WALTHAM, Mass.—Many would agree that the genocide memorial at Armenian Heritage Park in Boston would not have become a reality had it not been for the intervention of former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick.
It might have just become a forlorn conclusion, despite a decade of planning and anticipation by relentless organizers.
In the end, it was the former governor who was credited with paving the way, despite the backlash he met from naysayers and critics who littered the path with obstacles.
Today, it stands as a sacred vigil to victims and survivors of the Armenian Genocide inside Boston’s Rose Kennedy Greenway, drawing hundreds upon thousands to its midst each week.
Some 350 guests applauded Patrick at the Pontifical Banquet that took place at the Westin Hotel on May 29 after he was presented with the coveted Spirit of Armenia Award.
The tribute is made to a non-Armenian who goes above and beyond the call of duty in furthering the Armenian Cause. Patrick appeared as an all-out choice of the committee and stood before the gathering, despite previous commitments and a rather arduous schedule these days as managing director of Bain Capital, where he focuses on investments.
“The governor continually and quietly asserted his support throughout our endeavors,” said Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian, in his introduction. “When it came down to a few critical junctures at the end of this process, the governor stood front and center for us.”
Koutoujian described how the former governor stood up against some very powerful figures who had supported his candidacy.
“He had many adversaries for this project, not just genocide deniers,” the sheriff recalled. “It was not a convenient political decision. He attended our plenary sessions and he was seen with his eyes welled up in tears. Our experience and suffering meant a great deal to him.”
Making the presentation was Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, Prelate, who echoed Koutoujian’s sentiments with his own gratitude and appreciation.
Upon receiving the award, Patrick commended the Armenian people for their character and diligence in promoting their many communities throughout the world following the genocide years.
“Your leadership is a triumph over genocide,” Patrick brought out. “When the concept of a genocide memorial was being discussed for the Rose Kennedy Greenway, there were many disparaging moments when it came under duress. I was determined to see it through fruition. The spirit this was shown mirrors the resilience of the Armenian people through the ages.”
As an aside, it was Patrick who appointed Koutoujian, then a state representative, to his role as sheriff, and Rachel Kaprielian, also a former state representative, to registrar of motor vehicles. Both progressed into high-profile positions under and beyond the Patrick administration.
In another presentation, Missak Barsoumian was awarded the Mesrob Mashdots Medal by His Holiness Aram I, following a long but worthy introduction by Rev. Archpriest Antranig Baljian.
Barsoumian was honored for his many years of service to the Armenian community. His efforts in promoting the Saturday Armenian School at St. Stephen’s Church in Watertown for many years have been exemplary. What was initially at a middle school level has now been augmented to high school level with sizeable increases in attendance and teaching staff.
Barsoumian was one of the six founders of the St. Stephen’s Armenian day school. He has been an active member of Hamazkayin, a vice president of the regional executive board, and a chairman of the Hamazkayin Boston chapter. Barsoumian was also one of the initiators of the Armenian Heritage Park project, and led the Boston Armenian Genocide Memorial Fund. Among his many acts of charity was the implementation of a $100,000 scholarship fund—together with his brothers and sister—that has gone to educating worthy students over the years.
“To perpetuate Mesrob Mashdots’ gift of the alphabet to the Armenian nation, I have done my best to transmit it to the younger generations through schools,” Barsoumian told the crowd. “I will continue serving the Armenian community to the best of my abilities.”
Once again, Aram I was his prolific self from the rostrum. After delivering such an eclectic talk in Washington, the Vehapar was more down to earth, focusing his attention to the people, not the government.
“Our country’s welfare is in good hands,” he told his flock. “The beauty of our heritage is the people—we who are seated here this evening. With our knowledge and allegiance to our church and nation, it remains our cardinal responsibility to stay attached.”
The Catholicos spoke of his meetings with people in three major diasporan communities and a pilgrimage that extended throughout the month. Tiring as it was, he managed to stay balanced.
“One question comes to mind,” he said. “What brings people of different backgrounds together? It’s the spirit of unity, a sense of belonging, a history that perpetuates our identity against affliction. The welfare of our society is imbedded into our common lives. We must all act upon it.”
The dinner also offered some poignant remarks from master of ceremonies Raffi Manjikian and the wonderful voice of Tamar Kanarian in singing the national anthems. Tamar served as co-chairman of the Pontifical Visit Committee with Astor Guzelian.
Joining the entourage was His Grace Bishop Anoushavan Tanielian, vicar; Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian, Western Prelacy; Very Rev. Housig Mardirossian, ecumenical affairs director; Very Rev. Bedros Manuelian, staff bearer; and Dertad Manguikian, Central Executive Council.
At times, the Vehapar was joined on the altar by both archbishops, along with a cadre of priests and combined choirs. During Sunday Badarak at St. Stephen’s Church, the place was packed. Particularly impressive was a section off to one side devoted to the Sunday School.
On May 28, a crowd estimated at 600 turned out at the Armenian Cultural and Education Center (ACEC) in Watertown for an Armenian Independence Day commemoration hosted by the Boston ARF. The program included a thanksgiving prayer for the Republic of Armenia, blessings of flags, and music and poetic performances by the youth and children’s choirs with remarks by Dr. Antranig Kasbarian. Aram I also delivered yet another electrifying talk.
About 100 youth then turned out for a breakfast dialogue. His focus was not only on small children but teens, youthful adults, and the middle-aged. No regard was given to age. And those attending were engaged.
When the moderator read a question about female altar servers and deacons, the audience cheered when the Vehapar said, “The place of women is not in the kitchen.”
The event drew fine coverage from the Boston Globe, which ran a striking photo of the Vehapar looking to the heavens above with his hands folded.
The headline read: “Youths Get Audience with the Catholicos.”
The intent here was to bring new vitality to the church, and his words were both intrinsic and emphatic. “In our church and community, we must take youth very seriously. This is one of my top priorities.”
Among the responses were from 19-year-old Tufts University student Nairi Krafian who was emotionally affected by the Vehapar’s remarks, along with Samuel Chakmakjian, another 19-year-old from Brandeis University.
Both students revealed how happy they were to hear the Vehapar’s advice on remaining true to their roots in a diverse society.
On June 1, Aram I visited St. Stephen’s Nursery and Elementary School, joining the students for breakfast and hearing from a Grade 5 class that had just returned from a trip to Armenia. He then spent time in each and every classroom.
“It gives a focus for us,” said Rev. Archpriest Antranig Baljian. “Armenians tend to live in the past and His Holiness is trying to give us the message that not only ties us to the past but to the future as well.”
His Holiness will be addressing the NRA Convention on June 4 at St. Stephen’s Church, ending his historic visit that was initially postponed three years ago due to the conflict in Syria.