Commission lets City Council decide on location of monument commemorating Armenian Genocide
By André Coleman 08/07/2013
* This post has been corrected, as noted below.
Although the Pasadena Parks and Recreation Commission unanimously voted to accept the design of a monument honoring victims of the Armenian Genocide, it left the final decision of where the memorial should be placed up to the City Council.
The commission backed off from making a decision after a handful of local residents voiced opposition to putting the memorial — designed by 26-year-old Art Center College of Design student Catherine Menard — in Memorial Park, located on the northeastern edge of Old Pasadena. Prior to the meeting, opponents of the plan met briefly with City Manager Michael Beck to express their concerns.
The council is expected to take up the matter on Sept. 9.
“We received a couple of emails and comments,” said Beck, who appeared not to be swayed by the arguments. “We did look at other parks. Ultimately, from a staff perspective, we still think Memorial Park is the best location, but we are taking one more look to see what other locations might exist.”
In letters and during the public comment portion of last week’s meeting, opponents said they were against using the park because it has traditionally been used to honor American war veterans. Located on the corner of North Raymond Avenue and Walnut Street, Memorial Park contains tributes to local residents that lost their lives fighting in the Civil War and Vietnam. The Vietnam War memorial was a project started by Paparian, a former US Marine, while he was on the City Council in the late 1990s. That memorial was first placed in Central Park, south of Colorado Boulevard, between South Fair Oaks and Raymond avenues, but was later reinstalled at Memorial Park.
The roughly five-acre park also contains the Levitt Pavilion amphitheater, which attracts hundreds of people during the summer when concerts are held there.
Paparian, who chairs of the Pasadena Genocide Memorial Committee (PASAGMC), which commissioned Menard’s design, did not return phone calls seeking comment for this story.
According to Parks and Recreation Commission Member Donabed Donabedian, a quarter of the 16 people who spoke at the meeting opposed the use of the Memorial Park. The remaining dozen speakers at the meeting were for the idea.
One person against the plan was Old Pasadena businesswoman Debbie Meymarian.
“My grandparents were all genocide survivors and I couldn’t be more proud of my family or my heritage,” Meymarian wrote to the commission. “However, I think that the placement of the proposed memorial in Memorial Park is perhaps short-sited and misguided. All of the commemorations in the park have to do with United States servicemen and women. What is to keep another ethnic group in this city from wanting a memorial to their ancestors in Memorial Park?
Where does it stop? Surely, there is a more appropriate place to honor our ancestors.”
Emina Darakjy, a longtime resident and a member of the city’s Urban Forestry Advisory Committee, also opposes using Memorial Park as a location for the memorial. Darakjy’s husband’s grandparents escaped to the United States after witnessing the murder of several family members during the Armenian Genocide.
“I like the design,” Darakjy wrote in an email. “I think the monument should be built. However, I do not think the monument should be erected in a park that has become a sacred ground for memorials for US servicemen and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice defending our nation. Besides the Vietnam memorial and the Union soldier commemorating the Civil War, the perimeter of the park has banners honoring the Pasadena servicemen who lost their lives during the Iraq War.”
Darakjy said another major concern is the size of the park, which she said is too cramped.
“The site is too small for such a monument, which will draw thousands of people every April 24, a day of remembrance for the Armenian community, when stores and restaurants close,” stated Darakjy. “Are we going to have to close down Walnut, Holly and Raymond streets every April 24 to accommodate the crowds?”
The Armenian Genocide Memorial is expected to be unveiled April 24, 2015. The memorial’s 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.
“We are certainly sensitive to the feeling that the park is not the right location,” said former Pasadena Police Chief Bernard Melekian, a member of the PASAGMC. “But it is equally important to note we have gone through the entire city process and the memorial fits the use of what was intended for the park. We’re comfortable with that part of it and a number of Armenian veterans, myself and Bill Paparian included, are going to speak to why we think it is important to put it there. We are memorializing one of the defining events in the 20th century.”
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. That city commemorates the genocide every year on April 24 in front of City Hall with a resolution acknowledging the Great Crime, which began in 1915 and ended in 1923, killing 1.5 million Armenians, who had been hanged, poisoned, drowned or marched into the desert to die at the hands of soldiers from the Turkish Ottoman Empire. The Pasadena City Council has been issuing an annual proclamation commemorating the Armenian Genocide on April 24 for more than 30 years.
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.
Congressman Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) renewed his longstanding calls this year for the United States to formally acknowledge the genocide. During the 2008 election, then-candidate Barack Obama promised that he would recognize the genocide if elected, but later went back on his word.
“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 the president.
Meanwhile, members of the Armenian Community Coalition (ACC) an alternative group led by former City Council candidate Chris Chahanian, which broke off from the PASAGMC, presented the city with an update on its separate plans for a memorial.
“It was a meet and greet,” said Pasadena Public Information Officer William Boyer. “They wanted to update us with their plans. So far, nothing has been submitted.”
* Due to incorrect information provided by a Park and Recreation Commissioner, the Weekly reported that the commission voted against placing the monument in Memorial Park. The commissioners suggested that the city look for an alternative site, but voted to allow the City Council to make the final decision.