were so concrete. We, as Armenians, are well aware that our river was called the “Red Euphrates”! One story after the next were the stories of the Armenian Genocide. The only difference was the color of our skins and the geography – the landscape.

Primate of the Western Diocese Archbishop Hovnan Derderian

“I stood in the museum crying like a little baby; I was so overcome by emotions. A docent approached me and asked what was wrong? I told her that these stories were the stories I had heard as a child, that my grandparents were survivors of genocide. She then asked me a question that haunts me to this day. She asked, “Which Genocide?” That question should bother each and everyone of us. It’s upsetting, ours was the first genocide of the 20th Century but it wasn’t the last! I responded, “The Armenian Genocide.” She then asked if I had been through the entire museum and proceeded to escort me to the next room. There, in front of me, in large letters was the word “Armenia” surrounded by pictures that we all grew up with – pictures of the Syrian desert, of hangings, of mutilation, of the starving, the horrors – all pictures from the Armenian Genocide with graphic detail! I couldn’t imagine that in my country, my president (Bush and now Obama) couldn’t say the word “Genocide” in reference to the Armenian story and here, in the middle of Africa, in a country called Rwanda, we Armenians are the “heroes!” There it was for the world to see! The Armenian Genocide is not only remembered, but marked as the first of the era – as the prequel to the atrocities they had endured.

Ani Keropian and Ara Dakessian performing the Armenian National Anthem, in the company of Homenetmen Scouts

“During the next few days, we went to many sites where the atrocities took place. By day 3 I noticed there were no people with grey hair! The people I was meeting were children during the Genocide and now they were in their late teens and early twenties. The first group of “elderly” people I met was at a camp for widows and orphans. There, we met with over 200 women who were allowed to live – they were spared the sword. Why? They were infected with HIV-AIDS! The inhumane acts were never so poignantly defined for me. These people were spared death because the perpetrators knew that they would infect others and the next generations!

“I was asked to say a few words to the group of women and after a short prayer for wisdom, I looked at them and realized I was looking at my grandmothers. I had gone back in time. At that moment I also understood what it meant to be color-blind, because I didn’t even notice the physical differences between us. In looking at them and seeing my grandparent, God gave me the strength to share the message that in looking at me, I was hoping they would see their grandchildren, that this camp was not the end for them but the beginning of life that can go forward with hope, faith and love. It was then that they got up and we shared hugs and embraces that went beyond ethnicity and time.”

Fr. Vazken concluded his remarks by challenging Armenians to look beyond the tragedy of 1915 and see that we have an opportunity to reach out to others. He emphasized that today Armenians have not only resurrected, but beyond resurrection we have ascended, because at the Resurrection the wounds were still open, but at the Ascension the wounds of Crucifixion were healed! The people who were once called the “Starving Armenians” are now feeding the world considering the Armenian presence in California’s Central Valley. An Armenian has ascended as the governor of California – the fifth largest economy in the world – in the person of George Deukmejian. And the stories of victory are so many. “We as Armenians,” said Fr. Vazken, “Have a purpose and a message to share with the world. Without weapons of violence or military strategies we are not only alive, but living. Our message is in the Christian faith that we profess. We’ve gone beyond the past sufferings and need to engage with a world community to show that love is always more powerful than hate, that light will always conquer the darkness and that evil will never triumph over good! God bless the Armenian people!

In the artistic portion of the program, powerful solo performances by Elina Ohanessian and Sebu Simonian of Capital Cities received high praise. Traditional Armenian folk music was performed by the Armenian Folk Ensemble. Performances by the Glendale Chamber Orchestra under the leadership of musical director Mikayel Avetisyan and were and the ISM Youth Choir directed by Lusine Meliksetyan were very well received by the audience. A moving recitation of Paruyr Sevak’s “We are few but are called Armenians” by Mihran Markarian delighted the crowd.

