FRESNO—For lifelong educator Alice Petrossian, recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the United States may well be at hand thanks to today’s youth, as she addressed a crowd of more than 250 people during annual Flag Raising and Armenian Genocide Commemoration at the Fresno City Hall. Organized by the Armenian National Committee of America—Central California, Fresno’s flag raising ceremony marked its 15th year, making it one of the oldest such events in the country.
“Some of you may…remember the doomsday comments that in the United States the Armenian-American community will assimilate and forget, a fact that Turkey keeps beating on, but today the Armenian American youth are the ones leading the commemorations, the marches, the social media battles.”
Petrossian’s passion has been working with underserved students and prioritizing equity and diversity issues, even at times when those missions were given little attention by public school systems. Today, California’s Armenian community has been presented with a great opportunity to advance its political successes within state and local governments into the public classroom.
“We now have age-appropriate lessons matching the California standards and frameworks for teaching the importance of cross-cultural respect, understanding, and the values that are so ingrained in our national history. For middle school and high school age students, we have volumes of resources available to any parent, student, teacher or administrator who would like to join us in the call—Genocide, Never Again.”
Throughout her 44 year career, Petrossian has been an educational leader and advocate for all students. Her awards include, among many others, the prestigious Ellis Island Medal of Honor and multiple Woman of the Year proclamations by Assemblyman James Rogan (1998), Assemblyman Paul Krekorian (2008), and Senator Carol Liu (2013). Petrossian remains connected to Armenia through her yearly volunteer work and lectures at American University of Armenia. As an immigrant who could not speak a word of English when her family first settled in southern California, Petrossian recalled her trips to Fresno’s Armenian Town and particularly the office and bustling community center of the Asbarez newspaper.
“As a child in the 1960s, it gave me great joy to visit Fresno, the church on Ventura, then cross the street for lavash, because in those days there were no lavash bakeries in LA. But the best part was walking across the street from the church to the community center and the office of Mr. Andre Amourian, Asbarez’s editor.”
Congressman Jim Costa and Fresno Mayor Lee Brand also remembered their personal ties to the Armenian community while growing-up in the San Joaquin Valley. Costa has been a consistent and ardent backer of Armenian-related issues since being elected to the House of Representatives in 2005.
Brand, who assisted in this year’s raising of the Armenian tri-color, similarly pledged his enduring support. “As long as I am here as the mayor, I will continue to advocate cause and continue to seek recognition of the Genocide and never ever forget.”
Newly-elected congressman T.J. Cox encouraged the Armenian community to remain active, adding that he has joined the Congressional Armenian Caucus and looks forward to serving alongside longtime caucus-member Congressman Costa. Fowler councilman Karnig Kazarian emceed the event and welcomed the more than twenty public officials from local, state, and federal governments as well as members of the Central California Assyrian Student and Youth Association who attended the event.
The ceremony included a stirring rendition of Kilikia by vocalist Misak Israelyan and musical performances of Surberu Achker and Aryounod Trosh by students of the Charlie Keyan Armenian Community School. Members of the Sassoun Chapter of the Homenetmen Scouts and the Duncan Polytechnical H.S. Air Force JROC served as the color guards. Hygo Ohannessian and Asdghig Ajamian sang the national anthems of the United States and Republic of Armenia, respectively and were accompanied by the Association Of The United States Army “Sounds Of Freedom” Military Concert Band.
The invocation was conducted by the local clergy, including: Fr. Dajad Ashekian of Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church, Fr. Yessai Bedros of St. Paul Armenian Church, Rev. Greg Haroutunian of First Armenian Presbyterian Church, and Rev. Kevin Kasper of Pilgrim Armenian Congregational Church.
Following the flag raising event, Petrossian visited the monument of Soghomon Tehlirian at the Massis Cemetery where she joined with members of the ANCA – Central California to honor the survivor and one of the avengers of the Genocide.
As a local branch of the ANCA—Western Region, the ANCA – Central California has organized the event since 2004 when the flags of Armenia and the United States were raised together at Fresno City Hall in memory of 1.5 million martyrs of the Armenian Genocide.
Below is her Alice Petorssian’s keynote address:
I would like to open by thanking the Mayor, the City council and all elected officials who are with us today. A very special thank you to the Fresno Armenian National Committee for extending me this opportunity to share some thoughts with all of you. When I was first invited to speak three questions came to my mind.
1. Why me?
2. Why Fresno?
3. Why Today?
I’m a lifelong educator, with nearly 40 years of service in California’s Public schools. My passion has been serving the underserved students with special needs and my priorities have included equity and diversity issues at a time when those words were not valued.
Where did I get this deep urgency to address injustice? Unfortunately the answer is an easy one -the need for justice runs in my veins because I am the granddaughter of two Orphaned genocide survivors from Van who were thrust together under difficult circumstances, yet somehow managed to create a beautiful family. My grandfather was living in New Jersey when the Turks began to implement their pre orchestrated horrendous acts to annihilate all Christians be they Armenian, Greek or Assyrian.
While the world closed their eyes, my grandfather returned to Van to fight for and defend his homeland.
Some may think this was foolish. I see it as heroic and nationalistic.
I know that I am not the only one here today or across the globe who is an offspring of a survivor. I would like to ask all children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren of survivors here today to please stand. Thank you for standing, I am grateful that you have not forgotten.
It is said “One of the most fascinating characteristics of Armenians is that they are like diamonds high quality, beautiful yet indestructible. We stand here as proof that “turkey failed” and that we will not rest until our call for justice is addressed.
Note we do not call for revenge but we call for apologies and for reparations. Together we can achieve this! Thank you for standing up in memory of those who gave their lives and those who survived. Please be seated!
