DENVER, Colo.—On April 24, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper and other dignitaries commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide by unveiling the Colorado State Capitol Khachkar (Armenian cross-stone), an intricate monument crafted in Armenia and dedicated in honor of the victims of all crimes against humanity.
Attended by more than 500 Armenian Americans and their supporters, the commemoration began at 12:30 p.m. with the bells of the Immaculate Conception Catholic Basilica tolling 100 times. Dr. Derek Everett, a professor of Colorado history and State Capitol historian, opened the event with archival quotes of Colorado’s heroic response to the Armenian Genocide.
Program included Christian prayer, native blessing, and gratitude
Rev. Fr. Arshag Khachadourian and Rev. Fr. Vazken Atmajian from the Western Diocese and Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church led a prayer, followed by a Ute Indian blessing of the day by Ernest House, Jr., the executive director of the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs.
Armenian Genocide Centennial Commemoration Committee chair Anahid Katchian then shared the story of her father’s survival and introduced Dr. Pru Marshal, the granddaughter of Near East Relief hero Jacob Kunzler, who saved thousands of Armenian orphans. Armenians of Colorado (AOC) Board president Sona Hedeshian thanked the leadership of Colorado as well as the Armenian community for their continuous support.
Governor Hickenlooper thanked Alexander Ter-Hovakimyan of Armenia and Colorado’s Armenian community for rebuilding the khachkar and donating it to the State of Colorado. “I hope that those who come to the Capitol will make sure that the khachkar is on the itinerary of every school group… And hopefully these kids will be inspired to renew the fight against bigotry in their own lives, whether it is speaking out on an act of bullying on a schoolyard or organizing action against genocide in Africa or some parts of Asia,” remarked Hickenlooper.
Colorado dignitaries unveil ‘khachkar’
At the unveiling of the khachkar, Hickenlooper was joined by long-time supporters of the Armenian community, former statehouse Speaker Andrew Romanoff, former State Senator Lois Tochtrop, and State Senator Lina Newell, as well as the executive director of the Youth Foundation of Armenia, Alexander Ter-Hovakimyan, and local Armenian-American leaders Sona Hedeshian, Anahid Katchian, and Simon Maghakyan.
Alexander Ter-Hovakimyan, who donated the khachkar, gave remarks in English and Armenian. Maghakyan, chair of the Khachkar Committee, closed the event with a message of hope and resilience. The video of the unveiling can be viewed here.
Among the many dignitaries who attended the unveiling was Derek Okubo, representing Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, who had issued a proclamation on the Armenian Genocide, faith leaders Pastor Heidi McGinness from Christian Solidarity International, Pastor Brian Henderson from First Baptist Church of Denver, Rev. Chris Ditzenberger, rector of St. Gabriel Episcopal Church, Pastor Tom Hovestol of Calvary Church of Longmont, Jewish community activist Roz Duman of the Colorado Coalition for Genocide Awareness and Action, and other lawmakers, educators, human rights activists, and business leaders.
AOC leaders thank supporters
“AOC’s unprecedented successes are a result of decades of strong activism,” said Hedeshian. “Colorado marked the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide with groundbreaking events, from premiering Denise Gentilini’s and Lisa Nemzo’s musical ‘I Am Alive’ to unveiling America’s first ever Armenian Genocide khachkar at a state capitol. We are forever grateful to Colorado leaders for their past and current support, as well as our community for having such a vibrant voice in our state. Later this year, we plan to thank Colorado for its century-long support for our community at a Denver gala. We are also determined to continue strengthening our community with educational programs for youth.”
Maghakyan said he was grateful to key individuals who helped make the dream of a capitol khachkar a reality. “This unprecedented achievement could not have been possible without the unity demonstrated by our community, as well as the strong road paved by longtime community leaders Pearl Safarian, Sam Safarian, Ken Allikian, Arous Christianian, Anahid Katchian, Sona Hedeshian, Kim Herosian Christianian, Armene Brown, Hasmik Nikoghosyan, Denise Gentilini, and others. I am grateful to Alexander Ter-Hovakimyan for his generous donation of the khachkar, as well as the many AOC members and local businesses who donated to reconstruct the Armenian Memorial Garden. The Colorado State Capitol Khachkar, a resurrected piece of our destroyed culture, is a testament to the Armenian nation’s resilience to remember, rebuild, and seek justice.” Maghakyan also serves as community development coordinator with the Armenian National Committee of America-Western Region, the nation’s largest grassroots Armenian-American organization.
