‘A Testimony to the Past and Future’: The Armenian Heritage Park’s Groundbreaking Ceremony

State Representative Peter Koutoujian addresses the audience. (Photo by Aaron Spagnolo)

BY NANORE BARSOUMIAN

BOSTON, Mass.–On Sept. 9, the Armenian Heritage Park’s groundbreaking ceremony took place on the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway’s Parcel 13, near Boston’s Faneuil Hall, and drew a crowd of about 1,000 people.

State Representative Peter Koutoujian, the honorary chair of the Armenian Heritage Foundation’s Board of Directors, gave the opening remarks, offering his warm welcome to all those present, including State Representatives Aaron Michlewitz, Salvatore Dimasi, and Jonathan Hecht; Senators Anthony Petruccelli and Steven Tolman; former Governor Michael Dukakis and his wife Kitty; Registrar Rachel Kaprielian (also an honorary chair of the Foundation’s Board of Directors); His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians; Boston Mayor Thomas Menino; Governor Deval Patrick; as well as the students of St. Stephen’s Armenian School and the Armenian Sisters’ Academy. Koutoujian also thanked the North End and Wharf District communities for welcoming the park project.

Mayor Menino spoke first. “It is great today to be celebrating the groundbreaking of the Armenian Heritage Park, and more progress on the Rose Kennedy Greenway. This park will celebrate Boston as a capital of not only tolerance, but togetherness,” said the mayor. He also thanked the Armenians Heritage Foundation for building and caring for the park.

Congressman Michael Capuano, who represents the eighth Congressional district of Massachusetts, spoke next. “As Peter said, every Armenian person I’ve ever met has been proud to be an American… Based on what I saw of what the people in Armenia did when they were threatened in the not too recent past–thank God they have a good military heart–but having seen the way they fought against odds, surrounded on all sides by enemies, not only just political enemies that don’t like you, I mean people who want to kill you and wipe you off the map. Once I knew the people of Armenian heritage wanted this park, I knew you were going to win,” he said.

Capuano then talked about the Armenian Genocide issue that Congress faces, adding that there have been efforts to rewrite history. “But there are some things in history you cannot change. The Armenian Genocide is one of them. It is a fact.”

He added, “My troubles are not with the Turkish government, I want to be very clear about that. I regard them as allies of America and most of the things we want. That doesn’t give anyone the right to deny historical facts. We will get it right eventually.”

Governor Patrick took the podium next. “I am so proud to stand with you today to pay tribute to human perseverance, because that is what this park represents. It is, yes, an acknowledgment of that historic fact–that the Armenian Genocide is real. It happened. It must be acknowledged. It cannot be denied,” the governor said.

“But it has value and importance well beyond even that tragedy in human history. Because as long as there has been human history, there has also been human tragedy; and it is absolutely essential that we take occasion to pay tribute to the perseverance of the human spirit wherever it shows itself,” he added.

“We are what we are because of our willingness to face horrors like the Armenian Genocide, and to use them as reminders that the best of who we are, and the best of what we want to be is founded in tolerance and understanding. Let this park be a permanent tribute to that,” concluded Patrick.

The clouds hanging overhead did not yield any rain, for which both speakers and audience members seemed grateful. Patrick even thanked His Holiness Karekin II for the fortunate weather. “I want to also thank the Catholicos for making sure it doesn’t rain today,” joked the governor. “I had nothing to do with it, though I might take credit as election day gets closer.”

Representative Peter Koutoujian then thanked the vice presidents of the Armenian Heritage Foundation, Charles Guleserian and Haig Deranian, whom he described as two “God-sent guardians,” and the “medz [big] guardian,” James Kalustian. He noted how under Kalustian’s leadership a board was established, comprised of representatives from 13 churches and 25 organizations from the Armenian American community.

Kalustian then described the characteristics of the park, its design and construction plans, its abstract sculpture, labyrinth, water features, endowment, and maintenance, and the lecture series on human rights that will take place there–starting with its inauguration in Boston’s Faneuil Hall on Sept. 23.

The project, whose value exceeds $6 million, is a gift from the Armenian community to the citizens of the state of Massachusetts and the city of Boston, said Kalustian.

He then spoke of the Armenian experience, the immigrant experience, of escaping persecution only to find hope and freedom in America. “And this park will stand in tribute to these Armenian immigrants, and to many other immigrant communities who escaped tragedy and misfortune and found safety in these shores of Massachusetts and in the harbor of Boston,” he said.

The Armenian Heritage Park, he added, will also stand witness to the fact that the Armenian American community is not defined by the genocide. He remembered the likes of “the world-renowned artist” Arshile Gorky, the composer Alan Hovhanness, the photographer Yusuf Karsh, Dr. Varaztad Kazanjian, the pioneer of reconstructive and plastic surgery, and Movses Kuledjian, the “little known man whose foundry not only cast the bronze irons that adorn the Old State House behind us, but he also started the fundraising campaign that saved the treasure that is Boston’s old ironsides.”

Kalustian ended his remarks with words that will soon appear at the base of the park’s sculpture: “For centuries, Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts have offered hope and refuge for immigrants who have sought to begin new lives. This park is a gift to the people of the Commonwealth and the city of Boston from the Armenian American community of Massachusetts. The sculpture is offered in honor of the 1.5 million victims of the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923. May it stand in remembrance of all genocides that have followed, and celebrate the diversity of the communities that have re-formed in the safety of these shores.”

The Armenian Weekly had the opportunity to speak with the project’s architect, Donald J. Tellalian of Tellalian Associates Architects and Planners, LLC, a subscriber to both the Armenian Weekly and the Hairenik Weekly.

“After reading the front page [of the Weekly], I go straight to page six to read Uncle Garabed’s Notebook,” he confessed. The architect is fascinated with words and is a dedicated fan of Uncle Garabed’s weekly dose of “What’s in a Name?”

The Primate of the Eastern Diocese, Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, and the Prelate of the Eastern Prelacy, Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, conducted the Armenian service of blessing, and offered a few words in celebration of the event, and in welcoming His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians.

His Holiness Karekin II then gave his remarks. “More than 230 years ago, Boston was among the handful of new American cities that cradled the yearning for liberty and the drive toward independence. Just over a century ago, the first Armenians arrived at its shores fleeing the persecution, oppression, intolerance, and injustice of the Ottoman Empire, in search of a better life, with barely the clothes on their backs. And they were received by Bostonians, with care and kindness,” he said.

“We are gathered together to reconfirm the vision and spirit of our predecessors. We dedicate this ground to the memory of 1.5 million victims of the Armenian Genocide, but not only that, we consecrate it in memory of all victims of genocide, before and after 1915, for the victims of the Holocaust, of Cambodia, of Rwanda, and Africa. Dear friends, this park is a testimony of not only the past, but to the future as well. It is a promise to coming generations, of survival, rebirth, renewal, and service, for the sacred promise of a better tomorrow.”

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