BY SATENIG SANIKIAN
On Saturday–June 13–Republic of Armenia Consul General to Los Angeles Armen Melkonian made his first visit to Fresno. His visit was sponsored by the Armenian Cultural Foundation of Fresno.
Melkonian arrived at the Yosemite International Airport at 12:45 p.m. The Consul General and his wife–Yevgenia–were greeted by members of the Armenian Cultural Foundation–ARF Central Committee member Viken Yepremian and Chairman of ARF "Soghomon Tehlirian" Gomideh Meher Chekerdemian–Pastor of the Holy Trinity Armenia Apostolic Church Father Vahan Gostanian–Fresno County Supervisor Deran Koligian–and District Director for Congressman George Radanovich Steve Samuelian.
A press conference was held shortly after with news crews from ABC-Channel 30–NBC-Channel 24–CBS-Channel 47–and also Charles McCarthey from "The Fresno Bee" newspaper. During his press conference–Melkonian was asked how he feels being in Fresno.
"For the first time being in Fresno–I feel very happy and proud because Fresno is the cradle of the Armenia’s of the West Coast," Melkonian said. "When I was flying into Fresno–I was looking down from the plane window and I was proud to see a lot of fertile fields and I knew these fields have been cultivated in part by the hands of the Armenia’s. I am proud that Armenia’s are involved in and are full members of the American community and have contributed so much to the development of this country. The Armenia’s know that their original roots are in Armenia and are always concerned with the problems in Armenia and contribute to the solutions of the economic problems in Armenia."
The main goal of the Consul General’s visit was to meet with the Armenian community of Fresno and inform them of current events in Armenia.
Afterward–they headed to the Massis Cemetery to visit the monument of Soghomon Tehlirian–who had dedicated his life to the Armenia’s who lost their lives in the Armenian Genocide.
The Consul General also visited the David of Sassoun statue in historic downtown Fresno.
In the evening–a private reception was held in honor of Melkonian’s visit to Fresno. The reception took place at the Fresno Metropolitan Museum. Chairman of the ARF Central Committee Western Region Dr. Viken Hovsepian and sponsors of the banquet were present and had a chance to speak with the Consul General personally. An ABC News reporter also attended and reported live from the reception. Melkonian addressed the crowd with a warm thank you for their generosity in making his first visit to Fresno possible.
"I am privileged and honored by your presence here with such distinguished officials from government–from the city authorities–the pillars of the Armenian community–and all of you," said the Consul General. "Visiting Fresno was my desire since childhood because I knew about Fresno from the novels of the great writer–William Saroyan. Even some of my childhood friends thought Fresno was somewhere in Armenia. I have had the opportunity to know this community and also your energy and readiness to serve the American community as well as Armenia.
Following the reception–Melkonian attended a banquet sponsored by the Armenian Cultural Foundation. More than 350 were in attendance. Master of Ceremonies Steve Samuelian opened the program with welcoming remarks.
The program opened with Father Vahan Gostanian’s invocation and the singing of the Armenian and American national anthems sung by Hygo Ohannessian and accompanied by pianist Caroline Chaderjian.
On behalf of the US House of Representatives and Congressman George Radanovich–Steve Samuelian presented an official statement read into the Congressional Record to welcome the Consul General’s first visit to Fresno. He also presented a Resolution to the Consul General from California legislature authored by State Assemblyman Chuck Poochigian–and State Senators Ken Maddy and Jim Costa.
Fresno City Mayor Jim Patterson presented a proclamation from the city of Fresno. He proclaimed June 13 as the Consul General’s Day in the city of Fresno. Mayor Patterson asked the city councilmen–Gary Bredefeld–Ken Steitz–Chris Mathys–Henry Perea–Don Ronquillo–and Sal Quintero to stand up and present the official key to the city of Fresno to the Consul General.
"A symbolic presentation that says that there are no locked doors. Our house is your house," said Patterson. "This is a special and historic day in Fresno as we welcome the first visit of the Consul General of Armenia. As we were sitting around our table tonight–we were talking about living in historic times. You and I have the distinct privilege of living in a moment in time that we can say that there is a free and independent Armenia and celebrate that today."
Fresno County Supervisor Deran Koligian also gave the Consul General a proclamation stating June 20 as the Consul General Day in Fresno.
Berj Apkarian–co-chairperson of the banquet–made a special presentation of a picture of the Soghomon Tehlirian Monument–photographed by Avo Krikorian–given to the Consul General in remembrance of the Armenian heroes who gave Armenia their time and their lives.
Meher Chekerdemian welcomed the Consul General and his wife on their first visit to Fresno. "I am extremely happy and proud because today’s banquet is the realization of the dreams of all of our people without exception," Chekerdemian said. "Even 15 years ago–who would have ever predicted that today we would have a free and independent Republic of Armenia whose distinguished representative will break bread with us in our newly adopted home–Fresno. .
"Two weeks ago–on May 28–over 200,000 people at the monument of Sardarabad celebrated the establishment of the first Republic of 1918. President Robert Kocharian–in his radio address to his people–asked all Armenia’s to adopt a motto–`One nation–one Fatherland.’ This was the motto that was used by the Armenian people from 1915-1918–the motto that lead to the realization of the first Republic of Armenia.
"My fellow Armenia’s–in the presence of the esteemed Consul General–Mr. Melkonian–let us join together and re-adopt the motto–`One nation–one Fatherland’ and put our best efforts forward to strengthen the foundation of our Fatherland their statehood–sovereignty–and the economy."
Very Rev. Father Sassoon Zumrookhdian spoke on behalf of the clergy of Fresno. He welcomed the Consul General and his wife to the city of Fresno. The Very Reverend commented–"I am proud to be an Armenian as you are and doubly proud to be an American-Armenian because this country gives us the opportunity to be Americans and also preserve our heritage."
Ron Khachigian–President of the Armenian Technology Group also welcomed Melkonian and his wife to Fresno. Khachigian commented that Fresno is the world’s leading agricultural area. He presented facts about ATG’s work in Armenia. Currently–ATG has 75 trained specialists working in Armenia. Khachigian urged everyone to invest in Armenia and Karabakh. The ATG is working with the government of Armenia to make it easier to invest. Khachigian closed by saying–"Put Armenia on the path to self-sufficiency and prosperity."
Following Khachigian’s speech–the Fresno Philharmonic String Quartet played musical selections from Komitas.
Rosie Bedrosian–representing the Armenian Relief Society Western Region Executive–introduced the Consul General with a brief biography on Melkonian.