BURBANK (Glendale News Press)–Thousands packed the Woodbury University quad Sunday for an Armenian cultural festival that featured song, dance and Middle Eastern food.
Teen dance groups wore traditional costumes while performing a set of routines that left older visitors peering over the shoulders of onlookers who crowded around a dance floor to watch with pride.
Visitors browsed vendor booths from local businesses, ate kabobs, ice cream and cotton candy, and mostly spent time chatting with family, friends and strangers while listening to Armenian hits echo through the outdoor area.
The gathering was a celebration of culture that was organized by college students and drew visitors from across Southern California, said event organizer Arsen Dzhanikyan.
“Enjoying one’s culture and celebrating one’s identity is a must,” said Dzhanikyan, who is a senior at Woodbury and president of the university’s Armenian Students’ Assn.
The event was a collaboration of Armenian student groups from 12 colleges and universities throughout Southern California, including USC, UCLA, Cal State Northridge, Cal State Los Angeles and Glendale Community College.
The group’s efforts drew an estimated crowd of at least 4,000 and were crucial in creating a sense of community and identity through a cultural celebration, said Archbishop Hovnan Derderian of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of North America.
“Culture is a gift from God,” Derderian said, stressing the importance of holding events to celebrate shared traditions.
Sunday’s event was the second annual festival at Woodbury, which has proven to be a central location for the Armenian community, with large populations residing in Glendale and Burbank, organizers said.
Although the afternoon dance performances were some of the biggest visual attractions, visitors mostly enjoyed the event because they had a chance to spend a day immersed in a cultural celebration, they said.
“Armenian culture is kind of a deep and rich culture,” said Burbank resident Alice Babakhaian, who was looking over the shoulder of another visitor to catch a glimpse of a group of girls dancing in shiny green and red gowns.
Babakhaian had performed the dance growing up, but was content to watch a new generation enjoying the same traditions Sunday.
“It is important because the young generation, they get more together and they can talk and they can share these things,” she said.
Fillmore resident James Baron, a Jew, made the trip to Woodbury with his Armenian wife to share in the festivities.
“I think every culture should not just celebrate, but teach their culture,” Baron said.
The community gathering, weeks in advance of Armenian Genocide remembrance events on April 24, was meant to bring people together, outside of activities focused on the mass killings, organizers said.
“It doesn’t have to be something tragic to get everybody together,” said Vazgen Keshishyan, who had helped organize food sales for the event.
Editor’s Note: The All-ASA is a confederation of independent ASAs that seeks to facilitate dialogue, idea-sharing, and provide a forum for common initiative. The All-ASA meets throughout the year for program committee meetings as well as general sessions during which constituent and observer organizations discuss issues of common concern.