Remarks were also made by Reverend Fr. Al Baca, Episcopal Vicar of Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs of the Diocese of Orange; the Honorable Matthew Harper, Assemblyman of the State of California (68th District); Garo Madenlian, Esq., On behalf of the ANCA Orange County chapter; the Honorable Gassia Apkarian, Superior Court Judge of Orange County; Orange County Supervisor the Honorable Michelle Steele, Mr. Steven Kradjian, Grand Commander of the Knights of Vartan.

The Armenian Society of Los Angeles Choir and Orchestra performs

In his closing remarks, the Primate quoted the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Silence about things that matter is an immoral act. This would be the interpretation of this quote by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. the civil rights leader, whose vision to secure the rights of his people has also changed the course of history not only in this country, but has also inspired generations to recognize the equality of all people.

Silence about the Armenian Genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Turks is a humiliation to all nations. The unpunished crime against the Armenian nation hundred years ago has certainly given rise to new genocides in the history of humanity. The holocaust and genocide of the past decades in the family of humanity in today’s world can be seen and understood as the continuation of the unpunished crime of the Armenian Genocide of 1915 by the Ottoman Turks.

This year, Armenians around the world commemorate the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide, the crime against humanity. Historical facts can never be suppressed. The authenticity of the Armenian Genocide is justified by historical documentations, by the hundred years of the history of the Armenian Diaspora. The truth surpasses beyond all understandings, be it ignorance or political affiliations which can only be seen as the fabrication of the human mind.

History matters. History is the root of humanity. History cannot be altered. Historical truth should be well-learned and respected. The opposite moral stance in our spirituality leads our lives toward “the beginning of the end.” Dr. King has proclaimed “our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.”

Commemoration of the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide does not in any way aim to instill hatred and vengeance. It is only a noble act to respect the martyrdom of those who gave their lives for their Christian Faith and sacred land. It is an act of renewal of our commitment to value the gifts of God graced upon us.

It is a call on today’s Turkey to bear the responsibility of masterminding of the annihilation of the nation of Armenians by their ancestors, the Ottoman Turks.

This nation of survivors and generations yet to come, will always revere the memory of the victims of the Genocide. Every step that we as a nation and church take upon to become shareholders in the making of this country, will be an act of respect and justice not only for the memory of our martyrs but to all victims and martyrs of genocide that the world has witnessed,” said Archbishop Derderian.

His Eminence thanked the government officials and civic leaders for their kind participation in the commemorative event. He commended the leadership of Archpriest Fr. Moushegh Tashjian, the collective efforts of the CAGM Committee and all who graciously participated in the realization of the Genocide Memorial.

The Centennial Armenian Genocide Memorial Committee members are Archpriest Fr. Moushegh Tashjian (President), Dr. Levon Keleshian (Chairman), Dr. Archie Andonian (Vice-Chairman), Deborah Simonian (Secretary), Anton Markarian (Parish Council Chairman/Treasurer), Olga Hallachian Chitjian, Brian Der Matoian, Hamlet Hamparsumian, Vera Kabaklian, Shahen Khachikian, Genik A. Minasians, Hirant Rakijian, Daphne Saharyildizi, Wayne Simonian, Yn. Sylva Tashjian, Khatchig Tchapadarian, Jim Yogurtian, Puzant O. Zorayan.

Participating organizations include St. Mary Armenian Church, Parish Council and Ladies Society, Forty Martyrs Armenian Church, ACYO St. Mary, AGBU Orange County, AGM Armenian School, ANCA Orange County, Armenian Community Center of OC, ARF Armen Karo Gomideh, ARS Karni, ARS Sevan, AYF Ashod Yergat & Aghpiur Serop Junior chapters, Knights of Vartan, Daughters of Vartan, Hamazkayin Siamanto, Homenetmen Sardarabad, OC Armenian Professional Society, OC Guild of Ararat Home, UCI Armenian Students Association, Armenian and Christian Fellowship of OC, St. Mary Hovsepian Choir, Cultural Committee, and Sunday School.

Garo R. Madenlian’s Address
Representing the ANCA Orange County chapter, Garo Madenlian spoke at the event. A full transcript of his speech is below.

