Thurs., April 22nd, I was called, literally minutes before it was to start, to be told that Burbank’s Homenetmen was hosting a lecture about Soghomon Tehlirian by Stephan Simonian, M.D. Feeling a bit lazy, I opted for the 4-minute drive over the 14-minute one to Glendale, where part of that city’s now-annual commemorative programs included a lecture on ending modern slavery. My choice turned out to be a good one. It was a very interesting presentation, attended by 32 people, because it took the testimony from Tehlirian’s trial, both his and the psychologists’, and used it demonstrate that the he was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The down side was that the speaker spent an inordinate amount of time presenting the evolution of the medical community’s understanding of PTSD and everything was done bilingually (i.e. we got to hear the lecture twice in one sitting). I thought those days were gone…
Friday night, I managed to pop in at two gatherings, after missing the annual LA City commemoration (I was distracted by work and completely forgot as the whole event unfolded just above me on the 3rd and 27th floors of city hall). This night provided evidence of a convergence of thought by many of the organizers of April 24th activities in the LA basin. Here’s a list of others I did not attend: the newly formed Armenian Church parish in North Hollywood was holding a memorial service; the traditional vigil at the Montebello monument where the Element band was to play (it would’ve been interesting to see if that impacted turnout since I have been to several iterations of that event); Glendale’s annual gathering, relegated to the smaller Alex Theatre (since last year as I recall) rather than the Civic Auditorium, a response to lower-than-expected turnouts, I suspect; and a lecture at the Merdinian School organized by the ARPA Institute on “Dollar Diplomacy and the Armenian Genocide.” This timing makes sense in that it allows everyone to attend events locally on the eve, while going to bigger events on the day of. Let’s hope this is the long-term direction because there was one seemingly avoidable conflict—Pasadena had scheduled two back-to-back gatherings at its City Hall on the morning of April 24 when the march in Hollywood was taking place.
Attendance at the San Fernando Valley commemoration was better than other years, with over 500 people present. Coincidentally, the skit presented by the “Sardarabad” Chapter of the AYF was also a rendition of Tehlirian’s trial. I wonder if this is a reflection of something developing in our collective psyche that more dramatic means may have to be put to use to make progress towards our national goals. It was a fairly standard event, otherwise. The main speaker did give it currency by addressing the infamous protocols of October and their impact on our struggle and Obama’s failure (then still only once) to properly characterize the genocide in his statement. Before the whole program ended, I raced to Glendale to check out a newcomer to the commemorative scene. Billed as a “Youth Rally and Art Exhibit,” United Young Armenians had organized a gathering in the parking lot of the Glendale Civic Auditorium. As I arrived, the speakers (which included Glendale Mayor Ara Najarian and the city’s police chief, with multiple MCs and a collective singing of “Giligia”) were wrapping up and everyone, lit candles in hand, heading over to the corner where a future genocide memorial will be placed. The art pieces exhibited were labeled and participants could vote for which one they liked most. An enlargement of the winner one was draped behind the stage at the end of the Hollywood March the next day. It looked like some 600-700 people were present. But counting was difficult given the dispersal. Plus, it was the type of event where people came and went ongoingly, so well over a thousand might have actually come through.
Things were significantly better, from a numbers perspective, on the 24th. The march in Hollywood drew over 12,000, despite the now-tired (and embarrassing) refrain of “100,000” participants claimed year after year. I was told this number was reported in Armenia, again. It is the best attendance I have encountered, and I’ve missed only two of the nine years this event has been organized. The sea of black t-shirts, as always, was a good visual effect. The program was also more compact and the speakers more concise.
The paying of respects at the Martyr’s Monument in Montebello is hard to pin down in terms of attendance. There’s a constant flow of people, even while the program, composed largely of elected officials, is going on. I counted some 2,300 people. Yet many came and went as I did. Also, 3,000 carnations were purchased for people to lay at the base of the monument, and all were used. Yet, not everyone laid a flower. If I had to guess, I’d say more than 4,000 people came through that day, possibly far more if they were coming and going before and after the actual program. I can’t speak to the content of the presentations, since I arrived late from the Hollywood march and set to counting heads. I also ended up arriving late to the AYF’s demonstration (below) at the Turkish consulate. There was welcome coordination among the organizers of these three events, but they were too closely spaced. If the March in Hollywood could be announced for 9:30, and actually start by 10, rather than 10:30 or even later as has been common, then Montebello could be moved up a half hour and all would work out. Delaying the AYF’s demonstration is not tenable because of the timing of TV news reports. I hope the planners read this.
The most meaningful activity we have on April 24th every year is the AYF-organized demonstration. Here, too, I observed the highest level of participation (4,700) in my two decades in the LA area. The slogans and placards were mostly standard, almost trite. It’s time for some new and timely ones. In the latter respect, “Erdogan, we want Van” is a good one that was heard. More needs to be done. Also, the numbers allowed for the demonstrators to be let into the street by the police. The fact that it was Saturday, with no rush hour traffic to contend with, probably also helped. When the speakers climbed atop the U-haul truck to use as a platform, this year’s configuration of where people stood, in the street (Wilshire completely closed down), was far more effective. The messages (from the AYF and LA Council member Paul Krekorian) were appropriate, but we need still more fire-and-brimstone.
On Sun., April 25th, the Valley’s AYF “Sardarabad” Chapter organized the second “Cycle Against Denial.” It looked like there were more participants this year than last, bicycling the roughly 11-mile route. A very approximate guess is 250 riders. I neglected to ask the organizers for the exact number of registrants. The uniform t-shirts did the trick. A number of cars slowed and drivers asked us, “What’s this about?” This ride is an excellent idea and with a little outreach to the many LA-area bike clubs and groups, the numbers could soar. Last year’s brief post-ride program in Ferrahian’s schoolyard was good. It’s unfortunate that its equivalent was absent this year. In general, the ride seemed less tightly organized than last year’s, but it was still good and worth expanding.
The final event of the season was in Burbank on the 27th. This annual receipt-of-City Council- proclamation-and-candlelight-rally-on-City Hall-steps was standard fare. Attendance was 300, much better than it has been for a number of years. There was extensive disappointment that the local paper, the Burbank Leader, did not cover it. Probably the key point made by one of the speakers was that the divisions (based on place of birth) that now plague us are a result of the genocide and should be minimized. The other good news from Burbank was the letter sent by the mayor asking the president to properly characterize the Armenian Genocide as such.
Clearly, this year’s turnouts were better. But, was that due to the 24th falling on a Saturday? Or was it that this was a “five” year—you know, 65th is a bigger deal than 64th? Or is it real progress, a gradual reawakening of our political ardor, and a reflection of improved cooperation among different sectors of our communities? Or, a combination of the above?
Finally, I will once again propose my “convergence” project, at least planned for the 100th anniversary, since it doesn’t look like Turkey will progress far enough by then to obviate the need for a demonstration. Imagine marchers from Hollywood, bicyclists from Ferrahian, and car caravans from the Montebello monument converging on the Turkish consulate and delivering 100,000 people on the 100th anniversary of the Genocide demanding recognition, reparations, and restoration of lands…