SAN FRANCISCO–The Bay Area Armenian-American community gathered atop Mt. Davidson Saturday to commemorate the Armenian Genocide and to unveil a memorial plaque at the site of the 103-foot Mt. Davidson Cross.
San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown addressed the crowd–numbering approximately 500 despite the very cold and windy weather. "This genocide–not yet acknowledged by the descendants of those who perpetrated it–must not be forgotten," Brown said. "It is indeed important–very important–as we close out this century–to right the wrongs if they can be righted. We collectively must demand of our government that they demand of the Turkish government an acknowledgment of the Genocide. Failure to do just that–just that simple acknowledgment–is itself an indication that such atrocities could be repeated. Once the truth is acknowledged–then you can begin to deal with the healing. Until such time–suspicion–distrust and all the other things associated with it will be there."
Mayor Brown joined Genocide survivors who were present to unveil the memorial plaque. The survivors included Yervant Der-Torossian (born in Yozgat–1912)–Ovsanna Messirlian (born in Izmit–1911)–Haig Garabedian (born in Yozgat–1907)–Haroutioun Nazarian (born in Aintab–1907)–Garo Meghrigian (born in Sassoun–1910)–and Haiganoush Markarian (born in Kharpert–1902).
"I stand with you. I’m pleased you have appropriately designated a plaque–and each time we come together for the purpose of remembering what commenced on April 24th–1915–I will be here," said Brown.
In her opening remarks–Roxanne Makasdjian discussed the dangers of Turkey’s continued denial of the Armenian Genocide as the 20th century closes. "In March of 1918–the Red Cross Magazine covered the story with the title ‘The Greatest Horror in History,’ and US Ambassador Morgenthau wrote–’I am confident that the whole history of the human race contains no terrible episode as this.’
"But tragically," said Makasdjian– "well before we got close to the end of this century–this great crime had already begun to be known as ‘The Forgotten Genocide.’
The denial seriously affects the entire geo-political relations between Turkey–its neighbors and its allies. The disease doesn’t go away when it’s not treated – it spreads. It affects everything around it. Indeed–until the crime is acknowledged–our struggling new nation can’t help but live in fear of a recurrence..
"For me," concluded Makasdjian "this monument embodies the concepts of truth–tolerance–and enduring faith in man’s ability to rise above hatred. I believe we as Armenia’s have learned these lessons deeply–not in spite of our tragic experience–but because of it. We wish no such pain on any people anywhere. And in our community–we will use this peaceful place to remember those who lost their lives and homeland–and commit ourselves to defending those who are at risk of a similar fate."
Speaking on behalf of the Council of Armenian-American Organization of Northern California–the organization holding custodianship of the Mt. Davidson Cross site–Edward Misserlian–the Council’s vice chairman–spoke movingly about the need to remember Armenia’s’ fallen forebears and the pain in witnessing current events today.
"The plight of the ethnic Albanians now rekindles bitter memories that will never be extinguished," said Misserlian. "It’s too hard… As time goes by–survivors and witnesses of the first genocide are leaving us and they told us–’Don’t let the world forget what happened. Remember our pride and us."
"We are here at the base of this huge landmark responding to the cries of our mothers as their children were taken from them," said Misserlian–who went on to address the crowd in Armenian. The council organized Saturday’s memorial event–as well as the manufacture of the bronze plaque. The event also included the reading from statemen’s of support by Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi–Congresswoman Anna Eshoo–presidential candidate Bill Bradley–a requiem ceremony by the Armenian churches–and the illumination of Mt. Davidson Cross.
The memorial plaque reads:
The Mt. Davidson Cross was designed and built by George Kelham and inaugurated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1934. In 1997–the citizens of San Francisco voted to approve the sale of the monument to the Council of Armenian-American Organizations of Northern California–to preserve it as an historic landmark.
This revered site is cared for in memory of the 1,500,000 victims of the Armenian Genocide perpetrated by the Turkish government from 1915 to 1918. Over half of the Armenian population on its ancient homeland was killed–and no Armenian community remained in historical western Armenia.
By honoring those lost–we honor all victims of injustice and cruelty. In their name we dedicate ourselves to the protection of human rights and the dignity of all peoples.
The plaque also includes words in Armenian by the Armenian freedom-fighter and intellectual Avedis Aharonian–with its English interpretation by Diana Der Hovanessian:
If evil of this magnitude can be ignored–if our own children forget then we deserve oblivion and earn the world’s scorn.
Avedis Aharonian–writer and educator–1866-1948