In a recent evening inside Glendale High School’s auditorium high school student Angela Pachanian rehearsed a poem of suffering and sadness by Paruyr Sevak, Armenia’s best-known poet of the genocide.
Below her, in the auditorium’s first few rows, a group of nine and ten year old Armenian American children run through a melodious song. Their choirmaster said it’s a nationalistic Armenian song about going to war, defending and saving the mother country.
The Armenian clubs at four Glendale high schools organized the remembrance, with help from school district officials. The event’s title, “Our Traditions Keep Us Alive,” hints at how tightly the genocide is interwoven with Armenian identity.
“I clearly remember how when my parents would try to teach me about what exactly happened,” Crescenta Valley High junior Sevag Alexanian, as for most of these students, the genocide is among his earliest memories, “how my great grandparents were affected by this, how we’re lucky that we’re still here today because my great grandfather survived and just pretty much how we’re the youth and we’re going to be the ones getting the word out when we grow older, as a kid that was always embedded in us.”
The Armenian Genocide has been part of the California public education curriculum for 25 years. But Alexanian said his high school history teacher glossed over it.
He, like many other young Armenian Americans, learned outside of school to fervently argue for the recognition of the 1915 series of events as “genocide.” There’s a consensus among historians that the Ottomans targeted Armenians for extermination, but the current Turkish government denies it. The U.S. government has not formally recognized the Armenian Genocide.
Glendale Unified school board member Greg Krikorian said recognition is one reason to hold this cultural event.
“We’re sending a message that we want, not only recognition of the Armenian genocide, we want our homeland back, our territory back. The Turkish government today is destroying our churches, destroying our history. The Armenians for the past 97 years have given back to America and this is one way our students are expressing their views and values of the Armenian Genocide,” he said.
The zealous activism learned by young Armenian Americans from their elders is justified, says Glendale Community College professor Levon Marshalian.
“It’s more painful when someone’s history is not acknowledged and denied. It’s as if, how would Americans feel if someone would be saying, no there was no attack on Pearl Harbor, in fact America surprised, dropped a surprise bomb on Tokyo first,” Marshalian said.
Many high school and college students exercised their activism last week by taking part in Armenian Genocide protests and marches.
They’re not the only ones remembering genocides. In the last few weeks, thousands of people in Southern California have held events to remember the Holocaust during World War II and the Cambodian genocide in the 1970s. These genocides scattered refugees in diasporas far and wide.
In a darkened auditorium at Glendale Community College, the remembrance of the Armenian Genocide took a somber tone. The campus Armenian club screened Suzanne Khardalian’s film “Grandma’s Tattoos.” The film focuses on the trauma of the genocide survivors and how that trickled down to the filmmaker’s generation.
After the film, student Chantalle Parsakhian said its portrayal of the genocide’s destruction is very different from what she learned at home and at Armenian private school. She’s worried young Armenian Americans are losing touch with this side of the genocide.
“I feel it’s just another day for them to not go to school because, and the passion for justice has kind of dwindled, that’s what really is upsetting,” she said.
Parsakhian left along a walkway where the campus Armenian club had set up documents and photos detailing the extent of the deaths. On the other side, on an easel, was a wreath in the shape of the Armenian flag with “Never Again” printed on a ribbon.