BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
Bluntly said, we blew it.
We did not succeed in harnessing, perpetuating, and building on/with the enthusiasm and energy that had coalesced on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. Here we are, a year out, and I don’t think anyone would disagree.
Of course, I did not expect the same levels, it just wasn’t going to happen. Humans have a fascination with centennials for some reason. Plus, we had the immediate distraction of Aliyev’s April Absurdity and its fallout. Nevertheless, all through the past year and at the 101st mark itself, I had hoped for, aspired to, and expected more.
This doesn’t mean the news is all bad. The diversification of ways by which we commemorate is good news. It’s no longer only demonstrations/gatherings/vigils. More and more types of events are becoming more and more prevalent – museum exhibits, concerts, book launches, bike rides, hikes, film releases, conferences, plays, and probably many more of which I’m unaware. This variety is good in that it attracts people of differing interests. The downside is the participation at any of these events is naturally going to be smaller than at rallies and such, so the “WOW” factor of a huge number of people in one place gets lost, both to the rest of the world and within our own community.
I noted events of which I’m unaware. Finding events was a real problem this year. Organizers seem to have learned the lesson of social media too well. Every group has its own following and informs them of their own event(s) but someone looking for a program is left wanting. It used to be I could go to ArmenianCalendar.com and get a pretty comprehensive listing of events in the LA area… no more. Although other communities seem to have increased using that excellent clearinghouse of Armenian events.
By way of specific suggestions and observations, I’ll start with the AYF’s Cycle Against Denial. It was good to move it to the new, more pedestrian friendly loop in Venice and Santa Monica. It will be even better to go through the more heavily used part of Venice with all the shops, maximizing visibility. The exhibit at the Brand Library in Glendale, brought from Mexico, had some typographical errors which detracted from its overall excellence. Someone, by the looks of him not Armenian, was distributing flyers for an Armenia-Guatamala soccer match at the Hollywood march. This struck me as tacky. It is perhaps unavoidable, but if the organizers of any of our events asked such people to desist, they might. Finally, I have to apologize for not giving more coverage to all our events. The difficulty of finding them, and then getting to them on time (especially when there were two or three back to back) may have led me to miss some important detail and definitely hampered my ability to compare the same events year-to-year.
But the biggest problem I noticed happened with what should have been the highlights of our commemorative and justice-seeking activities in the greater Los Angeles area. The traditional gathering at the Montebello monument which typically draws in excess of 4000 people, this year had only 1000. In fairness, its timing was changed from the 24th to the 23rd, so that may have taken a toll. Plus, people were probably excited by the prospect of the big demonstration at the Turkish consulate and decided to go only there. I prefer to view our community participation as a two-parter. Montebello should be a solemn gathering primarily for our own consumption, relatively brief (perhaps with a program repeated three times over three hours), to pay our respects and lay a flower at the memorial, with people flowing in and out. The demonstration at the Turkish consulate (now organized by the Armenian Genocide Committee [AGC] rather than the AYF) should be our show of force to the outside world with massive turnout. EVERYONE should attend it, plus one other gathering.
And now we arrive at the greatest tragedy of this year’s commemorations. Only one group decided to break off and hold its own activity, the Hollywood march, rather than join the effort to make the demonstration at the Turkish consulate the big bang it ought to be. Attendance at the demonstration was put as 60,000 (though this strikes me as a large number, I was not in a position to get my own count). This is much less than last year’s 166,000. But part of the decrease is clearly attributable to this division of efforts.
The Unified Young Armenians pulled out of the AGC’s joint effort, an ironic development given the group’s name. But, that’s their choice, a poor one though it is, made despite multiple attempts to bring them back in to work with everyone else. Many people went to both the march and the demonstration. But, I have gotten reports that UYA argued “Why was the demonstration changed from the traditional 4:00 o’clock time slot to 1:00” (the march started at 10)– I would remind everyone that the Montebello monument gathering used to be at 1:00. No doubt the AGCC factored that change in its considerations when setting a time for the demonstration. What’s really telling is that UYA has disparaged other groups’ efforts on social media.
This is a very unhealthy development for our community, especially since it involves the most common, unifying, component of what makes us Armenians. Couple this with two facts:
1- it came hot on the heels of Azerbaijan’s attack on Artzakh, when an all-Armenian front would have made a profound statement, and
2- we had the momentum of the centennial’s unified efforts establishing a new norm,
you can see why I’m so disappointed. I write this not as a “unity freak” who thinks we should all be part of just one group. I have disparaged such people. No nation is monolithic. People have different approaches and beliefs. But, on core issues, we should be able to work side-by-side. Remember the line from Jim Croce’s song “I’ve Got a Name” – “If you’re going my way, I’ll go with you.” In this case, we are all, indeed, going the same way.
It would be interesting to get feedback on this issue and this year’s commemorations in general. I hope you will comment on this article.