By Eliza Partika
Local businesses, government offices and schools closed for a day this week to commemorate the 108th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, widely viewed as the first genocide of the 20th Century.
Glendale’s 22nd annual Armenian genocide commemorative event at the Alex Theatre on Monday was widely attended, as were multiple film screenings and events at schools, libraries and businesses across the city throughout the week.
The city’s commemoration — themed “The Armenian Experience Through the Lens,” honoring the 100th anniversary of Armenian cinema — highlighted Armenian films such as “Songs of Solomon” and “The Other Side of Home” at the AMC Americana at Brand and the Alex Theatre, and featured events throughout the month of April to celebrate Armenian History Month.
Araksya Karapetyan, local news host and the master of ceremonies of the event, said the theme reflects the changing ways Armenians remember the genocide of 1915.
“It’s not just about our history, and the past, we’re also here to look forward to the future because there’s a great deal of hope,” Karapetyan said.
Glendale Mayor Dan Brotman and Councilman Ardy Kassakhian acknowledged the humanitarian crisis in the Nagorno-Karabakh region and emphasized the importance of sharing Armenian stories.
“It is a prayer of hope for the future, a hope that the world will no longer remain silent, a hope that people will awaken to what is happening to the
Armenian people…a hope that
we will come together as a city, as a state, as a nation to speak
out against hatred wherever it manifests itself,” Kassakhian said.
Brotman related how, being Jewish, he grew up learning about his grandparents’ escape from the Holocaust, but said he didn’t learn of the Armenian genocide until college.
“This highlights a major problem. We must not operate in silos. We need to be united, all of us, who have been subjected to crimes against humanity,” he said.
After opening remarks, a tribute video drawing parallels between the oral histories of genocide survivors and the current humanitarian crisis in Artsakh was shown. Also featured was a preview of Armenia’s submission for the 2024 Oscars best international film category, “Aurora’s Sunrise” an animated documentary based on the life of Aurora Mardiganian, an Armenian Genocide survivor who, after her escape from slavery, became an actress in the United States and worked the rest of her life to share her story and raise funds for others affected by the genocide.
Filmmaker Inna Sahakyan spoke about the importance of knowing stories about the genocide, especially when tragedies are continuing to happen.
“Aurora’s story happened 100 years ago, but today our homeland is in danger of genocide again, the only road to Artsakh has been closed for more than four months. And yesterday, as you may have heard, military checkpoints were already established. This puts 120,000 of our fellow Armenians in direct danger of ethnic cleansing again. We must work tirelessly to ensure that genocides are never allowed to happen again,” she said.
The film is an animated biography of Mardiganian’s life, blending hand-drawn animation, real footage of the 1920s film made about her escape and interviews with Mardiganian before her death in 1994.
The keynote address, delivered by actor Joe Manganiello, touched on intergenerational trauma, drawing from his familial history and the story of his maternal great-grandmother, Terviz “Rose” Darakijan, who survived the Armenian genocide.
Generational trauma impacted Manganiello as he witnessed how his mother and sister were so greatly affected by the experiences of their mother and of his great-grandmother, who escaped the genocide. He grew up hearing stories about the inherent understanding they had of their trauma.
“When the old woman, [my mother’s] grandmother would come and stay at the house, she’d sleep on a daybed in the living room, and during thunderstorms my mother would run and hide under the daybed, and the old woman would get out of the bed and would pull my mother out across the hardwood floor, would stand her up, and she would get down on her knees and hold my mother’s waist. And she would start rocking her by the waist and chanting. My mother said it was like the fear just was pulled out of her.
“Without knowledge, without understanding, you can’t heal, you don’t know what you’re supposed to be healing from,” he said.
Manganiello told stories of his great-grandmother that connected him to his Armenian roots, even before he knew her story — of the “lahmajunes” and “sojuk” he ate as a kid to the lines of neighbors in Massachusetts trailing from the porch of her house to seek herbal cures from her instead of going to the doctor.
Manganiello believed that the connections to Armenia kept alive through food culture, language and religion, which his great-grandmother took with her when she escaped, are the reason he is able to understand Armenia’s importance and speak about it to others.
“It’s important to understand that, because like I said, regardless of what anyone else admits, or is going to admit, like we know the story, and we have an obligation to take care of each other and survive, because, you know, if it wasn’t for those sacrifices, we wouldn’t be here,” he said.
A ROAD TO RECOGNITION
On April 24, 1915, Ottoman authorities arrested Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople, leading to the deaths of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians. The Los Angeles area has the largest population of Armenians in the world outside of Armenia itself. Turkey denies the deaths constituted genocide, saying the toll has been inflated and that those killed were victims of civil war and unrest.
The last event of Glendale’s week of commemoration — a showing of the 2015 film “The Other Side of Home,” shortlisted for an Oscar — addressed the conflict through a depiction of Maya, a Turkish woman who discovers and grapples with her Armenian identity on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide.
The showing was accompanied by a conversation with the filmmaker Naré Mkrtchyan, who used the film to explore her own feelings about her identity as someone born in Armenia but raised in Los Angeles.
The film received uproarious applause, after which, in a Q&A session with Mkrtchyan, a woman asked, “How can I, as a mother, make peace with them?”
Mkrtchyan’s answer reflected her own conflict with forgiving the ancestors of people who inflicted harm on the Armenian community, but also addressed a need for understanding.
“It’s so important for them to see me for who I am, you know, as a human being. And if this is too much for them to handle, if they want to kill me for this, then I don’t know what to say. I feel as humans we have to get past that fear and you need to see me for who I am,” she said.
First published in the April 29 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.