MONTEBELLO–Armenia’s throughout the state of California commemorated the Armenian Genocide at various memorials during the week of April 24. The Armenian American community of Southern California once again–gathered at the Armenian Genocide Monument in Montebello to commemorate the 86th anniversary of the Genocide. The week-long events devoted to the observance of the Genocide culminated with the main commemorative event held every year on April 24th in Montebello.
A Divine Liturgy and Requiem was held earlier that morning at the Holy Cross Armenian Apostolic Cathedral in Montebello. The Armenian Apostolic–Catholic–and Evangelical churches participated in the service. A memorial service was also held at the monument by the clergymen of the three main denominations. The Armenian National Committee (ANC) of the San Gabriel Valley had organized a candlelight vigil at the monument the night before.
The Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) had organized a "Walk for Humanity" on Sunday April 22–where close to 500 youth marched from Alex Pilibos Armenian School in Hollywood to the Turkish Consulate. A demonstration in front of the Turkish Consulate–on the afternoon of April 24–was also organized by the AYF. Another protest was staged by the United Armenian Students (UAS) earlier that day–in "Little Armenia," (Hollywood). The Los Angeles City Council issued a proclamation on the Genocide–which was presented to the Hollywood Chapter of the ANC–on the morning of April 24 at City Hall.
The Armenian American community of San Francisco gathered at the Mount Davidson cross–while the Fresno community observed the Genocide at the Soghomon Tehlirian Monument.
The Montebello Commemoration
Thousands gathered to honor the memory of the 1.5 million victims of the Genocide–in a program organized by the Joint Committee on the Commemoration of the 86th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide–which is made up of representatives of the three main religious denominations as well as leaders of various community organizations.
Before the commencement of the program–Dr. Frieda Jones of the Armenian Bone Marrow Center–introduced Michelle and Alique Topalian–who urged community members to donate blood for the Armenian Bone Marrow project. The Armenian Relief Society (ARS) had arranged a blood drive at the monument.
Opening remarks were made by ANC-WR Executive Director Alex Sardar–who stated "On behalf of the Joint Commemorative Committee of the 86th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide–I welcome you to this solemn observance. Today–marks the 86th anniversary of the day–on which the Ottoman Turkish government of 1915 began its systematic attempt to annihilate the Armenia’s. YES! Today marks the 86th anniversary of the commencement of the first genocide of the 20th Century. And–dear friends–today also marks the 86th anniversary of the continuing denial campaign of the Turkish government. Today–also marks the 86-year long struggle of a people who have shed blood–who have been exiled from their homeland of 3000 years–who have seen injustice–and who have survived. Indeed–today is not only a day of commemoration of the memory of the victims of the Armenian Genocide–but it is a day of survival and renewal."
Sardar added–"We have gathered here today to pay our respects to the one and half million innocent men–women–and children who died–and whose memory so many have attempted to kill. We honor their memory and their courage together–and we–all of us–remain the voices of those who were not permitted to speak. We continue to be the voice of those who remained true to their faith; we continue to be the voice of those who remained loyal to their people and their homeland; and today–we deliver the same loud message to the world. The Armenian Genocide is a crime against humanity–and the perpetrators of this crime–must be held accountable."
"As Americans of Armenian descent we ask that our government stop being an accomplice in the denial campaign of the Turkish government–and honor the sacrifice and the courage of thousands of American missionaries–diplomats and ordinary citizens who came to the aid of a people on the verge of annihilation. Ladies and gentlemen–as we are joined today with members of the clergy–honored dignitaries and public officials–and people of good conscience–we pledge collectively that we will continue to fight denial and injustice–so–that on the day of reckoning we may look into the eyes of those children whose chance at life was snatched away during the Armenian Genocide–and say–’We spoke for you.’" Sardar concluded by announcing President Bush’s failure to accurately identify the genocidal nature of Turkey’s crime against the Armenian people–in a statement released that afternoon.
French Consul General Josseline De Clausade and Greek Consul General George Augoustis were among the dignitaries who spoke at the commemoration. Other diplomats in attendance were Lebanese Consul General John Makaron and Armenian Consul General Valeri Mkrtoumian.
Public officials included Antonio Villaragosa–who read Governor Davis’ statement; Congressman Adam Schiff; Eric Garcetti–candidate for LA City Council; former district attorney Gil Garcetti; Torrance City Council member Jack Messerlian; Duarte City Council member George Chapjian; Montebello Police Chief Gary Couso-Vasquez; Burbank Police Chief Tom Hoefel; Glendale Mayor Gus Gomez; Glendale City Council members Frank Quintero–Rafi Manoukian–Bob Yousefian; Ambassador Diane Watson–candidate for US Congress.
