BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
FRESNO–More than 2000 Armenian-Americans from throughout California gathered Saturday at a monument commemorating the great Armenian hero Soghomon Tehlirian to pay homage to the memory of his heroic act of justice when on March 1921 he killed Talaat Pasha–the mastermind behind the Armenian Genocide–on a street in suburban Berlin–Germany. Tehlirian was subsequently tried for the crime and found not guilty.
This day of remembrance began early Saturday morning is Southern California as some 1500 community members boarded buses at the various Armenian centers and churches and headed for Fresno on a uniquely singular pilgrimage–at the conclusion of which the community’s commitment to justice was renewed.
Early on it became clear that each and every person that boarded the buses was there for a purpose: to commemorate and remember Soghomon Tehlirian and his contribution to the advancement of the Armenian Cause.
From Orange County to the San Fernando Valley–the fervor and excitement in the participants was apparent from the onset of the trip to Fresno–which lasted a little over five hours culminated in an impressive parade of a caravan through the streets of Fresno–all the way to the Ararat and Massis cemeteries–where the Tehlirian monument stands proud at the center.
The Fresno community was ready for the convergence of the 1500 visitors and in a strong force–the community welcomed the out of towners and made them feel at home.
A brief program at the foot of the monument began with a procession of scouts from the local Fresno Homenetmen chapters and the laying of a wreath. This solemn moment was followed by a requiem mass officiated by Rev. Vahan Gostanian of the Fresno parish–Rev. Nareg Pehlivanian of the Pasadena parish and Rev. Gomidas Torosian.
Mher Chekherdemian–the chairman of the local Armenian Revolutionary Federation "Tehlirian" chapter welcomed the crowd and introduced the Mistress of Ceremonies Haygo Ohanessian–the chairperson of the local Armenian National Committee chapter.
The 2000 gathered at the monument were treated to a unique first-hand impression of Soghomon Tehlirian from veteran ARF member Hagop Mankjikian–who on behalf of the ARF Western US Central Committee called on the participants to support the ANCA in its mission to attain international recognition of the Armenian Genocide and the just aspirations of the Armenian people.
In his remarks–Manjikian remembered his days with Tehlirian in Fresno and recounted the hero’s own humble impressions of the act and praised him for preserving the Armenian national dignity.
Also speaking at the event was Republican nominee for the 29th Assembly district Steve Samuelian–who earlier this month won the primary election in this newly reapportioned district.
Samuelian emphasized the importance of ANCA activities and urged each participant to join the unwavering effort to garner international recognition of the Genocide. He also praised the modern-day heroes of the Armenian cause who relentlessly fought for the liberation of Nagorno-Karabakh.
He said that those fighters and heroes took a page from the Tehlirian legacy and persevered in the name of the Armenian Cause.
The keynote speaker of the event–Norair Elsayan–a veteran ARF member–a long-time past editor of the Alik newspaper and an activist who now resides in Armenia–called attention to the importance of the Tehlirian legacy–especially since today the international community–in collusion with Turkey–is adamantly denying the Armenian Genocide.
Participating in the pilgremage were members of the ARF Western US Central Committee–reperesentatives of affiliate organization and the Executive Director of the Armenian National Committee of America Aram Hamparian.
Following the official part of the program–the participants each placed flowers at the monument and later converged on the Fresno Armenian center to enjoy a lunch hosted by the ARF Fresno chapter–who also took the participants on a tour of important sites in Fresno–including the David of Sassoun statue–the Saroyan Hall and the Holy Trinity Armenian church.
Special mention must be made to Kevork Aslanian–who along with his team of workers–catered a sit-down lunch for 2000 people–making sure that every participant was fed and taken care of.
The organizers of the event also must be commended for organizing this unique pilgrimage–which not only brought the community together–but also reinvigorated the commitment to the Armenian cause and the pursuit of the just aspirations of the Armenian people.