Sonoma State University Center for the Study of Holocaust and Genocide Promotes Armenian Genocide Awareness

What began twenty-six years ago as a lecture series to promote understanding and awareness of the Holocaust has been transformed into a series on all genocides that have affected people from all over the world, from all walks of life and with a special awareness of the Armenian Genocide.

In Rohnert Park, California, about a one-hour drive north of the Golden Gate Bridge, Sonoma State University’s (SSU) Center for the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide recognized the powerful impact that this lecture series has had on students and the wider community. That effort has manifested into a tangible, one of a kind project that will bring a new dimension and sensitivity to the North Bay of the greater San Francisco area.

SSU is facilitating the establishment of a Holocaust and Genocide Memorial Grove on the campus, a multi-genocidal monument which will honor and memorialize all those who have suffered and have been victimized as a result of genocide. Funds for the establishment of the grove are in the process of being raised from private citizens with in-kind donations from several, mostly local businesses. No public money is being spent on this project.

The lecture series, which was established by the SSU Center for the Study of Holocaust and Genocide, has become a university staple over the past 26 years – a class for students and the community alike. SSU Dean of Social Sciences, Elaine Leeder, PhD who plays an active role not only with the Memorial Grove but also with the Armenian, Cambodian and Rwandan communities, says that over the years the lecture series has broadened to envelop other genocides beyond the Holocaust and now brings a greater diversity and awareness to the universality of suffering. The lecture series seeks to study the nature of hate and to prevent the escalation of prejudice into genocide. This change from being focused on the Holocaust to all genocides stemmed from the interest and the desire to end this relentless cycle.

Six years ago, SSU Director for the Center of the Holocaust and Genocide, Myrna Goodman, PhD, engaged Bay Area Armenian-American Christyne Davidian with the Center after learning Ms. Davidian was involved with establishing a local grassroots community organization called Armenia’s of the North Bay. Ms. Davidian has since provided a significant role in broadening an Armenian focus during the lecture series. Ms. Davidian founded the Armenian Genocide Memorial Lecture Fund at SSU to ensure that the Armenian Genocide was included annually in the lecture series. This fund has supported notable scholars, including Robert Krikorian, PhD, Robert Hewsen, PhD, and Richard Hovanessian, PhD, to lecture about the atrocities endured by the Armenian people committed by the Ottoman Empire.

Genocide memorials have sprung up all over the world. None are as distinctive as the one being built on the SSU campus due to the efforts by Dr. Leeder, the SSU Center and the lecture series. The installation and sculpture component of the memorial grove will provide students and the community a venue to come together to honor the lives lost in genocide, beginning with the Native American genocide to present day Darfur.

The Grove will provide a compelling context in which participant groups, including Armenia’s, Cambodians, Native American, Rwandans, and those from the Holocaust, can honor and recognize friends, ancestors and villages, providing a secular setting for closure and remembrance.

Created by Associate Professor of Sculpture Jann Nunn, the sculpture’s design consists of two 40-foot-long railroad tracks. The converging steel lines meet at a ten-foot tall glass tower, which will be internally illuminated from dawn to dusk. In the eyes of the artist, the illuminated tower represents the hope that through the efforts of education and tolerance such as those taught at SSU, that the incidents of genocide will diminish as society moves forward into the 21st century.

Five hundred and twenty [520] ivory colored memorial bricks will be placed in the position of railroad ties relative to the steel tracks. Each brick will be laser-inscribed with selected genocide logos, names, and memorial expressions.

The Armenian Genocide Memorial Bricks will include an Armenian logo image adapted from an ancient Armenian symbol representing "eternal life" found on ancient churches, khatchkars (cross stones), and graves. This brick logo was rendered from the symbol etched on the eternal flame at Tsitsernakaberd, the Armenian Genocide monument in Armenia. The 12 swirls represent the 12 lost provinces where the Armenia’s lived before the Genocide took place.

Proceeds from brick donations will be placed in the Armenian Genocide Memorial Lecture Fund at SSU. Donations to this project are carried out under the auspicious of a 501(C)(3) and may be deductible for tax purposes.

Members and friends of the Armenian Community are encouraged to participate in this project by purchasing a brick inscribed to loved ones, with expressions, or for organizations. Two sizes are available:

At the $100 level — 4"x8" with up to three rows of engraving, each row containing up to 20 characters

At the $250 level — 8"x8" with up to six rows of engraving, each row containing up to 20 characters.

Brick orders placed by November 30, 2008 are guaranteed to be included in the sculpture which is scheduled for dedication in Spring 2009. Brick installmen’s will continue after opening ceremony based on minimum order lots.

A video on the project may be viewed at the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=12BhX_oMQhw.

For Armenian Genocide Brick Orders forms and more information, please visit the Holocaust and Genocide Memorial Grove Project link at: http://www.sonoma.edu/holocaust/center.htm.

The Armenian National Committee ‘s Western Region is the largest and most influential Armenian American Grassroots advocacy organization in the Western United States. Working in coordination with a network of offices, chapters, and supporters throughout the Western United States and affiliated organizations around the country, the ANC-WR advances the concerns of the Armenian American community on a broad range of issues.

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