On the eve of April 24, the Armenian community of Fresno gathered to unveil the new Armenian Genocide Centennial Monument. Over 4,000 people congregated at the Fresno State Maple Mall to witness the historic event, which brought together Armenians from various walks of life, and also non-Armenians. People from diverse backgrounds were united in their desire to honor the memory of those who were mercilessly slaughtered in the first genocide of the 20th century. Constructed in 100 days, the monument pays tribute to those who were martyred 100 years ago.
Although a somber occasion, there was a sense of accomplishment and celebration in the atmosphere at the completion of this permanent tribute. The melodies of the oud filled the air as Richard Hagopian played traditional folk songs while the crowd gathered in anticipation for the ceremony.
The completion of the monument is a testament to the strength which the Armenians embody, which allows them to flourish in communities around the world, despite their traumatic past. “This beautiful Armenian Genocide monument represents the love, honor, accomplishment, and spirit of our ancestors and the families of the survivors,” said the Honorable Chuck Poochigian, co-master of ceremonies, together with Deborah Adishian Astone, Interim Vice President for the Administrative Services at Fresno State.
Fresno State President Joseph I. Castro demonstrated his continued support of the Armenian community by his participation at the ceremony. “I can think of no other university campus where it would be more fitting to have an Armenian Genocide monument. It’s deeply meaningful to me and for every single member of our Fresno State community and beyond,” he said.
Castro stressed the importance of remaining hopeful and looking to the future rather than being solely defined by tragedy.
“This monument will be here for generations to come. It will be a visible reminder each day for all of us that even when a devastating tragedy like the genocide occurs, hope and then joy can follow.”
The community’s civic and religious leaders, including Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, also attended the event. A brief video was shown featuring the leaders of ethnic and religious communities that had faced similar atrocities. Rabbi Rick Winer, of Temple Beth Israel, spoke on the ability of Jews and Armenians to persevere through the horrors of genocide. “We can take the scar we bear and have it serve as an emblem that we are survivors in a difficult world, but a world that still blooms.” He expressed the hope in rebirth that persecuted communities retain in rising above their tragic histories.
“Out of the ashes we create beautiful communities, beautiful culture, and what we have here in this community is a beautiful example of that.”
The Armenians of the San Joaquin Valley are proof that a people can survive such a tragedy and establish a prosperous community 7,000 miles away from their homeland.
A video narrated by Professors Barlow Der Mugrdechian and Sergio La Porta gave a brief account of the symbolic meaning of each of the monument’s nine pillars. The major donors for the monument were recognized for their support of the project.
Illuminated by the colors of Armenia’s tri-colored flag, the monument stood proudly and defiantly for all to bear witness to the vitality of the Armenian people. The monument is not only important in commemorating the Genocide, but it also speaks to the hope that the Armenian community has for the future.
The timeline inside the monument, depicting significant events and cultural achievements in Armenia’s history, will help to educate Fresno State students about the Armenian people. It will help to ensure that the Armenians are known for more than their sufferings, but for their accomplishments as well.
At the ceremony’s conclusion, President Joseph and Mrs. Mary Castro, Mr. Valery Mkrtumian, Deputy Consul of the Republic of Armenia, and the Honorary Consul of the Republic of Armenia in Fresno, Berj Apkarian, cut the purple ribbon, opening the monument to the public.
The Armenian Genocide Monument is a project of the Armenian Genocide Centennial Committee of Fresno.