LOS ANGELES–Last Sunday–the Southern California Armenian community celebrated the May 28–1918 independence of Armenia–at a gathering organized by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) Western Region.
Joining the public to honor the unbending spirit of Armenia’s which led to that independence–were Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian–Haroutioun Kojoian of the Armenian Consulate in Los Angeles–Bishop Dajad Yardemian representing Prelate Hovnan Derderian–representatives of the ARF Central Committee–and affiliate organizations.
Held at Ferrahian School’s Avedissian Hall–the event opened with a video presentation on events leading to and after Armenia’s first independence.
After delivering opening remarks–Myrna Douzjian of the La Crescenta "Zartonk" AYF chapter invited Haroutioun Kojoian to convey Consul General Gagik Kirakossian’s message. In his message–the Consul General wrote: "For Armenia’s–the Republic’s holiday is especially significant and precious because it embodies hundreds of years of struggle–and ultimate victory. The last century has taught us that in order to have an independent Republic–[a people] must not only carry out a struggle that is political in nature–but also economic and cultural."
Kojoian added that our national struggle remains a free–independent–and united Armenia. "May 28 is the exemplary model of national unity… some criticize the ARF for that short-lived independence; they forget–however–that these were historically very difficult times–and that first independence brought with it a flag–laws–as well as a coat of arms."
Conveying the Armenian Youth Federation’s message–Shant Baboujian assured that the youth organization would preserve the Armenian language and culture. "I congratulate [our people] and guarantee that our future will be bright."
Delivering his remarks in English–Keynote speaker Aram Hamparian–the executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America–spoke about the one unchanging fact in Armenia’s history. "Each generation has had to sacrifice to survive," he said. Recalling milestone battles of the past–including the Battle of Avarayr in 451–the war in Karabagh fifteen years ago–and the battle at Sardarabad 87 years ago–Hamparian affirmed–"We all look back with pride?more importantly–we look back with the awareness that their struggle–their sacrifice was the difference between our survival and our destruction."
Quoting the great American writer William Faulkner–who once wrote–"The past is not dead–it’s not even in the past," Hamparian said–"He may have well been Armenian–because his words speak to the heart of our struggle." Pointing to the critical transition on the Genocide question–he articulated the necessity for careful and clear thinking on the issue.
Hamparian also noted the importance of continuous effort–from Armenian worldwide–to break the back of Turkey’s campaign of denial. "We do not seek an apology–although we are owed one. We do not seek recognition–we already know our history. We seek justice–not simply for the sake of justice. But justice for the protection of Armenia and the survival of the Armenian nation," he stressed. "Armenia cannot be safe bordered by Turkey–an unrepentant perpetrator of genocide."
"We will do what we must to maintain Armenia’s viability," expressed Hamparian. "Over the short-term by supporting the strengthening of Armenia and Karabagh?and over the long-term by restoring to Armenia what is rightfully ours."
The second keynote speaker–Dr. Vicken Yacoubian–principal of Rose and Alex Pilibos Armenian School–speaking in Armenian–noted two approaches to celebrating May 28 independence.
"The first is the traditional–which highlights the victories of the people and heroic chapters in history. The second is a critical examination that assumes the transfer of the spirit of May 28 to generations so as to persevere."
Pointing to the unacceptable conviction of some who believe that the Genocide was somehow brought about due to the disobedience of the Armenian people–Dr. Yacoubian described this as giving birth to a ghetto mentality. He instead characterized the 1918 independence as a "rejection of enslavement."It was also the rejection–once and for all–of the orders of the slayer–of a submissive march toward death’s clutches," Yacoubian said–stressing that 1918 independence liberated the free will of the Armenian people. "We were liberated for a few short years from the ghettos; for a few years–we rejected succumbing to conditions void of all norms for self-respect… Yes–for a few years–it was the spirit of the Armenian people that was liberated."
Explaining the significance of May 28–Yacoubian said–"The message of that independence resounds today–whether in Yerevan–Mountainous Karabagh–or elsewhere. Only those who refuse to hand their fate to others–even to God’s will–are worthy of liberation."
Liberation–he explained–comes from struggle for greater justice and from rejection of a mentality that assumes the struggles of the small and the weak are in vain in the face of greater forces. "Perhaps we are small–even surrounded by great enemies. We–however–are neither powerless nor incapable of defiance."
Several musicians joined in the celebrations–including Rouben Hakhverdian–singers Alexander and Arax Garabedian–and Hovig Krikorian accompanied by Mourad Jambazian. The Hamazkayin Valley chapter’s "Nayiri" dance group–directed by Katherine Hairabedian–also performed.