Hallowed Ground

Hallowed Ground

Art Center’s Catherine Menard unveils her design for Pasadena’s Armenian Genocide Memorial

By André Coleman , Kevin Uhrich 04/25/2013

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Details of a long-awaited memorial of the Armenian Genocide were unveiled for the first time Sunday at Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design during a special presentation attended by top school officials, Mayor Bill Bogaard and other leaders from the city and the region’s Armenian community.

The design, created by 26-year-old Art Center student Catherine Menard, was chosen from 17 applicants reviewed by members of the Pasadena Genocide Memorial Committee (PASAGMC), which includes former Mayor Bill Paparian, former Pasadena Police Chief Bernard Melekian and former state Assemblyman Anthony Portantino of La Cañada Flintridge.

Members of the committee’s three-member jury panel — contractor Neshan Peroomian, artist and architect Rouben Amirian of Glendale and prominent Pasadena architect Stefanos Polyzoides — selected the work submitted by Menard, an environmental design major at Art Center.

“The project really fulfilled what we set out to do, which was to meet the expectations of the community in excellence and design,” Paparian, host of Sunday’s event, said of Menard’s work, which still needs approval from the City Council. If approved by the council, the memorial would be placed near the northeast corner of Memorial Park, near Old Pasadena, its construction and upkeep paid for with donations.

Meanwhile, Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of Burbank renewed his longstanding calls for the United States government to officially recognize the Armenian Genocide, which claimed the lives of as many as 1.5 million children, women and men between 1915 and 1923. On Wednesday, Schiff, speaking in Armenian, introduced a resolution calling on Congress to formally recognize the Armenian Genocide.

“I urge you to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide in your statement this year, to call genocide genocide and to stand with the ever-dwindling number of survivors, as well as the descendants of those who were lost, and who must otherwise continue to suffer the indignity, injury and pain of denial,” wrote Schiff in a letter to President Barack Obama.

Schiff’s letter to Obama was publicly released a few days before Sunday’s ceremony at Art Center, where Menard’s designs were revealed to an approving audience. To help promote the project, the committee produced a seven-minute public service announcement about the Armenian Genocide narrated by Portantino, which appears at the Web site, pasagmc.org.

The circular design features a 16-foot-tall tripod at its center. From the apex of the three beams will fall a single drop of water every 21 seconds, totaling 1.5 million drops — tears — a year for each of the victims of the government-sponsored atrocity, considered the first genocide of the 20th century.

“It hit me when I realized it was one drop every 21 seconds,” said Menard, who is not Armenian but of Cajun ancestry.
“That it was three deaths a minute, and then internalizing the visual of a death, three in a minute, that’s what just floored me. That’s when it just got into me. I cried for a whole day,” she recalled.

The design was set to be put on display Wednesday — April 24 is considered to be the actual day the killing started — at Pasadena City Hall. The Pasadena City Council has issued an annual proclamation commemorating the Armenian Genocide on April 24 for more than 30 years.

Like every year, Wednesday’s events were scheduled not to conflict with events taking place later that night at the Armenian monument in Montebello, where the earliest Armenian settlers in Los Angeles County often congregated, along with many others committed to recognizing the Armenian Genocide.

Menard said she knew nothing of the Genocide before she started the project, which was part of Designmatters, an Art Center program focusing on humanitarian need and social change. However, she spent time researching the event before starting on the creation of the memorial. She was later inspired by a poem by Siamanto, an Armenian poet killed on the first day of the Genocide, which read: “Don’t be afraid / I must tell you what I saw / So people will understand / the crimes men do to men / For two days, by the road / to the graveyard.”
The poem inspired Menard to propose the tripod, which resembles a death structure from which many Armenians were hanged.

The Genocide — also known among Armenians as the Great Crime — began in 1915 and, by the time it ended eight years later, 1.5 million Armenians had been hanged, poisoned, drowned or marched into the desert to die at the hands of soldiers from the Turkish Ottoman Empire. Along with the Jewish Holocaust and the enslavement of African Americans, it remains one of the darkest episodes in human history, and one which the Turkish government denies to this day.

Turkish Deputy Consul General Arif Celik voiced his opposition to the project on an Aug. 9 visit to Pasadena Deputy City Manager Julie Gutierrez, Paparian said.

 “Think about that,” Paparian said on Sunday. “A foreign government visited City Hall to try and stop this memorial.”

But it didn’t work. The memorial is expected to be completed by 2015 — the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great Crime.

“The project is important to all people who want to make sure that human behavior of its worst nature is not repeated,” said District 3 City Councilman-elect John Kennedy, who supported the project during his campaign. Memorial Park is within Kennedy’s district.

“Never again applies to a whole host of cultures and a whole set of activities we never want to see happen again,” Kennedy said. “The fact you will have a memorial here in Pasadena is a physical representation of an internal desire for this type of behavior to never happen again.”

Although the park has only been used to memorialize veterans of wars that Americans have fought in, Councilman Gene Masuda, whose East Pasadena district includes the largest Armenian population in Pasadena, said the city has already decided to place the Genocide memorial in Memorial Park.

“It’s the appropriate place,” Masuda said. “City staff recommended the park and the committee followed that recommendation. The PASAGMC has done everything the right way.”

Since the US Census does not classify Armenian as a race and many Armenians register as white, it is difficult to estimate how many Armenians live in Pasadena. However, according to church membership rolls, there are about 20,000 Armenian Americans living locally.
Neighboring Glendale has the highest percentage of residents of Armenian descent in the United States.

“We have such a thriving Armenian-American community locally and throughout Los Angeles County and to see Art Center embrace the project, that young people have been so heavily involved, I can’t wait to see it erected,” said Portantino.

“This is an amazing project, both for the city of Pasadena and surrounding communities,” Portantino said. Memorial Park, he noted, contains memorials to American wars, including Vietnam, a tribute Paparian helped bring about during his time on the council.
“To see that this is so tastefully integrated [with those memorials] I think will make it a very special and important destination for Pasadenans,” Portantino said.

No mention was made Sunday of an alternative memorial design put forward by another group headed by former City Council candidate Chris Chahinian, who ran against Masuda in 2010. Chahinian broke off from the PASAGMC and formed the Armenian Community Coalition (ACC). The ACC met in March with city officials to discuss the design, maintenance and upkeep of that memorial, which is also expected to be completed by 2015. That project was designed by Vahram Hovagimyan, whose work was among the 16 others rejected in favor of Menard’s work.

Paparian has called Chahinian’s submission “a warmed-over reject.”

Chahinian did not attend Sunday’s event. Masuda said he was confident the city would choose the project that followed established selection procedures.

“I’m delighted and pleased to see what is happening,” Masuda said of the warm reception Menard’s work received from guests at Art Center. “It’s been a long process.”

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