LOWELL, Mass.—Knot by knot, a mother’s hands weave the history of her people.
These hands performed another ritual May 10 when they welcomed a crowd of more than 300 people to their side at Lowell City Hall.
At long last (three years in the making) this unique genocide memorial stands proud inside City Hall Plaza—the first time such a monument finds itself across government soil in America.
While other monument unveilings went through some tenuous moments in other parts of the world, this one was dedicated and blessed with fanfare as various churches and organizations staged a united stand behind a group called the Merrimack Valley Armenian Monument Committee.
The stone exceeds six feet in length and takes its place in Monument Park where other ethnic groups are represented. Anyone entering or leaving the building is bound to take notice.
The mother’s hands jets out over a khatchkar (cross-stone) wrapped around an elaborate border with an emotional message below. At the base, an inscription reads, “In Memory” and “Ee Hishadag,” in Armenian.
“There are approximately 230 monuments dedicated to the Armenian Genocide in 42 countries around the world,” said artistic designer Daniel Varoujan Hejinian. “Most of these monuments are located in land belonging to Armenian churches and organizations. What’s so special about this is the fact it is a first in the diaspora—an Armenian Genocide memorial in front of a government building.”
Combined with bronze and granite, the stone shows a mother’s weaving hands sculptured in clay, then refined through an elaborate process to exude a 3-dimensional effect.
As a model, the artist used his sister Lena’s hands. Buried into the foundation of the stone was an actual piece of crochet done by Hejinian’s mother as a symbolic gesture of his family history and the qualities that enhanced the concept.
“In spite of the pain and horror of our genocide, the Armenian people everywhere cast their hopes and dreams, knot by knot, as they bloom and prosper,” added Hejinian, who has personally put up more than 50 genocide billboards around Greater Boston over the past 18 years.
“Our mothers were dream weavers,” he added. “They worked the mills in Lowell, holding down nearly two-thirds of all textile jobs in this city. They came here to weave the fabric of our culture and we owe them all a debt of gratitude.”
Ironic that the unveiling took place on the eve of Mother’s Day after an earlier date was postponed due to a conflict. The fact it rained did little to deter the crowd.
Chairman Armen Jeknavorian found a prominent Mother’s Day saying in capturing the moment, “The earth’s warmth is in the mother’s hands.” He, too, looked to the mills for a symbolic connection to the memorial. Like his parents before him, they coped with difficult times in bringing homage to the community.
“The Armenian population in Lowell during the early 1930’s was significant,” he noted. “They built and consecrated their own church in 1916. Our history remains proud with prosperity.”
A procession in the downtown sector was led by members of the Sam Manoian Post, Armenian-American Veterans, led by Commander Richard Juknavorian.
A torch bearing an eternal flame made its way to the entourage, led by youth activists Garo Tashjian and Mgo Kassabian. It originated in Armenia, making its first stop here, and will proceed through communities across America before winding up in Historic Armenia next April.
Children from different church schools held banners and marched with their elder counterparts amid a police escort. Umbrellas were the order of the day before it finally cleared for the dedication ceremony shortly thereafter.
In attendance was Nellie Nazarian, the lone genocide survivor in Merrimack Valley, joined by her family. The 102-year-old was embraced by Armenians and Americans alike for her resilience as she posed for photographs before the stone.
In a special certificate from U.S. Congresswoman Niki Tsongas (Lowell), she applauded the courageous Armenian men and women who have thrived to become a vital part of her community.
“This first monument of its kind in Lowell stands as a testament to Armenians throughout history,” she pointed out. “While we remember the deceased, we also celebrate those who survived, worked the mills, and raised their families with dignity.”
U.S. Congressman John Tierney (Peabody), another strong advocate on Armenian issues, described the monument as a symbol of this community’s strength and resilience in the face of adversity.
“Rest assured that I will continue my efforts to address core humanitarian and economic difficulties that face the Armenian population,” he said.
Other proclamations and remarks were issued by State Senator Eileen Donaghue, State Representative David Nangle, Mayor Rodney Elliott, City Manager Kevin Murphy, City Councilor Rita Mercier (a former ANCA Freedom Award winner), and City Councilor James Milinazzo, who embraced the monument idea and selected the site as former mayor.
Youth of the community presided over a flag-raising ceremony following the monument blessing.
An ambitious fund-raising effort launched a year ago brought it the $35,000 needed by Skylight Studios of Woburn for construction. Another $15,000 is being raised toward the perpetual care. Contributions poured in from around the country from donors who found the concept both eclectic and ingenious.
A reception followed at Lowell High School, where a miniaturized replica of the memorial was presented to Hejinian by committee members as a gesture of gratitude.
A delightful cultural interlude was provided by soloist Sevan Dulgarian, a UMass Amherst freshman and Greater Boston AYF Chapter member.
Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian spoke both at the unveiling and the luncheon. He served as honorary chairman of the project after a visit last summer to the Lowell Folk Festival where he noticed an Armenian tricolor and volunteered to get involved.
“The memorial represents the true Armenian-American dream: an opportunity for us to show the public who we are and what we teach,” he brought out. “The more we teach, the sooner people will realize the truth about our genocide. Your effort here is compatible with what was accomplished at Armenian Heritage Park in Boston. Heart. Commitment. Energy. All the qualities go into it.”
Three students were called upon to read their winning essays on a theme that reflected the monument. They were Anna Shahtanian and Matthew Kochakian, both of St. Gregory Church, North Andover, and Isabelle Kapoian, Sts. Vartanantz Church, Chelmsford.
The event was televised by Haykaram Nahapetyan, representing public television of Armenia H1, and also received front-page exposure in the local press. Serving as master of ceremonies throughout the day was Dr. Ara Jeknavorian, committee activist and co-chairman of the Armenian National Committee of Merrimack Valley.