Long time ANCA CC member Paul Jamushian welcomed the crowd of 650 then noted the theme this year was “Never Forget”. The Master of Ceremonies, Debbie Poochigian, known for her strong view on the subject of “չմոռանալ” (“to not forget”) was then introduced. Immediately thereafter, Poochigian, also the Chairman of the Fresno County Board of Supervisors invited local Armenian church priests to start by paying tribute to our martyrs with the Lord’s Prayer in Armenian.
The Armenian flag was raised by the Fresno Sassoon Chapter of the Homenetmen Scouts. The United States flag was raised by the Design Science High School of Fresno Unified. Both national anthems were sang by Hygo Ohannessian with background music performed by the AUSA Sounds of Freedom Band. A seemingly made to order, perfectly timed wind made the flags waive as soon as they were raised.
Fresno Mayor Ashely Swearengin, a longtime supporter of Armenian-American issues said in her speech “We honor you and join you in remembering the events of 100 years ago.” The Mayor attended multiple ceremonies in commemoration of the centennial of the Genocide. “When I think back over just the last twenty four hours and I consider the emotion and the beauty of the commemoration ceremonies that we have seen this year, I am truly overwhelmed and I am not Armenian,” said the Mayor who was visibly touched by the community’s efforts.
MaryAlice Kaloostian, District Director of Senator Tom Berryhill relayed her grandmother’s and great grandmother’s story of survival. “They would steal what was ours and made it theirs,” said Kaloostian referring to the Ottoman Turks. Her family came from Kharpert and her grandmother had a scar on her head and ear. The scar on the ear was from a Turkish girl trying to pull her earring off because she wanted it for herself. “I shouldn’t be here today, if the Turks had been successful, none of us would be here today,” she said.
Congressman Jim Costa, a staunch supporter, also spoke at the commemoration. For many years he has been an advocate for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide in the United States. Costa, who has many childhood Armenian-American friends, is a part of the Armenian caucus in Washington D.C. and has heard many personal stories of the genocide from his friends. He closed by saying “silence is genocide’s best ally.”
A soon to be observer of the election in Artsakh, County Supervisor Andreas Borgeas was the next speaker. His presentation included the critical future of Artsakh as well as his wife’s grandmother’s personal experience as a survivor.
The keynote speaker for the morning was Armen K. Hovannisian, Chairman of the Armenian Bar Association. In a stirring speech to an audience who interrupted him with repeated applause, Hovannisian began by asking “Is the destruction of an entire national quantifiable? Is the decimation of nearly all of its people measurable? Is what was lost and what was taken recoverable by any stretch of imagination?” His questions immediately got the audience’s attention.
Toward the end of his speech, Hovannisian looked passionately at the crowd and stated, “We must wake up tomorrow with a consciousness that is both rooted in the Armenian Genocide and which raises up above it as well that insists that we Armenians forever more define our identity not by what was done to us but what we do from this day forward.”
Also part of the program was a selection of songs performaned by the Charlie Keyan Armenian Community School of Fresno.