Hundreds of people packed the outdoor ceremony at Fresno State on November 2 at 1:30 p.m. to mark the start of construction of the Armenian Genocide Monument, which will be completed in time to mark next year’s 100th anniversary of the genocide. Religious leaders and members of the Armenian Genocide Centennial Committee of Fresno joined local politicians, Fresno State leaders and a multitude of community members at the event. The Diocesan Primate Archbishop Hovnan Derderian attended the historic event accompanied by Archpriest Fr. Yeghia Hairabedian, Pastor of St. Gregory the Illuminator Armenian Church of Fowler; Rev. Fr. Zaven Markosyan, Pastor of St. Mary Armenian Church of Yettem, Rev. Fr. Yessai Bedros, Pastor of St. Paul Armenian Church in Fresno and Deacons Yeghia Allan Jendian and Sevan Palanjian. Also present at the groundbreaking ceremony was Mr. Berj Apkarian, the newly-appointed Honorary Consul of the Republic of Armenia in Fresno.
Fresno State President Joseph I. Castro spoke for the university.
“Our primary mission (at Fresno State) is education, which is also at the core of this project,” Castro said. “We’ve had a rich history of involvement by Armenian students, faculty, alumni and friends — we wouldn’t be a great university without them.”
The primary message of the event was the importance of spreading awareness of the Armenian Genocide, which Fresno State Armenian Studies Coordinator Barlow Der Mugrdechian said killed as many as 1.5 million Armenians from 1915 to 1923. Der Mugrdechian said that on April 24, 1915, the Ottoman Turkish government began arresting and executing hundreds of Armenian religious, academic and political leaders.
The stone-and-concrete monument will be dedicated on April 24, the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the genocide. It was designed by local architect Paul Halajian and will consist of nine pillars representing the six provinces of historic Armenia, Cilicia, the Diaspora and the Republic of Armenia. An incomplete halo will rest on top of the pillars, which is meant to symbolize both the damage left by the genocide and the unity of the Armenian people. It will be the first such monument marking the genocide on a U.S. college campus.
It will be located on the Maple Mall walkway just south of the Satellite Student Union on Fresno State’s campus.
After the leaders addressed the public, bishops from the Armenian Church and local religious leaders performed a spirited ceremony, in English and Armenian, to bless soil taken from the Republic of Armenia.
Below is the Primate’s prayer in its entirety:
“O’Lord, Almighty God, Thou have graced us all with abundant blessings. Here your servants are gathered to honor the memory of the martyrs of the Armenian Genocide, the first genocide of the 20th century. We ask Your blessings upon this soil whereon the Centennial Monument will be built to pay our due homage and respect to the memory of the martyrs. Bless us O Lord abundantly and strengthen us in our commitment to become advocates of justice. Empower us with Your divine love and wisdom to grasp the vision of our martyrs who have sacrificed their lives for their Christian Faith and sacred traditions of our nation.
Bless O Lord the visionary leaders of this city and community as they launch the project of the monument on this soil to educate the people of God to honor and respect the gift of life.
O Lord we thank You for this historic day in the life of the Armenians in the county of Fresno, and praise Your name and glorify the Holy Trinity - the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, forever and ever, Amen.”
Archbishop Derderian also reflected on the significance of the genocide memorial in his remarks.
“The 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide will be commemorated with immense faith and dedication to bring justice to the memory of our beloved martyrs. The monument which will be erected on this soil will be a constant reminder to all people about the Armenian nation, whose 1.5 million citizens died for their Christian Faith and Motherland in 1915 during the Genocide. This monument will be a reminder to generations to educate them about the Armenian Genocide and historical injustice and to inspire people to overcome adversity.
Our forefathers, as survivors and orphans of the Genocide, immigrated to this country and adopted the United States as their new home. Today, we celebrate one hundred years of history, the resurrection of our nation with pride. Fresno has been the birthplace of the Western Diocese, where many churches were built. This monument will be the symbol of the resurrected life of our nation.
We will commit ourselves to uphold firm in our Christian identity and send a clear message to the people of this great country and nation that we are equally builders of this great land of the United States of America and in doing so we are dedicated citizens in bringing justice to the memory of the martyrs of the first genocide of the 20th century.”
Two Charlie Keyan Armenian Community School students, 11-year-old Zareh Apkarian and 10-year-old Sevana Vassilian, carried the blessed soil to the groundbreaking point, where they poured it in with the native earth. The soil is meant to represent Armenia on the Fresno State campus.
Levon Minasyan, a representative from the Armenian Consulate in Los Angeles, offered his gratitude to Fresno State and the local Armenian community.
“The establishment of this monument in Fresno on the threshold of the centennial of the Armenian genocide is evidence of the Fresno Armenian community’s important role in Armenian-American life,” Minasyan said.
Minasyan went on to say that the international recognition and condemnation of the first genocide of the 20th century has been a top priority of Armenian foreign policy for almost two decades. Minasyan told the crowd that, although many states and nations have officially recognized the genocide, this work will continue.
The recognition of the genocide was a central theme of the event, with many of the speakers making reference to those massacred and the lack of recognition of the genocide from countries such as Turkey and the United States. Among the speakers were Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, and Assembly Member Jim Patterson, R-Fresno.
Members of the Armenian Genocide Centennial Committee, Fresno were recognized during the ceremony for what Der Mugrdechian called their tireless efforts over the past year to find a way to honor the 100th anniversary of the genocide.
The committee is an umbrella association made up of members from the Valley’s religious, educational, social and political organizations.
Castro said the monument will be one of only about 30 Armenian Genocide monuments in the United States.
Der Mugrdechian hopes the monument will help heal the wounds of the genocide while also spreading a message.
“We are witnessing a new period in our history,” Der Mugrdechian said. “This will be a visual monument to show our spirit.”