Racism and bigotry are nothing new to Glendale, Calif. In this era, they have taken new forms.
Nextdoor is a popular app that allows you to connect with neighbors in your area. It’s a digital neighborhood watch, and functions similarly to other social media platforms that allow you to meet and mingle with your neighbors and provide vital information. Posts range from crime and safety bulletins to garage sales and local news.
One particular neighbor recently posted that the Glendale City Council would soon change the name of Maryland Avenue between Harvard and Wilson to “Artsakh Street,” in honor of the tens of thousands of Armenians—like myself—who call Glendale home. Many of our residents hail from Artsakh. Some are even veterans of the Artsakh War.
For us Diasporans, we are reminded every day of the horror that still exists for our brave brothers and sisters on the frontline and the hallowed ground that we consider Artsakh.
On the two-year anniversary of the 2016 April War, where 100 Armenians perished at the hands of Azerbaijani aggression, I was cruising through Nextdoor, and the word “Artsakh” caught my eye. While the post seemed innocuous, it soon turned out to be much more: It asked Glendale residents to e-mail a city case manager to voice their disputes.
Sure enough, a firestorm ensued. Comments ranged from the name change being taxpayer funded waste, to bigoted comments about Armenians and why they should not name a street something that cannot be pronounced. Some comments were poorly clouded in hyperbole, while the others were just outright rude. I did my part by posting a snarky, sarcastic comment pointing out the racist, bigoted nature of the posters, but of course, that rubbed people the wrong way.
For instance, a particular commenter pointed out the following:
These types of things are done very hush-hush because the powers that be know that people will be upset. Sneak it in when nobody’s looking. There’s always so much going on that things slip through the cracks. If you ask me, it seems like it was proposed by someone with a political agenda. Artsakh is a disputed state that it looks like two sovereign entities claim. Glendale has no business sticking its foot into this international argument and making a political statement with a street name. This whole thing is ridiculous.
My favorite of the bunch was likely this one:
Why does that street have to be re-named anyway? And what does “Artsakh” mean and in what language? If it is necessary, and I don’t know how it could be, to re-name a portion of Maryland Street in Glendale, USA, how about something truly American? English is still our language of choice in California no matter what ethnicity you are. If you live in this country, know it and love it. Don’t try and turn it into another one.
Another user accused me of hating my hometown: “Mr. Kazazian, by your comments, it sounds like you have a very low opinion of Glendale, it’s history, it’s architecture and it’s residents. May I ask why you would live here?” they asked.
I answered by pointing out that while my roots are from Armenia, Glendale is my home. That is why I live here. I further commented that my family, like countless others, have contributed to the local economy. Simply put, Glendale would not be the town that it is today without its Armenian population.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time that non-Armenian Glendalians have voiced outrage toward the most sizable minority population in my beloved home.
Several months ago, some non-Armenian residents called out the current City Council and the Armenian population for wanting to build the Armenian American Museum here in town. Another, particularly shocking instance of racial bigotry came about during the 2005 Glendale City Council campaign. As a volunteer for an Armenian candidate, I got a taste of some of the messages that were left at the campaign headquarters by “Native Glendalians.” Of course, they told us Armenians to “go home”—that this was their home.
If you would like to voice your opinion in support of renaming Maryland Avenue to Artsakh Street, please reach out to the Project Manager and Administrative Analyst for the city of Glendale, Cassandra Pruett via e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 818-937-8186.
A version of this op-ed was first published on April 10, in our Western U.S. sister publication Asbarez News.