GUSD 16th Annual Armenian Genocide Commemoration

Photos by Julie BUTCHER
Students from RD White Elementary School were among those who sang at the Armenian Genocide commemoration.


On the warm, breezy evening of April 19, hundreds of parents and friends streamed into Glendale High School’s John Wayne Performing Arts Center for Glendale Unified School District’s 16th Annual Commemoration of the Armenian Genocide, presented by GUSD Armenian Clubs at Clark Magnet, Crescenta Valley, Glendale, and Hoover high schools. This year, the theme of the event was “I Remember and Demand: 102 Years of Denial,” and featured an entirely student-driven and produced night of guest singers, poetry, traditional dance, special performances by elementary and middle school students from RD White, Verdugo Woodlands, Fremont, Jefferson, Toll, Wilson Middle School, Glendale Homenetmen Ararat Color Guard, and students from the Davidian & Mariamian Education Foundation.

Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day is April 25. On April 11, the school board adopted Resolution No. 21: Remembering the Armenian Genocide and Reaffirming a Better World, which reads in part:

WHEREAS: At a time when many people in our community recall the horrors of the Armenian Genocide, the Holocaust, and other tragic events, it is important for all of us to be reminded of the consequences of evil and what happens when others fail to prevent it from happening. As Edmund Burke noted more than two centuries ago, ‘For evil to flourish, it is only necessary for good men to do nothing.”

WHEREAS: We recognize the devotion of those who survived and carried on to teach the world about these atrocities with the hope they will never occur again.

WHEREAS: In a city and country with a population so rich and diverse in heritage, it is appropriate to recognize the events throughout world history that remind us of the triumphs of humankind…

BE IT RESOLVED that in the spirit of remembrance, the Glendale Unified School District reaffirms its commitment to the teaching of tolerance, understanding, the peaceful resolution of problems, and the strength of diversity in our schools and in our community so that these qualities may help instill in today’s young generation the optimism and hope for a better world and strengthen our great nation.

Outside the auditorium, numerous Armenian and human rights groups set up booths to share information and merchandise. Many young people arrived at the event already sporting “Open Wounds” T-shirts.

According to volunteers Andrew Beitdashtoo and Elen Avetisyan, the organization and “Our Wounds Are Still Open” movement focus on “building awareness [of the Armenian Genocide] through music, fashion, social media.”

“You’ll hear R-MEAN inside; then you’ll understand the meaning of the lyric,” the two explained. R-MEAN is a prominent local Armenian rapper. His signature song is “Open Wounds.”

GUSD board member Jennifer Freemon commented on the significance of the April 19 event and the commemorative event she had attended earlier in the day at Rosemont Middle School.

“It is vitally important that all of our students feel heard. I was so impressed with the young woman who led the group I walked with at Rosemont,” Freemon said. “She was knowledgeable and poised and ready to engage. It’s about our efforts to be intentional, focusing on results, which are noticeable and positive. I truly hope that all our students feel the support of the broader community.”

Fellow schoolboard member Greg Krikorian opened the commemorative event, welcomed the color guard and students who sang the national anthems of both the U.S. and Armenia, and introduced emcee Arvin Sarkissian who also serves as the student member of the board. Sarkissian spoke directly to the theme of the event, “to spur action in support of human rights everywhere.”

“We are honored to have Ralph Winter here tonight,” Sarkissian introduced one of the executive producers of the new movie “The Promise.”

“Mr. Winter, I saw the movie,” said Sarkissian. “I cried. And I celebrate its existence.”

“There is no human justification of the unconscionable acts of Armenian Genocide,” Sarkissian continued. “There must be admission and guilt assigned for the mass annihilation of our people. You are right – we are right – to remember and to demand.”

Glendale schools superintendent Winfred Roberson. Jr. spoke about the need for everyone to stand up “for all of our students and the community.”

“The fact is we share common values and we will stand with any group attacked by another for any reason, be it race or ethnicity or sexual orientation or gender,” he said. “If we do not, who will? I am proud to support the work of all the Armenian clubs throughout the District and am inspired by the resiliency of the Armenian people.”

Board president Dr. Armina Gharpetian added that “all 30 of our schools are closed on April 24 so that our families can march and commemorate the day together.”

“It is the power of hope, the love of family, and our determined commitment to survive and flourish as a diaspora, as part of this community and this country that we love,” Gharpetian said before introducing a video message from Congressman Adam Schiff.

Schiff has vehemently asked the Congress to officially recognize the Armenian Genocide.  

He said that he is “proud to stand with the Armenian people” until the Turkish government and every other entity “speaks the truth about the Armenian Genocide.”

In the video the Congressman announced that he had recently introduced a bipartisan resolution along with Rep. Dave Trott (R-Michigan 11).

“The Resolution recognizes the Genocide against the Armenian people from 1915-1923 by the Ottoman Empire, while drawing links to the modern scourge of Genocide, including attacks on religious minorities in Iraq and Syria by ISIS.

“Over 100 years ago, the Ottoman Empire undertook a brutal campaign of murder, rape, and displacement against the Armenian people that took the lives of 1.5 million men, women, and children in the first genocide of the 20th century. Genocide is not a historic relic – even today hundreds of thousands of religious minorities face existential threat from ISIS in Syria and Iraq. It is therefore all the more pressing that the Congress recognize the historical fact of the Armenian Genocide and stand against modern day genocide and crimes against humanity.”

Students performed traditional songs; high school students recited historic poetry and students choreographed accompanying dance. Famed rapper R-MEAN closed the program with an inspired, contemporary performance and urged the community to “march on Monday.”

On Monday, there was the annual March for Justice that began at Pan Pacific Park in Los Angeles at noon, where participants marched to the Turkish Consulate on Wilshire Boulevard, approximately 1.6 miles away.

Winter said that he was proud to be part of the team that brought the movie “The Promise” to life.

“I try and attend this event whenever I’m able. Way back I proudly received the Pat Navolanic Memorial Award – in the ‘old building’ – Class of 1970. As for the movie, it was the lifelong dream of Kirk Kerkorian and I was happy to be part of bringing his dream to the screen.”