PASADENA–The Southern California Armenian community witnessed a unique event as some 3,000 community members gathered at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium Sunday evening to celebrate the 80th anniversary of Armenian independence–with special keynote speaker Armenian presidential advisor and member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation Executive Council of Armenia Vahan Hovanessian–who stressed that the concept of "One Nation–One Homeland," was the backbone of the new leadership in Armenia.
Hovanessian who approached the podium to loud applause and a standing ovation–said that the warm welcome is attributed to the community’s sentimen’s not toward him–but rather the new Armenian authorities.
After a detailed account of the independence day celebrations in Armenia–where more than 200,000 Armenia’s converged on Sardarabad to mark this anniversary–Hovanessian outlined that for the first time–in a long time–the people of Armenia were marking their own day of celebration–which due to historical injustices was taken away from the people. The symbolism and the importance of May 28 and Armenian independence was nurtured and protected by one entity–until this year when the Armenian people rightfully claimed the celebration as a national event.
Hovanessian went on to discuss the meaning of Armenian independence stating that in the short two years of the 1918 republic–the Armenian people had something that we–until a short time ago–did not have–a moral leadership.
"Can you picture or imagine [Alexander] Khatissian or [Simon] Vratsian taking bribes?" exclaimed Hovanessian.
"Finally–today we hope that the moral leadership is being recreated. It is through thus that the people’s belief is also being reborn. The most important loss–which could have been the most detrimental–during the past several years was that a rift–an abyss–was created between the people and the leadership. Nevertheless–salvation arrived and the leadership changed and the new authorities enjoy the people’s trust–otherwise–200,000 would not have come out to Sardarabad on May 28," explained Hovanessian.
The presidential advisor told the audience that the Armenian people–both in the homeland and the Diaspora–have large expectations from the new leadership–adding that the new leadership has already begun the changes on both domestic and international fronts.
The firm articulation of Armenia’s position on the Karabakh conflict–that Karabakh is not a bargaining tool–became one of the first changes instituted by the new government. The inclusion of the Armenian Cause–Hai Tahd–as a point of departure in Armenia’s foreign policy was another example cited in defense of the new government.
On the internal front–Hovanessian explained–steps have already been taken to draft amendmen’s to the constitution which would have a more clear definition of balance of powers between the executive–legislative and judicial branches.
The new constitution–Hovanessian pointed out–would also allow dual citizenship for all Armenia’s.
He also stated that the country was beginning to attain rule of law.
"Armenia’s prisons," he said "are no longer crowded with political prisoners but rather with real criminals," remarked Hovanessian.
In conclusion Hovanessian read a message from Armenian President Robert Kocharian to the Armenian-American community in which the president praises the community’s participation in political life and the efforts toward strengthening the Armenian state and fighting for the just aspirations of the Armenian people.
"Step by step we shall realize the motto of `one nation–one homeland,’ "Kocharian’s stated in his message.
In his remarks–Armenia’s Consul General to Los Angeles Armen Melkonian characterized independence day as a celebration of rebirth–reawakening and freedom which ended the Armenian people’s bloodshed which resulted from not having an independent state and concluded in the Genocide.
Melkonian stated that today’s Armenian reality was being determined by the legacy of Armenian independence 80 years ago–adding that a new page has been opened for the Armenian people which should be filled with heroism and the ability to confront and resolve the issues facing the Armenian nation–the Karabakh question–preservation of national interests–strengthening of homeland-Diaspora relations and the resolution of the Armenian Cause.
The ARF Western US Central Committee message was delivered by its chairman Dr. Viken Hovsepian who stated that every year when independence day is celebrated we reaffirm our commitment to the ideals and principles for which those who established Armenian independence gave their lives.
It was that very ideal of a free–united–independent and pan-national Armenia which became a dream–expanding–improving and flourishing "every time blood was shed from Avarayr to Sardarabad to Lisbon; every time an Armenian was axed in a Bolshevik prison," and every time an Armenian worked toward advancing that dream.
Hovsepian deemed it important and conveyed on behalf of the ARF Western Region Central Committee that the time to truly unite as a people had arrived and the impetus facing the Armenian people today had no room for schisms–deliberate instigation and hatred.
Those who embark on that divisive path–would be shunned by the community–Hovsepian stated–urging local newspapers and television programs to refrain from mudslinging and become a positive influence on the community.
The speakers were invited–at various intervals during the program–by Mistress of Ceremonies Lilit Baghdassarian–who welcomed the gathered and explained the message and relevance of independence day. She explained that the evening’s program was designed to take the audience back in time to experience the legacy of Armenian independence through songs–dances–slides and recitations–culminating into the present-day deman’s to maintain that legacy.
The program began with 80 young men and women–adorned in fedayee costumes and bearing the Armenian tri-color–entering the auditorium.
The 80 youth from the ARF Badanegan (junior) organization–Alex Pilibos–Ferrahian and Chamlian Armenian schools were followed by the procession of flags by representatives all Southern California Homenetmen chapters.
The event included a rich cultural and artistic program. The Los Angeles Hamazkayin "Ani" dance ensemble–gave an amazing performance choreographed by Suzy Parseghian-Gharpinian and Yeghia Hasholian. Vocal works were performed by the Alex Pilibos choir under the baton of Ara Manashi–singers Haypert Allahvertian and his son Raffik who was the highlight of the evening–and Henrik Mihranian.
The "Ani" dance ensemble returned to perform "Zartonk." Garine Avakian opened the second half of the program–and a renowned vocal ensemble comprised of Rafik Allahvertian–Hermine Amirian–Shahe Asdourian–Garine Avakian–Vartoug Avedikian–Nella Kasbarian–Zareh Kasbarian–Levig Khmchian–Harout Matosian–Henrik Mihranian–Anahid Shahnazarian–Marine Bedrosian-Antekelian and Lorig Saroyan followed.
The Alex Pilibos choir returned to the stage and performed three songs–after which numerous Armenian youths dressed as freedom-fighters filled the stage during a rendition of "Sardarabad."