“His Eminence Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Reverand Fathers Al Baca, Vazken Movsessian, Moushegh Tashjian and Karekin Bedourian, honored guests, friends and fellow descendants of Survivors of the Armenian Genocide.

“100 years ago the ottoman Turkish government centrally planned and systematically implemented the first Genocide of the 20th Century, brutally murdering over one and a half million Armenian men, women, and children in their attempt to erase Christian Armenians from the face of the earth. I stand before you today as a descendant of survivors of that Genocide, and together with you, we let the world know TURKEY FAILED. We are here, we are flourishing, we are unified and we’re getting stronger every day.

“We are here first and foremost to remember the victims of one of mankind’s greatest acts of inhumanity, when the Ottoman Turkish government ordered the execution of over 1.5 million of its own citizens. But we must also remember the victims who did not perish:

– Those who remained in Western Armenia under horrible conditions, forced to accept Islam to survive, the once hidden Armenians of Turkey who are now coming out, reconnecting with their culture and heritage, and accepting their identity; and

– Those who barely made it out alive including the multitude of orphans that found safe refuge in host countries, and somehow found a way to survive.
We are also here to thank those who helped our people:

– The countless international missionaries and nurses who at great risk to themselves helped care for the sick and injured, the orphaned and elderly, and all those in need;

– The brave Armenians who gave their lives defending the villagers and helping them to escape to safety while fighting off the attacking Turkish troops and organized bandits;

– The United States and the Near East Relief, mandated by Congress to aid the “starving Armenians.” A humanitarian effort the likes of which the world has not seen, that lasted 15 years and spanned 3 presidencies. Every state in the nation participated, and the American people contributed money, clothing, food, supplies, and raised over 115 million dollars from 1915-1930 helping over 130,000 Armenian orphans;

– We thank U.S. President Woodrow Wilson for his constant support of the Armenian people, for his moral compass and unwavering spirit to do the right thing, for his efforts in drawing the accurate and correct maps of the region as indicated in the Treaty of Sevres;

– And of course our own survivors and their descendants who rebuilt the Armenian nation in the diaspora with churches, schools, community centers and organizations, making it possible for us to retain our identity, culture, and heritage, and continue our struggle for justice;

– We thank the Kurds who during the inaugural meeting of their Parliament in Exile publicly apologized for their role in the Genocide, and who continue to take positive steps today in Western Armenia;

– We thank our good friends in attendance today, those on the hill in DC and the Capitol in Sacramento who support our efforts to right the wrongs of 1915, for all victims of genocides everywhere;

– And as we thank those who have helped us and continue to do so today, together we say, TURKEY FAILED.
In the past few months we have achieved so much, such as:

– The state of California once again included the Genocide as part of the high school education curriculum;

– The state of California recently recognized the independent Republic of Nagorno Karabagh – Artsakh;

– The South Dakota House recognized the Genocide, and the centennial was commemorated in the Utah Senate;

– Starbucks apologized and immediately removed posters that were offensive to Armenian Americans;

– Our Students! The student governments of UCLA and Berkeley passed resolutions calling for the divestment of over 70 million dollars of University of California bonds and investments currently with the Republic of Turkey due to Turkey’s continued denial of the Genocide;

– The Los Angeles World Airports (LAX/ONT) terminated a contract worth over $845,000 with the Gephradt Government Relations firm, a registered foreign agent of Turkey actively lobbying against recognition of the Genocide.

– And as you all know a few days ago in Carson, the city council unanimously rejected a proposal to erect a statue of Kemal Ataturk…

– And much more such as stopping the Azeri lobby from passing anti-Armenian resolutions in various states, but our time is short and there’s too many to list here.

“But that’s not enough and we still have much to do as Turkey continues its aggressive campaign of denial spending millions of dollars and calling on US based Turkish organizations to step up their efforts to deny the Armenian Genocide.

