BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
A hundred, with a hundred, for a hundred, on the hundredth, that was the original, vague “plan”– 100 miles, 100 people, $100,000, 100th Genocide anniversary, respectively. That was eight months ago when we started meeting to organize a walk to honor our ancestors’ memory.
Of course reality soon intruded. We realized covering a hundred miles would discourage almost anyone and everyone from participating, if not because of the sheer distance, then because of the time commitment. So we decided to go with kilometers instead, and thus was the “100km Tribute March” born. We subsequently realized that more people could be engaged, and bicyclists and motorcyclists were invited to join. They accepted, and the word “march” was dropped from the name. Four groups were working together to achieve the goals: Armenian Hikers Association, Armenian Hiking Society, Armenian Cycling Association, and Hye Riders Motorcycle Club.
Those decisions paled in comparison with the difficulty we had choosing what project to fund. Given that the centennial of the Genocide prompted our efforts, we decided early on to raise money for something that dealt with Western Armenia or the Genocide. Three extremely appealing efforts became our focus. The familiar one to most readers is The Genocide Education Project. Another is Gregory Areshian’s UCLA based initiative to map human constructed surface features, then underground ones, throughout all of Turkish occupied Armenia, starting with Ani, and a massive English-language tome about the wonders of that city. The one we chose was Research on Armenian Architecture’s 36-volume architectural history of Armenia, region by region.
Another challenge was choosing the overall location of the journey and selecting the specific routes. At first, we wanted to be true to history, and walk in the desert, especially since Los Angeles is so close to massive expanses of that sort of territory. But walking in the middle of nowhere would get us nowhere from a visibility/publicity perspective. After all, if we were making such a major effort, we should benefit our cause and community somehow by raising awareness among our non-Armenian neighbors.
The sprawl that is the Los Angeles basin stopped us. For a good 60-70 miles to the south and west, everything is developed. We’d be walking across people’s lawns, beneath office buildings, or through malls. Why not start or end in Las Vegas? That’s a desert city where the media might even pick up on such an odd story. But moral reservations about the propriety of tying “sin city” with the Genocide scuttled that idea. The Angeles National Forest beckoned; it is close at hand, therefore convenient; our hiker/organizers new its trails and fire roads quite well for the most part; relay teams might be formed by those who couldn’t themselves walk the full 100 kilometers. It was settled, through the Angeles for three days, than an urban segment leading to Montebello’s Genocide monument.
After much tromping on trails, asphalt, concrete, and sometimes badly degrade dirt roads; bicycling fire roads; and extensive map study and debate, a route that was close to 100km evolved. Then where to camp each of the three nights became an issue. Toilet facilities, a campground closed due to bear activity, Forest Service rules all had to be worked into the equation. In this regard, the Forest Service’s helpfulness is to be lauded.
Selecting a meaningful route for the two-wheeled part of the Tribute’s cohort was another challenge. Armenian churches and schools abound in the LA basin. But that would be to monotonous. How could a more interesting combination of destinations be composed? The start was set at Glendale’s Armenian Catholic church, ACA’s usual location. From there, it was off to a blessing at St. Peter Armenian Apostolic Church in Van Nuys, flowers laid at the khachkar at Ferrahian school, a ride-by of Alec Pilibos school, to arrive at the highlight– Missak Torlakian’s grave, one of the Genocide avengers. He assassinated Binbud Khan Jivanshir, Ex-Minister of Interior of Azerbaijan, a telling position, given Azerbaijan’s murderous policies towards Armenians today! From there, the cyclists rode to Montebello’s Holy Cross church then found the walkers and cheered them along to the meeting point at the foot of the hill atop which the Genocide monument sits, in Bicknell Park.
Of course, we had practice (combined with re-scouting) hikes and rides, especially to the less familiar urban settings. Each leg of the mountainous part of the route was covered twice. All along, the route evolved. Finally we did it! While what you’re about to read may seem meaningless, it gives you a taste of what those who ultimately walked for four days covered. Starting in Glendale’s Deukmejian Park (named after California’s only Armenian governor), we hiked to Mt. Lukens, the highest point in the City of Los Angeles, and then took a rolling descent along fire roads to our first night’s camp, The Pines, near clear Creek Junction. Along the way, one of the hikers slipped and had a close call along a bad stretch of the route.
The “trail angels” had prepared food and a cozy setting. This crew of volunteers deftly supported and enabled the efforts of the walkers over the course of three nights. Each morning camp had to be taken down, cleaned up, and moved to the next night’s location and the tents repitched. Logistics had to be managed– food, supplies, and gear. Participants who were joining or leaving the hikers part-way through the four days had to be ferried to the appropriate trails or back home. Portable toilets had to be “greeted” upon delivery. These and countless other nitty-gritty details were handled imperceptibly.
