BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
My annual recounting, missing the last two years, of various Genocide related events was a bit harder than usual to prepare for this year, but this critique and other observations are material for a separate opinion piece. For now, a simple recounting of the events I was able to attend follows.
The AYF’s Cycle Against Denial, held April 10, was the first event I was able to make this year. Participation seems to have rebounded a bit this year, to 170. The location was changed from the vicinity of the Ferrahian School’s south campus in the San Fernando Valley to Venice. The new location was probably selected for its greater visibility and pedestrian presence. After the ride (which covered about half as much distance as previous years), a small group of the riders went to Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade, an open air street/shopping venue, and staged two die-ins while distributing flyers.
On April 12, Burbank held its annual three-part-event organized by the AYF and ANCA of Burbank. The first stage, as always, was receiving a proclamation from the city council. The two speakers who received the proclamation on behalf of the Armenian community garnered praise for their remarks. This was followed by a small group marching from city hall to the ACF-Beshir Mardirossian Youth Center where a commemorative program was scheduled. A little over 100 people were present, down from other years. But, it was a different and younger crowd.
Hollywood’s ANCA once again held its Renaissance Through Art event, April 15, with more than 100 in attendance. This combination of paintings on the walls of the hall coupled with musical presentations and brief remarks seems to be attracting a younger crowd. This year, the Armenian Philatelic Association (stamp collectors) had exhibits up showing stamps from around the world with Armenian themes on them.
Part of the City of Glendale’s annual series of programs was the translated-from-Spanish museum exhibit titled “Armenia: An Open Wound” which opened on April 16 in the Brand Art Library. (Full disclosure- a distant relative of mine living in Mexico is one of the main designers of the exhibit.) This covered all of Armenian history, though its focus was the Genocide. A very appealing model of the City of Ani with some of its key structures “built” was a highlight. The other was a room, vacant, with its walls being a scene from the desert and sand on the floor, where people entered to get a feel of the desolation of the death marches and, interestingly, take pictures of themselves in that setting. Approximately 600 people signed the register on opening day!
Unfortunately, I missed Saturday night’s, April 16, concert dedicated to Hrant Dink. It would have been interesting to see/hear/get a feel for how a program with such a mix of ingredients turned out. I got the impression tickets had been selling well.
The first anniversary of the new Genocide monument (which drips 1,500,000 drops of water amid pomegranate trees) located in Pasadena’s Memorial Park was marked with a fairly standard program, on the facility’s large open-air stage, of remarks from elected officials, performances by children, recitations, and main speaker, all culminating in prayers by the clergy at the monument itself. After including all those who came and went, something over 400 people participated.
A few blocks away from the monument, a series of five films were screened at the Laemmle Pasadena theatre, which were products of the Armenia-Turkey Cinema Platform, a grouping that strives to bridge Armenian-Turkish barriers through film. Initially, the films they supported tended to be about the Genocide, made by Armenians, Kurds, and Turks, but according to Çiğdem Mater, ATCP’s Turkey Coordinator, the topics have now branched out from there. The three that I saw were about a little Armenian girl stowing away on a truck to cross the border and get chocolate bars from Turkey then mimic adults bemoaning the closed border so she doesn’t have to share with her friends; a grown man returning from outside Turkey to Camp Armen in Tuzla, where he grew up as a “fake” orphan (his father having told him to pretend so he could get an education) to reunite with his sister; and a thoroughly modern Kurdish woman trying to find the remains of her great-grandfather, who we learn was an Armenian, only to discover that his grave, along with others’, had been desecrated by a railroad. Mater’s comments about where things stood in Turkish society today, the re-tightening that is occurring, came during a discussion break in the screenings when she and Salpi Ghazarian, of USC’s Armenian Studies Institute – the organizers, chatted on stage. No doubt some people came and went, but I counted 80 people present at one point.
From the San Gabriel Valley, I raced to the San Fernando Valley for that community’s annual commemoration at which under 400 people were present, down from previous years. The highlight was a very short version of a documentary being prepared by Ani Hovannisian about Western Armenia. This production will view our architectural treasures through the eyes of a Scotsman who has been photographing them for three decades! In addition to the traditional dance, recitation, keynote speaker, and song, the local AYF Sardarabad chapter’s silent performance in silhouette of a Genocide scene was a nice touch. The event’s lead organizers are the ARF of the east and south San Fernando Valley and the Organization of Istanbul Armenians.
Four days later (April 20), UCLA student groups had jointly organized an evening five-lecture series covering the Armenian, Assyrian, and Rwandan genocides from various perspectives coupled with a presentation about the legal aspects of genocide and a final, activist, rights-advocacy presentation. Only 85 people were present, which is a loss for many who would have benefited from the interesting information and perspectives (e.g. comparison of the psychological trauma experienced by Armenians and Rwandans) shared with the audience. HyeVotes was present doing voter registration, a valuable fringe benefit at such gatherings which enables participants to back up their sentiments with present-day action.
The next night, April 21, was a bit unusual. The Burbank Unified School District was taking up a Genocide resolution. Because of the timing, how it was presented, and procedural stumbling blocks, it came to a vote very late in the month while declaring the whole month as one of remembrance and directing that the California state curriculum about the Genocide be implemented. It passed on a 3-0-2 vote. The two abstentions had concerns about the insufficient broadness of the text.
On Friday April 22, at the Pasadena Hilton, almost 400 people gathered to hear about a book. This large turnout is attributable to the author, John Evans, former U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, who dared utter “Genocide” during a tour of Armenian communities in the U.S. for which he ultimately lost his job. It was interesting two hear first-hand about the long journey of a man of conscience as he discussed his experiences with Ara Sarafian, of Gomidas Institute, the book’s publisher, and moderator and Salpi Ghazarian, of USC’s Armenian Studies Institute – the organizers. The book, “Truth Held Hostage” is well worth reading and should be given to your non-Armenian friends.
On Saturday afternoon, April 23, the traditional gathering at the Montebello monument had barely 1000 people. This is a significant decrease for an event put on jointly by dozens of the greater LA area Armenian organizations. The program was solid, if traditional, but word of the event had not gotten out. I know numerous people who were not aware of this event’s new day, set to avoid conflicting with the demonstration at the Turkish consulate. Dignitaries abounded and the traditional flower-laying at the eternal flame proceeded with its usual gravity.
The big day itself started with a remembrance hike organized by the Armenian Hikers Association and Armenian Hiking Society in Glendale’s Brand Park with 28 participants. Afterwards, I had hoped to participate with the Armenian Cycling Association as a group of some 60 cyclists rode from Glendale to the Turkish consulate. But, with the United Young Armenians having organized their Hollywood march separately from the rest of the community’s groups jointly organizing the consulate demonstration, I did want to see both. So, I bicycled to the Hollywood march where some 5,000 had gathered (my count yielded 9,000, but given the reconfiguration of the event, I did not have a good vantage point, so my estimate is likely erroneous). To arrive at the consulate on time, I had to leave before the speeches began. At the consulate, it was impossible for me to get a count. The three hour demonstration ended with music after well audible, even from afar, speeches by community leaders and elected officials. A miniscule group of Turks had a counter-protest which succeeded in riling up a few of our youth to the point that there were four arrests, of which I am aware. It is also worth noting that undercover law-enforcement officials were mixed into the crowd wearing Genocide t-shirts. One of them was exposed and angry youth, affronted by that behavior, forced him to skitter to the security of the police lines.
Hopefully, this paints a clear, though partial, picture of Genocide season 2016.