Memorial Day “Smith Hill” Style

Memorial Day service at Armenian Heritage Park, May 31, 2021 (Photo: GVK Images)

PROVIDENCE, RI — The Armenian Heritage Park in Providence is located at the intersection of Douglas and Chalkstone Avenues where the surrounding neighborhood, known as “Smith Hill,” was home to many survivors of the Armenian Genocide and their families. On Monday, May 31, as it finally stopped raining, their descendants and the greater Providence community converged at the iconic intersection for a Memorial Day service of remembrance.

Soprano Joanne Mouradjian singing the Hayr Mer. Archdeacon Hagop Khatchadourian (l. to r.) is pictured behind her with the officiating clergy: Rev. Fr. Kapriel Nazarian, Rev. Hagop Manjelikian and Archpriest Fr. Gomidas Baghsarian (Photo: GVK Images)

With pandemic restrictions easing and community members allowed to gather, this was one of the best turnouts at Armenian Heritage Park in recent years. The Providence Homenetmen Scouts opened the program with the singing of the American and Armenian national anthems. Archpriest Fr. Gomidas Baghsarian, Rev. Fr. Kapriel Nazarian and Rev. Hagop Manjelikian officiated for the service with the assistance of Archdeacon Hagop Khatchadourian. Soprano Joanne Mouradjian served as soloist for the requiem service.

The Honorable Aram Garabedian addresses the crowd (Photo: GVK Images)

Former RI state senator Aram Garabedian spoke of the efforts for Armenian Genocide recognition and its inclusion in educational curricula in RI schools and across the country. Garabedian, a native of “Smith Hill,” was the driving force introducing the initial successful legislation for genocide education in 2000, despite strong Turkish opposition.

Erin Arcand was present on behalf of US Senator Jack Reed, a strong and consistent supporter of the RI Armenian community.

During the program, those who first arrived were remembered both for their survival and for their return overseas looking for lost family members, some joining the French Foreign Legion to fight for Armenian independence as the first republic. In addition, the firstborn of these survivors were honored for their service to their adopted nation of the United States during World War II.

Descendant of Genocide survivors Max DiStefano helps keep the Park neat and clean

Honoring and remembering those who built the “Smith Hill” neighborhood and ultimately the greater RI Armenian community was the message of the day. The great-great-grandchildren of some of those whose names appear on the 80 stones around the monument paid their respects as flowers were placed. All of the names were read, along with the names of those the community has lost over the last two years.

While Armenian monuments and churches are endangered or destroyed in places like Turkish-occupied Armenia, Artsakh and Nakhichevan, thanks to the late Martha Aramian and her family, the monument at Providence’s Armenian Heritage Park remains in pristine condition.

Aramian and her sisters Sue and the late Margo were the children of Genocide survivors Kazar and Nevart who embodied the commitment to “remember and honor their heritage and culture” and instilled that same dedication in their daughters. Recipient of the ANCA Eastern Region’s Vahan Cardashian Award in 2008, Martha’s passion drove her to persevere in creating and designing the Armenian Heritage Park, which she ultimately deeded to the city of Providence, as “an homage to the Armenian community who fled the horrors of the Genocide, overcame great obstacles in this new land, and established families who went on to become leaders in business, education, medicine, [and] politics.”

The inscription on the monument at the park aptly sums up its intent and the sentiments of the day:

ARMENIAN HERITAGE PARK

A TRIBUTE TO OUR FOREFATHERS WHO SEARCHED FOR FREEDOM AND HUMAN DIGNITY

HERITAGE—CULTURE—TRADITION

WHEREVER ARMENIAN IS SPOKEN OR WRITTEN ARMENIA LIVES

Providence Homenetmen participating in the service
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Stephen Elmasian

Stephen Elmasian is the fiscal manager for the RI Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea and co-chair of ANC-RI.
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5 Comments

  1. I grew up on Smith Hill. I have not lived in R.I for over 50 years. It was wonderful to see that my Providence հայրենակիցներ (hairenageetsner [fellow Armenians])–youth, middle agers, and seniors– are still such a vibrant community.

  2. Thanks for your reply Prof.
    My grandfather had a bakery on Crimea St. in back of Peter and Paul’s bar.
    He lived on Camden Ave.
    Where did you live and where did you teach?

  3. Thanks to the Aramian family of having this foresight to allow us all to keep the memory alive of our families who have passed as we gather together ob Memorial Day weekend. Martha would be so proud.
    Exceptional speeches, prayers, singing, photos and feeling of standing together with pride as we honor and remember those family members who without them we would not be here.

  4. Hello Stephen,

    Thank you for your interesting reminiscences.
    It seems like a million years ago, but I do remember very well the places and streets which you mentioned.

    I lived on Jewett St., several blocks from the State Capitol building. When I finished my Ph.D at Brown, I taught at a Canadian University.

    In my youth, Jewett St. was a part of the Little Armenia of Smith Hill. In addition to your grandfather’s bakery and Peter and Paul’s bar, there were several other Armenian businesses on Smith Hill: a sizable general grocery store across the street from Smith St. Elementary School, a dry cleaner, a cobbler shop, a small Armenian grocery store, a drugstore and a few small convenience stores. There may have been even more Armenian businesses than I can remember so many years later. Our Providence Little Armenia was just one of many all over the United States. In my life experience, Armenians have always been enterprising, hard working, ambitious, family oriented, hospitable people and important contributors to the business, social, and cultural life of their broader communities.
    With all best wishes, Stephen,
    Krikor

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