Thursday, February 7, an ordinary day for most, but a special date for Armenians, as it is on this date that Armenians come together to celebrate Vartanantz, an Armenian holiday celebrating the strength and victory of their ancestors.
This year the annual Vartanantz celebration was hosted at First Armenian Presbyterian Church, with the support of St. Paul Armenian Church, St. Gregory Armenia Church, Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church, and the Pilgrim Armenian Congregational Church and organized by the Knights of Vartan of Fresno.
Vartanantz is a day of remembrance commemorating the sacrifice and unified determination of the Armenian people during the Battle of Avarayr in 451, in their quest to defend their right to freely practice their religion—Christianity.
To start off the commemoration, students from the Charlie Keyan Armenian Community School recited several poems and songs, testifying to the strength of General Vartan Mamigonian, the leader of the Armenian army, who sacrificed himself for his country and religion. The group of about 25 students captured the hearts of both the old and young in the audience. The students were so passionate that a child, no more than 6 years old, was on the edge of his seat leaning forward to eagerly listen to his peers.
Following the performance, Pilgrim Armenian Congregational Church Pastor Ara Guekguezian led the audience in a prayer in English, followed by Fr. Vahan Gosdanian, pastor of the Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church, who read a passage in Armenian, both emphasizing the importance of the sacrifices our Armenian ancestors made. Badveli Guekguezian explained that even though the Armenians are a “small people,” they should continue fighting for their tradition.
Rev. Fr. Yeghia Hairabedian of St. Gregory Armenian Church, Fowler, was the main speaker in Armenian, beginning his comments by reading a passage from Peter 3:8-22. He went on to explain that the fight to remain Christian was fought by everyone, not just the men in battle. Providing a new perspective, he said that the women, particularly the wives, also fought and sacrificed for their faith. He reiterated that the Armenian people must stay committed to their faith because of these sacrifices.
Providing yet another perspective, Interim Senior Pastor Paul Irwin of First Armenian Presbyterian Church explained how being able to connect to the Armenian culture was what helped ensure the success of the Armenian people. “We are here now because of our ancestors—so stay strong.”
Throughout the program the combined choirs of the five churches sang various hymns in both Armenian and English. Seeing the five distinct, different choirs come together and harmonize as one voice, emphasized the message of the evening—to stay strong and continue the fight to maintain both Christianity and the Armenian culture.
Following the program, there was a reception in the social hall hosted by the Knights of Vartan.
What stood out the most about this year’s celebration was not the program itself, but those in attendance. The program was engaging, but by looking around and seeing those who had attended, both young and old, it was apparent that this tradition of celebrating and commemorating Vartanantz had been passed down to the yet another generation and would continue for years to come.