Representatives of Congressman Xavier Becerra–Congresswoman Grace Napolitano–Congresswoman Hilda Solis–Assemblywoman Carol Liu–and LA County Supervisor Michael Antonovich were present. Also in attendance were Maria Armoudian representing State Senator Richard Polanco–Steve Simonian representing LA District Attorney Steve Cooley–Zaven Sinanian representing California Attorney General Bill Lockyer–and Tevan Aroustamian representing LA County Sheriff Lee Baca. Representing the Armenian Revolutionary Federation was Central Committee Representative Viken Yacoubian–along with other community leaders.
Armenian Consul General Valeri Mkrtoumian
"Today on April 24–the Armenian people living in Armenia–Artsakh and the Diaspora are honoring the memory of the innocent victims of the Genocide. 86 years have passed and the international community has yet to recognize the Armenian Genocide. April 24 has become a symbolic day for Armenia’s in the homeland as well as the Armenia’s of the Diaspora–which was created as a result of the Genocide. It has become symbolic because of Armenian deman’s for justice and recognition. Armenia’s gather at monumen’s each year to remember the crime that was committed against their people. The entire Armenian nation seeks recognition of the Genocide and it is the responsibility of every Armenian to pursue this cause," said Mkrtoumian.
"The government of the Republic of Armenia has assumed responsibility in defending the rights of the Armenian people. The international recognition of the Armenian Genocide is part of the foreign policy of Armenia today. The Armenian government considers the Armenian Genocide not only a tragedy of the Armenian nation–but also a crime against humanity. This crime–which was the first in the 20th century–was a precursor to atrocities committed against other nations. Armenia’s leadership appreciates the Diaspora’s efforts at bringing international recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Today–there have been numerous accomplishmen’s in this area–which can be attributed to the efforts of the Diaspora," concluded the Armenian Consul.
Congressman Schiff–in his remarks–stated–"today we hear the voices of the innocent victims of the Armenian Genocide who were condemned to death on the desert sands." Schiff praised the French people for their courage in recognizing the Genocide–and expressed hope that the United States will follow France’s example.
Keynote speaker Dr. Henry Astarjian of New Jersey dedicated his address to Hampig Sassounian. "We are here today–not only to commemorate and celebrate the lives our martyrs–but to strengthen our resolve–unite our nation–and move forward to achieve our goals. We are here today to tell the enemy and indeed the world that though we were subjected to a genocide–and scattered to the four corners of the world–we survived–we prospered–we flourished–and will continue to flourish."
Astarjian emphasized the need to tell the revisionists and the deniers of the Genocide – the Shimon Pereses–the Robert Birds–the McCarthies and others – that no matter what they say–they cannot mask the truth that the Turks systematically–methodically–cold-bloodedly–and with premeditation committed the Armenian Genocide of 1915.
The other keynote speaker was noted writer and publisher from Canada–Vrej-Armen Artinian–who spoke of 1915 as a year of abrupt termination and an unexpected beginning for the Armenian people. "Our life was halted in 1915–our difficult life–which had serious prospects for reforms and improvemen’s. The renaissance we were experiencing on different levels for the past six to nine centuries came to an end. These dimensions included cultural–economic–and socio-political aspects of Armenian life. Although we have entered the 21st century–1915 is still not in our past. 86 years later–we have the responsibility to correct the tragic events in our history."
Artinian emphasized the fact that the reality of 1915 is an ever-present aspect of our lives. "The reason why so much pain continues to exist is due to the world’s failure to condemn the Genocide. The Genocide makes its presence known to Armenia’s since they find themselves scattered throughout the world and detached from their homeland. The Genocide continues today every time an Armenian is raised without learning to speak Armenian–without involvement in community life or church life. Armenia’s have become prosperous and affluent–and should secure the future of the Diaspora while helping develop Armenia.
The opening of the commemorative program was performed by Homenetmen’scouts with a flag ceremony. A cultural program was included featuring Glendale High School Senior Milene Hayriyan–who recited a Baruyr Sevag poem translated by her. Zareh Megerdichian’s "Red Trees of the Armenian Genocide" exhibit was also staged. The commemoration concluded with a memorial service.