BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
I’ve been remiss the last few years. Going to and ever-so-briefly chronicling as many Los angeles-area Genocide commemorative events as possible is something I’ve always found important. Unfortunately, I haven’t done it, and now, it’s back, even though I made it to very few events this year. I’ll go in chronological order.
April 4 was the day of the first event I went to. It was the best one this year. It inspired my article last week. It was organized by UCLA students and featured a discussion titled “Beyond Awareness: What’s Next on the Post-Genocide Horizon” among RoA Consul General in Los Angeles Armen Baibourtian, State Senator Anthony Portantino, and attorney Armen Hovannisian moderated by Kate McIntosh who is the Executive Director of the Promise Institute. While only 39 people attended, this was probably the most substantive of the events that I was able to attend. It’s too bad our community is still so ghettoized that travelling to the UCLA campus from Glendale, Hollywood, North Hollywood, or even western parts of the San Fernando Valley is something that happens insufficiently. The other twist on this event is the scheduling conflict it created in that I missed my own city’s (Burbank) school board’s presentation of a resolution marking April 24.
The AYF’s tenth Cycle Against Denial was once again in Santa Monica and Venice on April 13. This potentially excellent event was once again attended by just under 100 people. I really hope the organizers return it to the San Fernando Valley, home of the organizing chapter. Most importantly, advertising and publicity for this event must begin much earlier and include outreach to the cycling community. These two factors – timely notice and targeted outreach – would, I have no doubt, triple or quadruple participation. Also, see below for another possible variation.
On April 16, the Burbank City Council issued its annual proclamation. I arrived late and missed the presentation, but I was informed council chambers were well attended during this presentation. Unfortunately, the vigil outside City Hall as a dud. When I arrived, it was already breaking up, having started and finished before darkness even fell, so the candles were ineffective. What is even more worrisome is that the same person who reported the respectable presence inside Burbank’s city hall was also present at Glendale’s City Council meeting earlier the same day. He was struck by the extremely poor attendance there. These types of situations ought to be a focal point for our efforts. They are embarrassing and speak to an apathy that can be quite harmful in any of our political pursuits.
April 23rd was a two-fer. I went to Abril Bookstore for a presentation by Wahi Kachichyan about his new book “Turkish Instinct or the Praise of Genocide”. The event was unusually sparsely attended and is the first time I have been disappointed by an event I attended at Abril (I probably make it there 5-6 times a year, and Arno, carrying on the tradition of his father, probably averages more than one event a week usually attended by 20 or more people in a very small space, and often bursting at the seams with 60 or more people). This is no reflection on Abril’s events, but on the author. I hope the root of my criticism lies in his lack of fluency in English. But the ideas Kachichyan presented seemed unrelated to the topic at hand in some cases, all over the map, criticisms (both apt and not) of our community, and even inaccurately explained. A member of the audience even whispered to me “who the f*** gave this guy a PhD?” I have yet to read the book, and hope it does a better job of making a case the title asserts. I had to race form this event to Montebello Martyrs Monument, where I arrived as the traditional vigil was ending with musical presentations and clerical participation. An accident delayed me further, after Kachichyan’s ramblings. A reliable source among the organizers told me estimated 400 people attended, which is the norm for this event.
On April 24th, Armenians Hiking + more organized a memorial hike. This year was the lowest attendance ever, sadly, with only seven participants. But the brief exchange of thoughts and feelings which occur at these hikes each year was the most substantive and intriguing ever. Harout Armenian discussed the challenge of conceiving, envisioning, what 1.5 million lost means. He posited a poster with pictures of 1000 of the victims, then imagining 1500 of those posters side-by-side; or, imagining that this meant at least 500,000 households impacted. Here, I remembered the idea form a decade ago of collecting 1.5 million pairs of donated shoes from churches across the U.S.A. who had helped the survivors through Near East Relief, then lining up those shoes on the Mall at the foot of the Washington Monument in the capital.
Afterward, I went to the demonstration at the Turkish consulate. The program was of a reasonable duration this year. A lot of people left long before it began. I noticed this because I arrived late and people were streaming in the opposite direction to their cars. By my count, there were some 5,700 people there. This was after many had already left, so it’s hard to say just how many people actually came. I suspect anything between 7,000 and 10,000 is plausible. But the biggest problem this year was a lack of spirit. It was pointed out to me by the family with whom I went. Contributing to this was the format of the event. Unlike other years, there was no marching and chanting, neither at the consulate where we used to march in circles, nor by starting at another point and walking to the destination. The result was a passive, ergo dis-engaged, role for those who came.
To my mind, the solution to multiple problems is organizing what I call “The Convergence.” A three-pronged descent upon the consulate would energize and maximize participation. Some of us would go to the Montebello Monument then form a miles-long car caravan to the consulate. Others would start at a manageable distance from the consulate, somewhere in Hollywood, perhaps the church on Vine Street and march. This might have the added benefit of reintegrating the group that has long chosen to stand apart (except on the centennial of the Genocide) and have a “circular” march and rally within Hollywood instead of joining the rest of the community. The third segment would form based on the AYF’s Cycle Against Denial and ride from the Valley to the consulate. Imagine the participation we would elicit and the attention we would draw.
Please share your thoughts and experiences from this year’s Genocide events, some of which are still being held and should be supported. That feedback is important to me and for organizers to do better in the future.