PASADENA–More than 720 community members and activists participated in a fund-raising event to benefit the Hampig Sassounian Defense Committee–at the Pasadena Armenian center–where by the end of the evening more than $70,000 was raised for defense efforts for Sassounian who is currently facing a retrial of the special circumstance provision of his life sentence.
The evening’s event aimed at acquainting the community to this new phase in the more than 20-year-old Sassounian case and urge the community to financially and morally support efforts of the Defense Committee.
Welcoming remarks were presented by Defense Committee secretary Houri Fournouzian–who said that Sassounian’s imprisonment is a human rights violation–which can be deemed as a continuation of the Genocide committed against the Armenian people by the Ottoman Turkish regime.
Master of Ceremonies and Defense Committee member Hovig Saliba welcomed the official guests–including Western Prelate Bishop Moushegh Mardirossian; Armenian Revolutionary Federation Bureau member Dr. Viken Hovsepian; ARF Western US Central Committee chairman Viken Yacoubian and fellow Central Committee members; ARF Eastern US Central Committee chairman Zohrab Tazian and fellow Central Committee members; Armenian Relief Society Western Regional Executive chairwoman Sona Peltekian; members of Sassounian’s family and Hampig’s fianc–Salpy–as well as representatives of community organizations.
Also present were Sassounian’s first attorney Paul Geragos and his son Mark–who is currently serving as his defense attorney. Saliba made special mention and extended a heartfelt gratitude to appellate attorney Charles Sevilla–who had seen Sassounian’s appeal all the way to the California Supreme Court and the 9th Circuit Court–where in 2000 a decision was made to waive the special circumstance of Sassounian’s life sentence–making him eligible for parole.
However–in what is being called a deliberate persecution of the Armenian-American community in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks on the US–Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley has opted to retry the special circumstance portion of this 20-year case.
A hearing scheduled for next month will focus on the prosecution’s claims that the crime for which Sassounian has been blamed was carried out on the promotion of national origin. Sassounian is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for the 1981 alleged assassination of the Turkish Consul General to Los Angeles Kemal Arikan.
Sassounian Defense Committee co-chairman Bedros Ghazarian–briefed those gathered at the event on the current state of the committee’s activities and delineated the needs of the committee as they have arisen due to this retrial. He thanked the community for its unwavering support throughout the decades.
Sassounian attorney Mark Geragos also briefed the attendees about the legal aspect of the case–ensuring that Armenian community participation goes a long way in ensuring a just fruition to the case. He also commended the community for its support and chastised the District Attorney’s office for revisiting this 20-year-old case–casting doubt on the motivation of the DA.
Paul Geragos–who was lead defense attorney during the initial phase of the case–presented an emotional retrospective of the Sassounian Case and the significance the case has had not only legally–but personally–as well–as an active member of the Armenian-American community.
"The Genocide continues," said Paul Geragos–who urged the community to remain vigilant in its pursuit of the aspirations of the Armenian people.
The moving moment of the entire evening was the airing of an audio interview with Sassounian from prison–which was conducted by Fournouzian a day before. His message to the public was one of gratitude and affection toward the community. He expressed hope that one day he will personally attend a similar event at the Armenian center.
Well known singers Hovig Krikorian–Nersig Ispiryan and Karnig Sarkissian provided the entertainment for the evening and initiating excitement among the participants to fulfill the mission of the gathering.