“We must stay the course, and be resourceful and vigilant. We are the voice of those who perished. And today we renew our commitment to fight the good fight even in the most difficult of times; to continue our struggle for a just resolution to the Armenian Cause: Reparations to the Armenian people, and the souls of our 1.5 million martyrs can finally find peace when Ani, Kars and the provinces of Western Armenia are returned to their rightful owner. Then we can say Turkey failed, and Armenia is truly united!”

Archpriest Fr. Moushegh Tashjian’s Message
Archpriest Fr. Moushegh Tashjian also spoke at the March 8 event, with a message to the Armenian people on behalf of the Armenian Church. The speech is transcribed below.

“Your Eminence Arch. Hovnan Derderian, Primate of the Armenian Church Western Diocese, Rev. Vazken Movsessian, Chairman 100th Anniversary Commemoration of Western Diocese, Dr. Levon Keleshian, Chairman of the Genocide Centennial Committee, Mr. Tony Markarian, Chairman of St. Mary Parish Council, dear congregants and friends:

“This is a historic and solemn day for the Orange County Armenian community. We are gathered here, to dedicate this impressive and beautiful monument and to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. Hundred long years have passed since the dark and infamous date, April 24, 1915 which for our people is a signpost for Calvary. Our forefathers, including the grandparents of many here present, suffered the most diabolical tortures, in the hands of the Ottoman Turkish Government, and died as victims of a heinous crime of Genocide. They were uprooted from their ancestral lands and led to forced marches to the hot and desolate Syrian desert. Our mothers and sisters were raped, children kidnapped and proselytized to Islam. The sheep and shepherd, together marched the road to the Calvary, and received the crown of thorns for their martyrdom. We join Prophet Jeremiah and say: “we are the people who has seen affliction” (Lamentation of Jeremiah, 3:1). Yes, our people have suffered affliction but the Armenian people have survived and are alive! Our forefathers have seen genocide and massacre, but we, their children and grandchildren, are alive and live! We live thanks to the will of Almighty God, who said NO! to the evil plan to annihilate our people. We live thanks to our Christian faith, the Armenian spirit, our culture, beautiful language, heroic history and the will to survive. The message of St. Paul to the Romans is so fitting: “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts” (Romans 5:3-5).

“Our religion, faith and the Armenian spirit to survive, have armed us with indestructible power. Because we suffered for the Lord, therefore we have the hope of resurrection and our hearts are overflowed with God’s infinite love. Jesus said: “But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Jesus walked with our martyred brothers and sisters on the road to the cross. The Risen Lord is with us as we have risen as a nation. We have not come here today, to weep and lament a tragic event and remember our innocent victims. But we have come to demand justice from the successor Turkish Government, for the crime of Genocide perpetrated against the Armenian people. We demand retribution and recognition of past crimes. This monument is also a memorial to all victims of genocide for their nationality, religion, race and ideology, who are persecuted by evil governments, despotic regimes and terrorists.

“Our deep appreciation to the Genocide Centennial Committee and Chairman Dr. Levon Keleshian, for their efforts and hard work building this monument. To Parish Council and Chairman Tony Markarian, Grand Benefactor Mr. Garbis Arslanyan and to all parishioners and friends for their generous donations for the Monument and the commemoration event this afternoon. To all volunteers for their assistance and labor, the commemoration organizers, the artists, government and civic leaders, dignitaries, the press and all those who in various ways supported the commemoration events and the Centennial Genocide Monument.

“Long live the memory of one and one half million Armenian martyrs. Long live our revived Armenian nation, free and independent fatherland Armenia and free and independent Artsakh.

“Long live the Diaspora Armenian communities everywhere. Long live the American Armenian community, our Holy Church, all Armenian organizations, schools and establishments.

“May our Heavenly Father keep and protect our adopted country, the United States of America, from internal and external enemies.

“We will live and flourish. It’s Resurrection, my dear people. May the Lord in Heaven Bless our people, for His Glory and the eternity of God-loving Armenian people, forever and ever, Amen.”


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