DENVER, Colo.—In celebration of Armenian survival and independence, several dozen elected officials, Armenian-American leaders and community activists attended the official unveiling of the Sardarapat Armenian Memorial Highway sign in Centennial, Colorado on September 29.
In April 2018, the Colorado House of Representatives and the State Senate unanimously passed House Joint Resolution 18-1019 that designates a portion of a major state highway – Arapahoe Road – in the Centennial State in honor of the heroic May 28, 1918 Sardarapat Battle that paved the way to the establishment of the independent Republic of Armenia. The legislative authorization of the highway sign was initiated and spearheaded by the Denver office of the Armenian National Committee of America Western Region and ANCA-Colorado. Upon passage of HJR 18-1019, ANCA partner Armenians of Colorado (AOC), Colorado’s oldest Armenian-American organization, sponsored the highway signs.
The sign unveiling ceremony included an opening prayer by Reverend Father Arsen Kassabian, Pastor of St. Garabed Church of Las Vegas, remarks by Congressman Mike Coffman, State Senator Dominick Moreno, State Representative Cole Wist, City of Centennial Councilmember Mike Sutherland, the chairwoman of the ANCA Western Region Nora Hovsepian, and the Board President of Armenians of Colorado (AOC) Sona Hedeshian, and was closed with a singing of the song Sardarapat. The master of ceremonies was Simon Maghakyan, long-time AOC activist and the ANCA Western Region’s Denver- based Community Development Coordinator for 18 states.
In addition to program speakers, several other elected officials, including State Representative Paul Rosenthal and Arapahoe County Commissioner Nancy Sharpe, were in attendance. Visiting from Los Angeles, ANCA-Western Region’s Los Angeles-based Board members Sako Berberian and Joseph Kaskanian, as well as former Executive Director Elen Asatryan, were also present. While unable to attend the ceremony, Andy Karsian of the Colorado Department of Transportation was acknowledged for his help in guiding the process of seeking authorization for the highway designation.
In his opening remarks, Maghakyan welcomed all attendees, previewed the program, and gave a brief background on the May 1918 Battle of Sardarapat (also spelled Sardarabad) that established the independent Republic of Armenia. “Turkey had destroyed Western Armenia but that was not enough. The Turkish army came for the tiny corner of Armenia that had survived. Surrounded on all sides, Armenians had no escape routes. There was only one choice – to die with dignity. They fought, many died, but they won,” remarked Maghakyan. The 1922 United States of America Congressional Record account of the battle was quoted as praising Sardarapat as the reason for which “[Armenians] took their place among the nations of the world, the only nation in all this great struggle that won their independence by the sword on the field of battle, unaided and unassisted by any ally, a feat wholly unequalled by that of any other people of this century.”
At the end of his speech, the Master of Ceremonies drew comparisons between the Battle of Sardarapat and the recent Velvet Revolution in Armenia: “When AOC and ANCA announced the resolution that was passed in April establishing the Sardarapat Armenian Memorial Highway, we announced it in support of the revolution in Armenia. So in some ways we are not only celebrating the survival at Sardarapat but also the truly-democratic Armenia that has become a beacon of hope for all freedom-loving people across the world.” The speaker also repeated his April 18 statement on the inevitability of the Spring 2018 Velvet Revolution’s victory and its resonance with centuries of struggle against repressive regimes:
“Authoritarianism may be the new norm, but Armenians won’t settle for a leader who wishes to stay in power beyond two terms. A red line has been crossed for the people who have outlived caliphs, sultans, and tsars. Dynasties – even competent ones – have no home here.”
Following the opening remarks, State Representative Cole Wist – the champion of the Sardarapat Armenian Memorial Highway resolution – was introduced. Rep. Wist spoke to the reasons for the importance of celebrating Sardarapat in Colorado. “This battle against all odds paved the path for the creation of the Republic of Armenia. A universal inspiration to fight for one’s rights, [it is] a reminder to us of the power of the human struggle and the power of the human spirit; when we look to each other and find strength in each other,” remarked Rep. Wist.
Before concluding his speech, Rep. Wist invited all present elected officials, ANCA and AOC board members, and other special guests to unveil the sign. All attendees erupted in cheers and applause upon the unveiling of the eastbound Sardarapat Armenian Memorial Highway sign on Arapahoe Road, east of interstate 25, one of the busiest intersections in Colorado. The westbound sign, located more than 4 miles away on Arapahoe Road, is immediately west of the Arapahoe-Parker Road intersection, one of the most-traveled areas in the states. Both signs were installed earlier in September by the Colorado Department of Transportation.
Once the Sardarapat Armenian Memorial Highway sign was unveiled, Rep. Wist mentioned his own extended family’s connection to Armenian history. “We lost 1.5 million men, women, and children in a brutal genocide perpetrated by the Turkish regime… As we think of all the people who made [the Sardarapat highway] happen, my thoughts turn to my wife’s family who lost family members in the Armenian Genocide.” Rep. Wist concluded his remarks as follows: “In the spirit of always fighting for your family, always fighting for your faith, and always fighting for your freedom, we proudly dedicate the Sardarapat Armenian Memorial Highway.”