Day two had the hikers walking up the Josephine fire road; then to the north of Strawberry Peak and its Yosemite-like north face and on to Red Box, the start of the road to the famous Mt. Wilson Observatory where astronomer Edwin Hubble conducted his research into the universe; finally, down into the San Gabriel River’s West Fork drainage to Valley Forge Campground. It was a cold night, 35°F, especially by Southern California standards, and in this way reminiscent of the Continental Army’s hard winter of 1777-78 at the “original” Valley Forge in Pennsylvania.
The second night was also the most emotional. Participants told stories of their families’ Genocide experiences. Some had happy-ish endings, such as the Boston woman who discovers her long-lost brother, only to learn he is asking not to be outed since he has become the head imam in a major Turkish city and revelation of his true identity would upend his whole family’s life. Naturally, there were lots of tears, sobs, and choked-back gasps. But what really struck me was my level of emotion. Not that I haven’t been increasingly lachrymose in such situations, but there was something else going on. I finally realized, I and my age peers are now on the front lines of responsibility to pass on our awareness and struggle, since our parents’ generation is starting to fade. This was sobering.
Day three was relatively short. A hike up to Eaton Saddle on a trail much infested with buckthorn, poison oak, and poodle-dog bush, and then onto the Mt. Lowe road and on to the Vaqueros del Desierto site. Also, I think it was on this day that it hit me… we’re walking along roads, dirt roads, much like the passages of our ancestors in those pre-universal-asphalt days. That night, rain threatened.
On the morning of the fourth (and longest-distance) day, shortly after we started walking in the dark, rain jackets had to be donned for the first shower. Hikers then arrived at Farnsworth Park where those walking only the urban part joined the group for a trip through Altadena, Pasadena, the San Marino/South Pasadena border, Alhambra, Monterey Park, and Montebello.
As the walkers and riders met, the skies opened up in a steady rain. Everyone was getting drenched but remained firm. Half the group started dancing a shoorch bar to the zoorna’s siren-song.
Finally, we all proceeded to the eternal flame, laying a flower and calling out one name in whose honor we had walked or ridden. If the opening ceremonies with Glendale’s Mayor Zareh Sinanyan, Robert Assarian (AHA), Kevork Nazarian (historian), MC Anthony Portantino, and Garen Yegparian (AHA) served to inspire participants to partake of the four days of physical rigors, then the closing ceremony, with it humility, shared pain, and solidarity as presented by Montebello Mayor Jack Hadjinian, MC Robert Assarian, Armen Hagobian (ACA), George Chuldzhyan (Hye Riders), Jora Manoucharian (RAA) , Vivian Romero (Montebello City Council), Valod Shaverdian (AHS) served to elicit rededication to the Armenian cause for the next century of effort.
Peter Musurlian, who will be putting together a documentary about the 100km Tribute, is very pleased with the footage he’s shot as he followed walkers (on roads that are somewhat hairy for motor vehicles) and the two-wheeled contingent on rain slicked streets. In fact, he was even filming when one of the bicyclists took a nasty spill and had to be briefly hospitalized. That is one of the points we hope to see future success in– through our feet and wheels, telling the story of the Genocide to our as-yet unaware neighbors. PBS? Film festivals? Other venues? We’ll see.
Now, even as we are winding down, people are still pledging funds. You can contact organizers through the website www.100kmTribute.com to mail a check made out to “RAA/100km Tribute”, or contribute electronically by going to https://itsmyseat.com/donate.html?did=473199. Anything you give will now go towards funding publication of the second volume of Research on Armenian Architecture’s 36-volume series covering Armenia’s rich architectural history region by region.
Not all of the “hundreds” we wanted to pull off happened. While we had more than 100 participants in total, we’d hoped for 100 hikers, bicyclists, and motorcyclists, EACH. The $100,000 became much more modest, netting after expenses in excess of $30,000, more than enough to pay for one volume. We did achieve the 100 kilometers, and certainly, it is 100 years since the worst part of Armenian history struck. We also failed to get any media coverage. I guess Black Friday stories are easier to cover than inconveniencing a reporter to get up early or enter the national forest. Notice was sent, though quite late.
I wrote this longer-than-usual piece in the hopes of inspiring others to do interesting activities that promote our cause. These newer approaches could serve as a template for the next century of our struggle. Get busy.