FRESNO, Calif.—Central Valley Armenians broke ground on a widely anticipated Armenian Genocide Centennial Monument dedicated to the 1.5 million Armenian martyrs who perished at the hands of the Ottoman Turkish government during the period 1915—1923. Hundreds of community members gathered on Sunday, Nov. 2, at Fresno State’s Maple Mall, where the memorial will be completed in time for its dedication on April 24, 2015.
Faten Myaznih-Kassabian and students from the Charlie Keyan Armenian School opened the ceremony with the American and Armenian national anthems, respectively, while the Homenentmen Fresno Sassoon chapter scouts presented the American and Armenian flags. Rev. Gregory Haroutunian of the First Armenian Presbyterian Church gave the invocation.
Professor Barlow Der Mugrdechian, Coordinator of the Fresno State Armenian Studies Program, welcomed the audience by recognizing the historic importance of the day’s ceremony as well as the meaning and purpose behind the monument.
“We are witnessing a new period in the history of our community,” said Der Mugrdechian. “We are working together to build a visible monument to symbolize our collective spirit, to commemorate, to educate the world, and to inspire future generations.”
The groundbreaking ceremony is one in a series of centennial events by the Armenian Genocide Centennial—Fresno Committee, the organization that is raising funds and coordinating construction of the monument. Many of the reasons why Fresno State was chosen as the monument’s site were articulated by Fresno State President Dr. Joseph Castro, who acknowledged the Armenian Studies Program as one of the foremost programs in the nation and asserted the university’s commitment to diversity and education.
“This monument will inform and educate people about the Armenian Genocide and bring awareness to the problem of genocide throughout history and throughout the world as a global issue.” Dr. Castro concluded his message with the declaration “Menk pnav chenk mornar” (We will never forget.)
According to Dr. Cynthia Teniente-Matson, Fresno State Vice-President for Administration, the monument will be positioned along the most popular and heavily-used walkway on the campus, thus making it a focal point of the campus.
Recognition from the world community and justice from the Republic of Turkey are ongoing pursuits of the Armenian people and very much part of the agenda of the Republic of Armenia, said Levon Minasyan, Consul of the Republic of Armenia in Los Angeles.
“We believe that the only way to prevent genocide and crimes against humanity is international recognition and condemnation of these crimes…with all legal consequences,” stated Minasyan. “The distortion of historical fact and reality by Turkey cannot continue forever. We believe and hope that healthy conscience will prevail in Turkey, and the Turkish government will reconcile the reality of the Armenian Genocide, a crime against Armenians and humanity.”
A central part of the November 2 event was a religious service to consecrate the site of the monument. Four plates of soil—brought from the Republic of Armenia, the border between the republic and historic Western Armenia, and various regions of Western Armenia—were presented by community members Sarkis Sahatdjian, Debbie Adishian-Astone, Marine Vardanyan, and Areen Yemenjian and combined together in a single platter. Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Primate of the Western Diocese and Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian, Prelate of the Western Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church led local clergy in blessing the sacred ground, held by Zareh Apkarian and Sevana Wassilian, students of the Charlie Keyan Armenian Community School. The religious leaders each took the podium to mark the historic occasion.
“We remember. We demand. This is the motto of the centennial commemoration,” said Archbishop Mardirossian. “We are empowered, because this groundbreaking ceremony today sends a resounding message to Turkey and to the world that, yes, 100 years have passed, but the Armenian people will never forget…In the end, the truth always prevails… The groundbreaking of this monument drives and inspires us to keep educating, to keep demanding, and to keep hoping.”
Emphasizing the historical and current accomplishments and mission of Armenian-Americans, Derderian remarked:
“This monument and all monuments will remind us that we as Armenians, each and every one of us, are living monuments to the martyrs of the Armenian Genocide…This monument will be the symbol of the resurrected life of our nation. We will commit ourselves to uphold firm our Christian identity and send a clear message to the people of this great country that we are equally builders of this great land and in doing so, we are dedicated citizens in bringing justice to the memory of the martyrs of the first genocide of the 20th century.”
Other speakers included Congressman Jim Costa; Assembly Member Jim Patterson; Varoujan Der Simonian, Vice President of the AGC—Fresno Committee; and Berj Apkarian, the recently appointed Honorary Consul of the Republic of Armenia in Fresno and head of the AGC—Fresno Committee Monument subcommittee.
The ceremony concluded with the students placing the blessed soil at what will become the center of monument.
Designed by Fresno architect Paul Halajian, the monument will embody symbols of cultural meaning to the Armenian people. Its principal components will be arranged in a circular pattern and angled inwards, reminiscent of the Tzitzernagapert monument in Armenia. Built from béton brut and Tufa stones, the nine pillars that make-up the body of the structure represent the six provinces of historic WesternArmenia (Van, Bitlis, Dickranagerd, Kharpert, Sepastia, and Erzerum), Cilicia, the Diaspora, and the Republic of Armenia. The pillars will gradually descend in height around the circle, with the first measuring 19 feet high and the last 15 feet to underscore the significance of the year 1915. An incomplete halo will be set above on top of the pillars, symbolizing both the fracture left by the Genocide and the unity of the Armenian people.
The AGC—Fresno Committee includes representatives from the religious, educational, social, and political organizations of the Central Valley. The group’s goals are to commemorate the 1.5 million martyrs who perished at the hands of the Ottoman Turkish Government; to educate others about the Armenian Genocide and historical injustice; and to inspire people to overcome adversity through the story of the survivors’ of the Armenian Genocide. The AGC—Fresno Committee is organizing and promoting numerous events in the coming year. For more information, visit the AGC—Fresno Committee’s at their website or on Facebook.