On a bright and cool Sunday, November 2, more than 500 people gathered at Fresno State’s Maple Mall, to break ground for a Monument in honor of the victims of the Armenian Genocide. There have been multiple such Monuments erected around the world, but Fresno State’s will be the first on a university campus.
The groundbreaking was attended by prominent religious and civic leaders, such as Fresno State President Joseph Castro and Mrs. Castro. “It’s really nice to see the children here,” noted Dr. Castro. The presence of so many children exemplified the rebirth of the Armenians from their tragic past, and the number of people present at the ceremony gave testament to the community’s enthusiastic support of the project. Armenian Studies Program Coordinator Prof. Barlow Der Mugrdechian opened the ceremony by saying, “We are working together to build a visible Monument that will symbolize our collective spirit: to commemorate, to educate the world, and to inspire future generations.”
President Castro followed with remarks on the important contributions that Armenians have made as part of the university and the larger community. He highlighted the Fresno State Armenian Studies Program as being one of the “top in the nation,” which makes the campus a fitting location for this Monument, adding “We are known as a leader in teaching and scholarship in Armenian Studies.”
President Castro emphasized the importance of diversity and education at Fresno State and the need for students to learn about past genocides. “This Monument will inform and educate people about the Armenian Genocide and bring awareness to the problem of genocides throughout history and throughout the world.” “There will not be one university student who can come to Fresno State and miss this Monument. The Monument will be situated south of the Satellite Student Union in an area that is heavily used by students—the most popular walkway in the entire university. We are very proud to have this Monument residing here on our campus,” said Dr. Cynthia Teniente-Matson, Fresno State Vice-President for Administration. “Many students will pass the Monument and be inspired to learn of its significance.”
The groundbreaking in-cluded a blessing ceremony that represented the unity of the Armenian people despite their dispersion throughout the world. Four representatives—Sarkis Sahatdjian, Debbie Adishian-Astone, Marine Vardanyan, and Areen Yemenjian—each held a plate of soil from the Republic of Armenia, the regions of historic Armenia, and the border that now separates the two. The soil was blessed by Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Primate of the Western Diocese and by Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian, Prelate of the Western Prelacy, and combined into a cylinder jointly held by two children, Sevana Wassilian and Zareh Apkarian.
The cylinder was then buried in the center of the site where the Monument is to be built, representing the union between Armenia and the Fresno community. “We are witnessing a new period in the history of our community,” said Prof. Barlow Der Mugrdechian. “The Monument will represent Armenia on our campus.” The Monument will be a lasting reminder to the world that such dark crimes cannot be kept hidden. It will stand in defiance of Turkey’s denial and represent the presence and unity of Armenians thousands of miles away from their homeland.
“The survivors are all but gone, but we, their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, keep their memory, their sacrifices, and their legacy alive,” stated Archbishop Mardirossian. “In the end, the truth always prevails. The enemy has tried to cover, distort and ignore the truth for nearly a century. We will continue to tell the world of the horrors endured by our ancestors and relentlessly demand proper recognition, justice, and reparation for the colossal loss of life and land.”
“This monument will remind us all that we as Armenians are living monuments to the memory of the martyrs of the Armenian Genocide,” said Archbishop Derderian. “This Monument will be the symbol of the resurrected life of our nation.”
The Republic of Armenia was represented at the event by Consul Levon Minasyan. He spoke about the Armenian goal of Genocide recognition throughout the world. “We believe that the only way to prevent genocides and crimes against humanity is the international recognition and condemnation of these crimes.”
Congressman Jim Costa echoed these sentiments: “Sadly we see later into the twentieth century and even into the twenty-first century, genocides occurring around the world. That’s why this Monument is important and that’s why we need to construct this monument—for the souls of the martyrs, and more importantly, for the future generations of this country and around the world. They should never forget what happened to the Armenian people.”
Other speakers included the Honorary Consul of the Republic of Armenia in Fresno, Berj Apkarian, Vice President of the AGC, Varoujan Der Simonian, and Assemblyman Jim Patterson.
The Monument will be a visible representation of the community’s resolve to never forget what happened to the sufferings of their ancestors. The ceremony left the audience inspired and eager to see the finished work, which will be completed in time for the Genocide’s Centennial Commemoration on April 24, 2015.