BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
This year I attended far fewer Genocide commemorative activities than I typically do, primarily because I was sick and did not want to infect a large portion of the Los Angeles Armenian community. Consequently, this article will be much shorter than in previous years, and my reflections on where we stand, far more limited.
Proceeding in chronological order, Burbank was the site of the first two I attended. Unfortunately, both were weak in attendance, mostly because publicizing them started late and was minimal. The city council issued its annual proclamation on Tuesday, April 17, with a few words delivered by the Burbank ANCA in the presence a couple of dozen Armenians. Coincidentally, an item on the council’s agenda regarding an appeal fee overlapped with Armenian concerns. The fact that this appeal was being abused by some residents was raised. The abuse manifested itself as a clear bias in that the appeals targeted Armenians remodeling homes far more frequently than others. Two days later, the Burbank School Board passed a Genocide resolution. A few students and recent graduates spoke to the issue and parents were present, so attendance by Armenians was better than at the city council meeting. But, by a stroke of good fortune, a large number of teachers were present because of contract negotiations and heard about the Genocide. They also made supportive comments, many on Facebook.
That Saturday, April 21, was the Cycle Against Denial organized by the AYF’s Sardarabad Chapter. This was the ninth year of the event. Happily, the number of participants had increased over last year (which was anemic) and was back in its typical range of 100-200. Sporting the same t-shirt, all those bicyclists catch people’s attention when riding through the fairly pedestrian friendly areas of Santa Monica and Venice. I really wish more people would participate I this event. It’s a fantastic way to inform people, and is eminently doable since it is a very easy ride.
The following day, April 22, was the Armenian Cycling Association’s (ACA) annual commemorative ride. This is a tougher ride and draws fewer participants. It has been going on for some 15 years (I don’t know its exact start year). Starting at the Armenian Catholic church in Glendale, bicyclists ride to the martyrs’ monument in Montebello and return. Some years the ride is on the same day as the gathering held at the monument. This year, the ride was shorter, to Grand Park in downtown Los Angeles where a commemorative monument was placed three years ago. The number of participants was roughly the same as last year, which was the first time I had participated.
Here I’ll point out some interesting scheduling “conflicts”. At roughly the same time as the ACA’s ride, the Armenian Hiking Society had scheduled a commemorative hike to Glendale’s Tongva Peak. Tongva is the name of the indigenous people of the area who were subjected to the Spanish Empire’s murderous policies, so it is a thematically very appropriate destination. It’s unlikely that any more than a very small number of people would have wanted to do both, so this is not a real conflict. Rather it points to the “special interest” groups in our community that are taking on the task of doing something on or near April 24. I can only hope that other groups are also undertaking commemorative efforts, whether professionally (doctors, engineers, grocers, jewelers, lawyers, nurses, pharmacists, rug merchants, etc.), interest/activity (book clubs, chess players, coin and stamp collectors, etc.), or any other category based.
Another one of these soft “conflicts” occurred on Tuesday morning, April 24th. I had heard that an Armenian owned bicycle shop scheduled a ride from Pasadena to the Montebello monument. At the same time, the Armenian Hikers Association had it annual commemorative hike in Glendale’s Brand Park This is an easy hike, in its 6th year, with a brief gathering at the top to exchange some thoughts. The typical 20-30 participants were there.
Of course the most significant gathering in the LA area is the March for Justice. This is an outgrowth of the major effort on the 100th anniversary. People gather at Pacific Park in Los Angeles and march to the Turkish Consulate where a rally/demonstration is held, the equivalent of what used to be organized by the AYF. Now, a grouping of numerous organizations puts this effort together. It seemed to me and most others that the number of participants was higher this year than last, and the reported numbers confirm that.
I attribute that increase to the energizing effect of the demonstrations and developments in the Republic of Armenia. When political juices start to flow in people, they want to do more. Plus, I am generally an advocate of people’s rights and efforts to restore justice, whenever and wherever possible. This takes much effort on the part of the person or group that has been wronged. But it also takes the support and assistance of others, third parties, with nothing to gain or lose from the restoration of justice. So a broad, cooperative, integrative approach is needed on the part of Armenians and others. That’s probably what people felt and were motivated by when they turned out in larger numbers this year. All this is why I was a bit concerned when I read a Facebook posting describing the thoughts of participants in a New York Armenian demonstration. It seems a significant number of people thought that Genocide commemorations and advocacy for improvements in our homeland should be kept separated. But isn’t our oft-heard goal a “FREE, independent, united” Armenia? The capitalization is to draw attention to that component of our struggle which is often given short shrift since independence and unification (of Western Armenian lands) are much easier to see the lack/absence of.
Finally, by way of drawing attention to a barely publicized effort, I’ll point readers’ attention to two websites, both in French, which address one of our compatriots’ “Run for Peace” on the occasion of the 103rd anniversary of the Genocide. One, the website of the city of Marseilles, announces this effort, and the other is the race’s site. Ara Khatchadourian (not the editor of Asbarez), who summited Mt. Everest two years ago and is one of our few extreme athletes, is running from his current residence in Marseille to Yerevan. He started April 7 and expects to finish in July, running 4350 km (2719 mi) over the course of 103 days. That’s a little more than one marathon per day! He will cross eight countries (including Turkey) and 150 cities and towns.