Unanimous passage of legislative resolution
Earlier that day, the Colorado State Senate and House of Representatives unanimously passed and co-sponsored Senate Joint Resolution 27, which commemorates the Armenian Genocide, in the presence of dozens of community members. The video of the House vote is available here. The Senate video is available here. Senators Guzman, Lundberg, Kefalas, Newell, and Heath, as well as Representatives Moreno, Dore, Conti, Esgar, Salazar, Klingenschmitt, and Rosenthal, gave heartfelt remarks. Rep. Rosenthal, a Democrat from Denver, read in length a historical memorial resolution on the Armenian Genocide passed by the Colorado House and Senate in 1921. The House opening prayer was offered by visiting priests Rev. Fr. Arshag Khachadourian and Rev. Fr. Vazken Atmajian from the Western Diocese and Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
Democracy Now! and Colorado Public Radio interview community members
On the morning of April 24, Katchian and Maghakyan appeared on the live broadcast of “Democracy Now!” with Amy Goodman. The video is available here. They shared stories of their families and also announced the unveiling of the khachkar. Earlier that week, Katchian also appeared on Colorado Public Radio (NPR) to share the history of her father, Azad Katchian. Denise Gentilini was interviewed on CPR about her musical, “I Am Alive!”
Prelacy and Diocese celebrate Divine Liturgy
On Sun. April 26, Rev. Fr. Arshag Khachadourian and Rev. Fr. Vazken Atmajian, visiting from the Western Diocese and Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church in Los Angeles, jointly celebrated Divine Liturgy at the First Baptist Church of Denver, where the Armenian community was welcomed by Pastor Brian Henderson. At the reception after the liturgy, Pastor Brian displayed newly framed early-20th century photographs of First Baptist Church parish members who had participated in the local Near East Relief effort of raising funds for Armenian Genocide orphans. The First Baptist Church was also the official host of the 1919 Colorado State Convention for Near East Relief, as part of a nationwide movement that ultimately saved more than 100,000 Armenian orphans.
April 24, 2015, marked the 100th anniversary of the start of the Armenian Genocide, a crime that killed 1.5 million indigenous Armenians in Ottoman Turkey and resulted in the loss of the greater part of the Armenian homeland.
AOC was established in June 1980 as a 501(c)3 non-profit cultural organization. Its purpose is to create a cohesive Armenian community and to further the understanding of Armenian history, culture, language, customs, and heritage. AOC actively supports issues and concerns of the Armenian-American community in Colorado as well as those identified within the Armenian Diaspora throughout the world.
Colorado State Capitol’s Khachkar is the first monument of its kind on statehouse grounds in the United States. The khachkar was crafted in Armenia by famous master Varazdat Hambardzumyan, also known as Varpet Varo. The design was based on a 1980’s photograph by Argam Ayvazyan of a Djulfa (Jugha) khachkar destroyed in 2005. The khachkar was installed by Denver-based Erickson Monuments and added to the newly renovated Armenian Memorial Garden on the grounds of the Colorado State Capitol. The Colorado State Capitol Khachkar was authorized by Governor Hickenlooper and the entire Colorado General Assembly through a Senate Joint Resolution 23 in 2013.
The 2015 plaque accompanying the khachkar reads: “This monument commemorates the victims of all crimes against humanity. It was dedicated on the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, a tragedy that was widely reported in Colorado. Communities throughout Colorado generously raised funds to assist the survivors, known at that time as the ‘Starving Armenians.’ This cultural monument was crafted in Armenia and is a recreation of a medieval khachkar that had functioned as a gravestone for centuries. In 2010, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization acknowledged the value and vulnerability of this indigenous art tradition by declaring it part of the intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.”