As a student of Armenian immigration to California I learned at a very young age that Fresno was not only the fruit basket for California but it was also the cradle of Armenian civilization in California. As a child in the 1960s it gave me great joy to visit Fresno, the Church on Ventura, go cross the street for lavash, because in those days there were no lavash bakeries in LA.
But the best part was walking across the street from the church to the community center and the office of Mr. Andre Amourian-Asbarez Editor, The center was not only a place for meetings and playing backgammon but it was also the place where the first Armenian paper in California was published.
Fresno was also the home of Armenians including Williams Saroyan and Ross Baghdasarian, but the ones who were my heroes, were the farmers, the immigrants that made Fresno what it is today.
As a young girl I looked up to the Sophia Hacopian who became my role model for strength and generosity combined. I was impressed with how the Armenian community supported each other, cared for each other, and yet preserved the language and culture in their adopted homeland, the land that gave them refuge and a new start. It was this community that gave us a list of public servants and elected officials who today continue to make us proud.
Turkey Failed, we are here in Fresno and remembering the violent acts and affirming NEVER AGAIN!”
My answer to “why Fresno” would be, “why not?” This was the home that our survivors selected in America, in California, and Fresno is a huge part of the Armenian immigrant story based on the genocide.
The last Question…WHY TODAY?
I am totally frustrated and I believe many of you will join me in this frustration, when someone says that was 104 years ago why don’t you just forget and move on.
How does one forget the loss of 1.5 million men, women and children?
How does one forget the loss of a culture, the beautiful literature, music and art that were destroyed, lost, along with those who were creating all of this beauty?
How does one forget the homeland the historic churches that have been desecrated and destroyed for no reason except to erase the past and lie about the present.
How does one forget a mountain that the world knows belongs to Armenia and Armenians?
How does one forget so much pain and suffering without an apology without reparation?
How can I forget, when recently I was asked to give my family history of illnesses, and I could see others going through their linage, but I could only go back to my grandparents.
Just this year the reminder of hate acts against Armenians or Armenian establishments in California keep reminding us not to forget, to be vigilant.
Today’s turkey is as full of hate towards Christians and minorities as it was in 1915. Our monuments and history continue to be destroyed and yet we are asked to forgive and forget?
Our heroes, such as Herant Dink are killed. Garo Pylan is threatened with death, and our journalist are deprived of their rights, our Turkish friends are jailed for sharing the truth.
How can I forget when a $700 million dollar 1,000 room palace is built for president Erdogan on confiscated lands from an Armenian family lost in the Genocide?
I believe I’ve been asked to speak today to give a different answer to why not forgive and forget. Because genocide forgotten is continually repeated and the proof is globally evident today.
Criminals unpunished continue to repeat the same crimes, and the proof is globally evident today.
Churches, historic monuments, works of majestic beauty, were destroyed with no consequences and The proof is globally evident today?
Was it not enough to watch how the Armenian genocide contributed to the holocaust how about these events allowed or led to the Genocides of Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur?
How does forgetting help stop man’s inhumanity to man.
I challenge us to REMEMBER, not only remember but to teach. It is only through education, the full understanding of the cause-and-effect of hate and atrocities, that we can prevent further pain. We in California have what is called a social studies framework which talks about the values and importance of learning the Armenian genocide story in 10th grade.
THIS WAS THE HARD WORK OF ELECTED LEADERS AND THE ANC-WR.
It is now up to us to make certain that this critical content is taught in all California High Schools.
I would like to share some of the work that is presently happening to make the difference in the lives of our grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Many school districts throughout California have resolutions on the value of teaching the Armenian genocide and a commitment to provide teachers with the appropriate training. It is crucial to have the same resolutions and commitments throughout the central valley.
Glendale unified school district has already made April 24 the day of remembrance, and just yesterday Los Angeles unified school district board passed a resolution insisting on the teaching of the genocide as well as requesting a study on the feasibility of April 24 being a day of commemoration this from one of the second largest district in the Nation.
We now have age-appropriate lessons matching the California standards and frameworks for teaching the importance of cross cultural respect, understanding, and the values that are so ingrained in our national history. For middle school and high school age students we have volumes of resources available to any parent, student, teacher or administrator who would like to join us in the call, genocide never again.
We are fortunate to have volumes of resources, including Age-appropriate novels, videos films and lesson plans for any middle school or high school teacher, administrator, student or parent wishing to have the facts on the genocide taught appropriately.
We have organizations like Genocide Education, Facing History and Ourselves, the Shoah foundation, and Nearest Relief who can provide training and support for any community wishing to teach the truth.
We continue to work with or fight textbook publisher to make certain the truth is what is being published.
Because we have so much to celebrate, so many successes, 49 out of 50 States recognizing the Genocide. I believe the 50th State will soon see the truth and make it a 50 State recognition.
Because today we have the young minds and social media skills to make the United States finally recognize the Armenian Genocide. Some of you may even remember the doomsday comments, that those in the United States the Armenian American community will assimilate and forget, a fact Turkey keeps betting on, but today the Armenian-American youth are the ones leading the commemorations, the marches the social media battles. They are the ones that will carry this cause, until we have our justice.
Because today over 30 Nations and many more local governments or Nations have Recognized the Genocide with Strong leaders of Germany, France and Canada speaking out continually and using the Appropriate word Genocide…
Because I have faith that USA will also recognize the Genocide, and pray that it will be in my lifetime.
Because we are armed with the truth, and today is the start of yet another year of denial, but we are here, we commemorate globally and thus we do not allow the perpetrators to silently continue their work….
Let us never forget…let us teach the truth, let us prevent suffering and fight for those who suffer as did our forefathers!