Armenian Genocide memorial to be erected in Costa Mesa

Armenian Genocide memorial to be erected in Costa Mesa –

By Michael Miller

Daily Pilot – When Moushegh Tashjian was growing up, his father never spoke to him much about his experience surviving the Armenian genocide. But he and his siblings heard harrowing stories about it from their grandmother.

Actually, she wasn’t their real grandmother — something Tashjian only realized as he grew older. His father’s mother had perished in the Turkish government’s campaign, which began during World War I and, by typical estimates, left 1.5 million dead. After Tashjian’s grandmother died, his grandfather married a woman who had lost two husbands and three children in the forced marches across the desert.

Hearing her accounts as a child, Tashjian — now the pastor of St. Mary Armenian Apostolic Church in Costa Mesa — felt hatred toward those who had victimized his family and others.

Only in later years, he said, did he let that attitude slip.

“As a young child, as a young boy, I would picture a Turk with the Ottoman-style clothing, with fez, with, what do you call it,” he said, drawing the shape of a robe with his hands as he sat in the community room of St. Mary last week. “And with a sword. And I would see pictures of Turks slaughtering Armenians. They were everywhere.

“And, of course, yeah we wanted justice. And we still do.”

Justice, at least in the form of official recognition of the genocide, has proved elusive over the years. The Turkish government has repeatedly denied that the atrocities of a century ago constituted a literal genocide — even though the word is commonly used to describe them. Even U.S. leaders have gone back and forth over use of the word.

But in the meantime, Tashjian and his church are overseeing a recognition of their own. On March 8, the Eastside church will dedicate the Genocide Centennial Monument, a sculpture that features a pair of white marble pillars connected by a cross, set on a black granite base where a small fountain, flame and garden will eventually reside.

With the massacre of Armenians nearing its 100th anniversary, the church formed a remembrance committee and called for artists to submit designs. Nearly a dozen entries came in, and Harout Joulhaian, a Burbank resident who sometimes attends St. Mary services, got the nod.

Joulhaian, who grew up in Syria and moved to the United States 10 years ago, was partly inspired by his grandparents, who survived the genocide. In crafting his design, he aimed for a mixture of somberness and hope.

“The fountain and the flame and the black granite represent the memory of our tragic past and symbolize the life and immortality of the 1.5 million Armenians,” Joulhaian said. “And the white two pillars symbolize our new generation and the bright future, which is that we are living now in this free country and we can express our feelings. These two white pillars are attached with the cross, which symbolizes our Christian faith and belief.”

St. Mary’s congregation raised money to pay for the monument, which Tashjian estimated would cost between $50,000 and $60,000. Some members of the church donated construction work for free; contractors will do the rest.

On March 8, after the dedication, the church will hold a commemorative ceremony at Orange Coast College’s Robert B. Moore Theatre. Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, primate of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church, will lead an invocation and benediction, and speeches and musical performances will round out the program.

The diocese has recently undertaken a similar project, dedicating the Holy Martyrs’ Monument in January at its headquarters in Burbank. Other commemorative events are planned around Southern California in the coming months, including “LIFE:100,” an art exhibit at the Brand Library & Art Center in Glendale, and LA2DC, a genocide-awareness cycling and running marathon from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C.

Will the commemorations this year make a difference — especially for those who have refused to budge in the past? Tashjian, who has served as St. Mary’s pastor since 1992, hopes so.

“I only pray, as a priest, that the government of Turkey, once and for all, will recognize and do justice to the deceased Armenian citizens of Turkey,” he said. “This is my prayer and wish, and I hope I see that in my lifetime.”


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