The next speaker, Congressman Mike Coffman, reiterated the importance of the Sardarapat Battle in world history, as well as recalled the recent developments in Armenia. “What I hope the [highway] sign will do is spark an interest… in the genocide of the Armenian people perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire because what we don’t understand in history we are bound to repeat…. As your Representative, I work shoulder to shoulder with the Armenian organizations in our nation’s capital as well as with the Armenian Ambassador to make sure that the American people stand shoulder to shoulder with the people in Armenia. And I am so proud of the government [in Armenia] for having a peaceful transition of power – the Velvet Revolution… I am so impressed with the Armenian people here and across America, and their commitment to remembering the history of their ancestral country and their commitment to helping the people of Armenia. God bless you on this wonderful day when we celebrate the [Sardarapat Armenian Memorial Highway] sign,” remarked Coffman.
Following Congressman Coffman’s address, ANCA-Western Region chair Nora Hovsepian underscored the do-or-die nature of the Battle of Sardarapat then congratulated the Armenian community’s successful efforts and partnerships. “We are truly happy and proud to be here with you on this wonderful occasion. This may be just a small sign on a highway for some people but it’s really a symbol of so much more than that. It’s a symbol of victory. It’s a symbol of survival. It’s a symbol of rising up out of the ashes of the Armenian Genocide… The remnants of the Armenian people rose up and valiantly fought against the final onslaught of Turkish troops who were trying to complete what had been started as their attempt to annihilate our nation. With that victory they established the first independent Republic of Armenia ….. And if that had not happened, the world map would have been very different today, and we would not have been here to continue to make our claim for justice for our People,” remarked Hovsepian. “This sign is also a symbol of partnership and collaboration… I am especially proud of the collaboration between AOC and ANCA-Colorado and the important work that you do together, including having established the joint Capitol Hill office and this highway sign…. May your community continue to thrive, may your partnership continue to flourish, and may you find new and wonderful projects and successes in the future,” concluded Hovsepian.
State Senator Dominick Moreno, who was one of the two primary Senate sponsors of the Highway resolution, then spoke of the importance of supporting the Armenian community. “It’s been my honor to carry the resolution and now I get to see the fruits of that labor here with the [Highway] sign recognizing the Armenian community… It’s been my honor to carry the resolution to recognize the Armenian Genocide every year in the Armenian legislature,” remarked Sen. Moreno. “I really appreciate you all and your advocacy, and for reminding us of the ties that Armenian and Colorado share, our common values of freedom and democracy, and a recognition that we value diversity and that we know when people of different faiths and ethnicities and languages live alongside each other, it makes our communities stronger. Thank you so much for all that you do and I look forward to a long and valued relationship with the Armenian community,” concluded the Senator.
Councilmember Mike Sutherland then welcomed the addition of the Highway in the City of Centennial. “District 3 is honored to have a portion of the highway go right through the district to the east of here. I have learned a lot in the last 5-6 months about the Armenian community and we couldn’t be more honored and pleased to be part of this memorial and this community… Thank you so much for everything you do for the City of Centennial and the State of Colorado,” remarked Councilmember Sutherland.
In her closing remarks, AOC Board President Sona Hedeshian spoke about the community’s past, present and future, and encouraged the youth to volunteer in local and national Armenian-American organizations. “We accomplished this today because people worked really hard and made it happen, inspired by the people before us… Next year we celebrate the 40th anniversary of Armenians of Colorado, Inc. As a community of immigrants, we overcame obstacles…. We are proud as a community for our achievements – the Colorado State Capitol Armenian Memorial Garden, our partnership with ANCA and establishing our joint office, the successful Armenian school – we just started the second year – and of course today we celebrate the Sardarapat Armenian Memorial Highway Sign,” remarked Hedeshian. She then called on the young attendees to “draw inspiration from our achievements by becoming more involved” in community organizations in Colorado. “My message to you is – do not sit on the sidelines; support the churches, get involved with the ANCA, volunteer at our events… the success of one is a success for all of us,” concluded Hedeshian.
The unveiling ceremony was concluded with a singing of the famous song Sardarapat, which was composed in 1968 by Edgar Hovhannisyan and written by the celebrated Soviet Armenian poet Paruyr Sevak.
Following the unveiling ceremony, many of the present elected officials and organizational leaders were treated to a lunch reception by Gevorg Saribekyan from the local Diocese Parish of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
Championed by the Colorado House Assistant Minority Leader Cole Wist of Centennial and co-primed by fellow Representative Jeff Bridges and State Senators Dominick Moreno and Jack Tate, House Joint Resolution 18-1019 designated the four-mile portion of Arapahoe Road between Interstate 25 and Parker Road – which connects Centennial and Aurora, two cities with large Armenian American populations – as Sardarapat Armenian Memorial Highway “in honor of Armenian Genocide survivors’ valiant contributions in creating the independent Republic of Armenia one hundred years ago.”
AOC was founded in 1979 and incorporated in June 1980 as a 501(c)3 non-profit cultural organization. Its purpose is to create a cohesive Armenian community and to further the understanding of Armenian history, culture, language, customs, and heritage. AOC actively supports issues and concerns of the Armenian-American community in Colorado as well as those identified within the Armenian Diaspora throughout the world.
The Armenian National Committee of America-Western Region is the largest and most influential Armenian American grassroots advocacy organization in the Western United States. Working in coordination with a network of offices, chapters, and supporters throughout the Western United States and affiliated organizations around the country, the ANCA-WR advances the concerns of the Armenian American community on a broad range of issues.