BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
This year, April 24th found me in Arizona. I had the honor of speaking at the centennial gathering held in Phoenix’ Bolin Memorial Park, where that community’s Genocide Memorial is located, beside similar structures such as the Arizona Pioneer Women, Civilian Conservation Corps, World War I, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Vietnam Veterans, Arizona 9/11, and Navajo Codetalkers Memorials.
The program was fairly standard fare, but one part, a recitation by Varouj Baltajian, really moved me (and I am one who profoundly dislikes that particular art form). I suggest going to that YouTube link and listening. The turnout was strong with a good mix of young and old, along with some elected officials. Roughly 400 people were there, which I was informed is about double last year’s attendance. The other heartening aspect was the discussion that ensued. A number of people approached me to challenge or otherwise address some of the ideas I presented.
This kind of engagement bodes well for future participation and activism. There was even a connection made that might lead to our community in Arizona developing its political connections significantly. In this vein, one of the points I made in my remarks is the advantage of our smaller communities in the political realm. Because the large infrastructural needs of places like Glendale, Montreal, or Watertown are absent, activists are free to dedicate more of their time to the political arena. It had been a while since I participated in a small Armenian community’s activity. It was refreshing to see that kind of intimacy. The program was followed by a hokejash at the community center.
Of course no trip would be complete without availing oneself of local hiking options. The following morning, I walked to a park only two miles from where I spent the night. Phoenix seems to have a well-integrated system of public lands/parks. A mountain biker I chatted with said there were about 100 miles of connected trails in just that part of the city! I learned from another conversation with a hiker (whose familiarity with the area led me to a more enjoyable hike and great views of the city) that he had walked out his backyard to hike in the park which was endowed not only with trails, but some more fun/scrambly terrain as well.
But what made the weekend most interesting was a chance encounter on the way to Kingman, Arizona from Phoenix. I was fortunate enough to get a ride there since my leg of the LA2DC ride/run started near Kingman. (More on this below). We stopped for lunch in the small town of Wickenburg. Afterwards, my two compatriots, smokers, were puffing away near a kiosk listing all the businesses in the downtown area. That’s when it happened. I saw Bedoian’s Oriental Rugs and Bedoian’s Bakery listed on the directory!
Naturally, we decided to visit. Entering the bakery, we struck up a conversation with a young lady who turned out to be the granddaughter. Soon, she offered to call her grandfather. It turned out he had just arrived at the rug store which is behind the bakery on the side street. We met a very cheerful Victor Bedoian. Suddenly, as he was telling us a story, it hit me, and I interrupted him to confirm my suspicion. It was true! This was the man I had read about who a few years ago had tried to open “Hotel Vartan” in Van. He lived in Van (whence his grandmother hailed) for seven years and loved it. Sadly, Turkish attitudes hadn’t changed enough for him to succeed. Word on the street was the vali (governor) had boasted that no Armenian would start a business in Van on his watch. The Turks came to believe “Vartan” meant “revenge” – imagine! Victor went through all the proper channels, did all the right paperwork, and his attorney kept assuring him that there was no way he would not get possession of the property he wanted to make into a hotel. After Victor’s case ended up before Turkey’s supreme court, it was remanded back to the local judge. The high court silenced Victor’s attorney and threw him out in less than a minute. It turned out that the local judge was in cahoots with the people obstructing Victor’s success. Indeed, as he had heard through the grapevine, that judge ruled against Victor Bedoian. Despite all this, he wouldn’t trade those years for anything! I guess the call of home is very powerful…
From Wickenburg we drove to Kingman where riders from Leg 2 of LA2DC had just arrived at the hotel we would be staying in. They told us of a difficult day. Wind, sand, and a sharp left turn had led to five of the riders, most of the strongest ones, crashing. Later, delay followed delay. Finally, one of them, who had the baton with the message being carried to Washington, broke away and rode all the way to where Leg 3 would start. He was the only person to complete Leg 2. We learned later that he had ridden with a broken shoulder and doctors advised that he discontinue his participation – originally he was going to ride every day! The afternoon leg also encountered harsh obstacles. Again, only one person completed the leg after breaking away. Good thing… it turned out that the remainder of the riders encountered wind, cold, hail (large enough to be painful), and darkness. Everything was delayed, including the start of Leg 4 the next morning. This was my leg. Luckily, things went smoothly. Some of us were picked up and transported forward so the leg could be completed on time. Two of the six riders completed the whole leg. Based on updates posted on LA2DC.org, it seems things have been going smoothly since then.
My Arizona experience rekindled my awareness of how much potential exists in the small, scattered communities we have across the country, continent, and world. Armenians living in those places can work wonders in our struggle for reparations and restoration of our lands. Let’s extend a stronger organizing hand to those communities and expand the budding efforts to integrate them in our work.