BY FLORA ADAMIAN
As a Glendale native and Armenian-American, I often think of this city as a refuge of sorts — the safe haven that Armenians flock to as a result of decades of global unrest.
However, this idealism quickly turns to frustration when I think of the deep-rooted anti-Armenian sentiment that exists within Glendale, a sentiment which is specifically highlighted when Armenians strive to gain a political voice. The buildup to the upcoming November 8 election has highlighted this anti-Armenian sentiment in one of the most densely Armenian-populated cities in the world.
Glendale, California, is home to one of the largest Armenian communities outside of the Republic of Armenia. The large migrations of Armenians to Southern California began after the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Yet, post-genocide waves continue to come in year after year, whether it be due to the Lebanese Civil War in the 1970s, Iranian Revolution of the 1980s, or the most recent civil war in Syria. Over these decades thousands of Armenian refugees have moved to Glendale seeking safety, but their community has continued to face prejudice and discrimination even in 2016.
Glendale City Clerk Ardy Kassakhian is up against Glendale Council Member Laura Friedman for the 43rd District Assembly seat. Kassakhian’s campaign has faced numerous threats in recent months and encountered xenophobic individuals who criticize and attack the candidate based on his ethnicity.
“Oh, is he Armenian? I’m not voting for him,” is a common response Kassakhian’s phone bankers hear when reaching out to voters.
Individuals have even gone so far as to make death threats against the campaign based on Kassakhian’s Armenian identity. Just a few weeks ago, Kassakhian’s campaign office had to be evacuated after receiving a phone call that threatened the safety of his employees and volunteers.
“You Armenian f—ing scumbag, you piece of s— send one more mailer, you f—ing Armenian scum. You’re going to get your head flushed, you Armenian scumbag. You are not safe in that office,” a male caller said.
To give some background: In 1999, Rafi Manoukian’s campaign for Glendale City Council revealed the incredible ability of Armenian voters to mobilize and elect a candidate from their own community. Thousands of new Armenian voters were registered and the typically-apathetic youth grew increasingly politically active. For the first time in Glendale’s history, the Armenian vote became a deciding factor in an election’s outcome.
Unfortunately, as the voice of the Armenian community grew, so did the voices of those blatantly racist against the Armenian people. Following Manoukian’s election, there was a woman that would come into city council meetings every Tuesday and tell Armenians to go back where they came from.
Now, in 2016, decades after Manoukian’s election, Armenian candidates in the region continue to face the same discrimination as their predecessors.
A candidate should be judged based on their stances on various community concerns, action plans, and involvement in their district, among other reasonable political aspects.
To disregard a candidate based on their ethnicity is purely xenophobic and incredibly dangerous. Those judging Armenian candidates by their ethnic background are implying that Armenians are not worthy or capable of holding public office — that our identities somehow make us inferior to other candidates.
In the era of Trumpism, nativist populism, and the far right movements taking place in Europe, I challenge voters to consider their stances and the ways in which they decide for whom to vote.
Do not buy into the racist rhetoric. Vote for a candidate based on their platform. Whoever is elected must address issues of xenophobia to ensure that all residents of Glendale can feel enfranchised and a part of their community.