BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
This year’s commemorative trail began on April 14, in Encino, for me. The AYF’s Sardarabad Chapter had organized the fourth (if memory serves me correctly) “Cycle Against Denial,” a roughly nine-mile loop starting at the Ferrahian School. This is a great idea, but the participation was markedly lower this year. I counted just under a hundred participants, only a third that of previous years. No one had an explanation for this.
North Hollywood was next on the trail, on April 16. This event was perhaps the most traditional of the gatherings I attended this year, starting with the very fact that it was held in a church, an Assyrian one at that. This is where the Armenian community in that area holds its Sunday services, too. The venue is somewhat fitting, given our shared history of genocide at Turkish hands, and the fact that the murder of the Assyrians is finally getting more awareness. The event was the typical— culture/thematic speaker/kids performing/candle-lighting program.
As with others years, there were numerous lectures on topics related to the Genocide. On April 18th, the ARPA Institute hosted a very interesting one by Gregory Areshian, “Genocide on the Battlefields of Archaeology,” at the Merdinian School. Aside from the various interesting specific developments and picture he presented, and the unsurprising conflict between what scholarly study requires and what Turkish chauvinism produces, there was one very hope-inspiring take-away. It turns out there’s an internal conflict among Turkish archaeologists. There are the carriers of Ataturk’s revisionist tradition (based largely in government agencies), centered in Ankara, and strongly anti-Western. On the other side, there are those who are more open-minded (perhaps Ottomanist?), who oppose the expulsion of Western researchers, and are centered more in Constantinople. Seems to me this is another opening for us to assist in the transformation of Turkish society.
By April 19, the commemoration trail was daily, with multiple events sometimes. That night, I was only able to see the tail end of one out of three gatherings (the City of Burbank’s annual Boards & Commissions thank-you dinner created a conflict). The Hollywood ANCA once again organized “Revival through Art”. By the time I arrived, all I was able to partake of was viewing the paintings by young artists. But, the excitement level was palpable, and it was, happily, a far younger crowd than at most other commemorative events. What I missed was a multimedia program of the arts. Hopefully, in future years this event will outgrow its current venue, the Hollywood Armenian Center.
On April 20, the Shiragian Gomideh held its event at the north campus of the Ferrahian School. With some 250 in attendance and a largely typical program, this relatively newly organized community (North San Fernando Valley) is making good strides. Newly elected California State Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian spoke, reflecting on his ties to the very site of the event and the need to engage our community, and particularly youth, in our political efforts. While this may sound trite, it actually was not, just because of how Adrin tied it in to our current (and his personal) reality. The highlights of the program were Raffi Hamparian’s fiery delivery that tied together many strings of our struggle- from justice, to memory, to the necessity of current political (especially electoral) engagement. Henry Astarjian, speaking in Armenian, was no less eloquent in laying out the broad path of our struggle, with particular emphasis on the need to engage with our neighbors, the Kurds, all in the context of the Sevres Treaty, while being alert of the pitfalls involved.
April 21th was another San Fernando Valley night, this time, the West. This event has a long history. Though traditional in nature—speakers, kids, elected officials, culture, etc., the organizers have been very good about bringing top-notch speakers. This year was no exception, when roughly 350 people heard Professor Ayda Erbal from NY. She did an excellent (though somewhat too academic and lengthy) job of establishing parallels between immediate pre-Genocide Ottoman, and current Turkish, society/mindset, as manifested in parliamentary discussions of both eras. She concluded that it was all about controlling the minorities, making it so they knew where they stood.
April 22nd was the night of the event organized by Glendale Unified School District’s High Schools Armenian Clubs held at Glendale High School. As usual, the caliber of the students’ performances, whether they hailed from high schools or early elementary, was very high. Attendance was also strong, as usual, with some 500 people present. Unfortunately, this year, one aspect was weak. Typically, a good strong speaker has addressed important issues, and that was lacking. Also, the program was “too much of a good thing”— I heard through the grapevine that a few last minute additions were made.
April 23rd was a multi-event night. It started with Burbank ANCA/AYF’s joint program. The local City Council issued its traditional proclamation. Unfortunately, this year the Holocaust remembrance organized annually by the Burbank Human Relations Council took place the same night, with that proclamation issued as well, so it was not possible to attend that gathering which is usually very interesting and informative. The Genocide proclamation was followed by a candlelight vigil on the steps of city hall with some 270 in attendance. The program was traditional, but appropriately brief.
From Burbank, I went to Montebello for another long-standing event, the vigil organized by that ANCA at the martyrs’ monument. I missed the United Young Armenians’ vigil held in Glendale Civic Auditorium’s parking lot. Once again, in addition to the traditional program, two speakers made very good presentations. Nora Hovsepian wove together issues of territorial restitution, Turkish societal evolution, the Safarov release and heroification, the Hyevotes program, Armenia’s being blockaded, denialism, hatemongering in Azerbaijan, the attacks on elderly Armenian women in Constantinople’s Samatya district, and our activities in Washington, DC. Then, Khatchig Mouradian reinforced the value of our activism by pointing to the ceremony held by Kurds in Diyarbekir to commemorate the Genocide. In that event, they had gone to an overlook of the Tigris where 98 years earlier Armenians had been thrown into the river, and there, just hours before the Montebello gathering, the Kurds had thrown flowers into the river. He emphasized that this was made possible only because of our persistent, relentless, efforts.
That is a valuable lesson to end on. More next week.