By Ted AYALA
Echoing the famous words of John F. Kennedy spoken during his trip to Berlin in June 1963 at the height of the Cold War, “Ich bin ein Berliner” [I am a Berliner], a host of dignitaries and the city of Glendale joined in solidarity to denounce the horrors of the Armenian Genocide and to remember its victims.
“We are all Armenians,” exclaimed Mayor Laura Friedman from the podium of the Alex Theater on Monday night where a capacity crowd had gathered to mourn and remember.
Among the dignitaries in attendance who also addressed the audience were Congressman Adam Schiff (D), Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D), and Boston Globe writer Steve Kurkjian, whose investigations into unearthing the Ottoman Empire’s culpability in the Genocide has won international plaudits. Kurkjian was the event’s keynote speaker.
Souring this year’s remembrance was the seeming indifference of the Obama administration to the issue of the Armenian Genocide. Obama not only refused to refer to a genocide in his annual statement regarding the matter, but also implied that the continued demands of the Armenian community for recognition resulted in a “contested history that destabilizes the present and stains the memory of those whose lives were taken.”
“’Contested history?’ Are you serious?” said Glendale City Councilman Ara Najarian, who served as the evening’s master-of-ceremonies.
Opening the event was a brief film documentary detailing the horrors experienced by Armenian orphans whose parents were lost at the hands of the Ottoman Turks. Thousands of children were forcibly Turkified and were systematically subjected to the eradication of any memory of their ethnic identity. This included compulsory indoctrination of the Muslim faith and Turkish nationalism, and Turkification of their original Armenian names.
Kurkjian spoke of the Armenian community’s triumph despite its setbacks, a community whose resolve has been tempered through fire.
“They know us not by our power […], but by our good deeds and our humanity,” said Kurkjian. He also scolded the U.S. government for ignoring the genocide and bowing to pressure from Turkey, a crucial ally in the Middle East. “No government can be considered legitimate that does not recognize history,” stated Kurkjian angrily. “Justice bends towards the truth.” Congressman Adam Schiff echoed the sentiment: “It takes courage to tell truth to power.”
Filling up the second half of the event were celebrations of Armenia’s vibrant culture by way of theater, dance, and music.
Actors Shaun Duke Moosekian and Christine Kludjian performed a brief play entitled “Forgotten Bread” that traces the lives of two people from their idyllic pastoral childhood through the terrors of the Genocide, escape from the Levant, and the creation of a new life in America. Performed with moving restraint by both players, the play spoke of the ultimate triumph of the Armenian diaspora, where it thrives in several countries.
Following this was a performance by the Karavan Dance Studio whose choreography was mesmerizing and electric.
Closing the program was a performance by the newly revamped Glendale Philharmonic Orchestra (GPO). Reappearing for the first time since going on hiatus early this year, the GPO sounds no worse for the wear. In fact, the solidity of ensemble and the quality of its timbre have improved. Though one thing that didn’t change was the orchestra’s fiery playing, which was again rippling through the selections it played.
Arvo Pärt’s meditative and hypnotic “Cantus In Memoriam Benjamin Britten,” with its obsessive tolling of bells, wound its audience ever tighter in a coil; the music growing in passion and force. This somber music is, at its heart, also shot through with light and glory – which were superbly captured by Maestro Mikhail Avetisyan and the GPO.
Arrangements of Armenian folk songs followed. The music of Cesar Franck and Giovanni Battista Pergolesi rounded off the GPO’s turn, with members of the Glendale Youth Symphony Orchestra (GYSO) and the children’s choir of the International School of Music (ISM) augmenting the GPO. Together, their sonorities were at once transparent and weighty. Avetisyan conjured a supple elasticity from his ensemble and the children’s choir sang with admirable tonal luster and polish.
The event was received rapturously by all the citizens in attendance, whether they were Armenian or not. Arkady Matrossian from south Glendale brought his entire family to attend the events.
“They need to know about what our people suffered,” said Matrossian as he pointed to his children. “But they also need to remember so that no one else suffers these atrocities again.”