Good read

The Angeleno who would be president of Armenia

armenian-march-for-justice-fb.jpgFriday's march to mark the centennial of the Armenian massacre by Turks drew a huge crowd in Los Angeles. Posted to Facebook by Khatchik Chris Chahinian.

Big turnout on Friday for the Los Angeles march to commemorate Turkey's genocidal massacre of Armenians near the end of the Ottoman Empire in 1915. The march from Little Armenia through Hollywood ended outside Turkey's consulate on Wilshire Boulevard. Turkey continues to deny the number of more than one million Armenians slaughtered or that the massacres were part of an organized genocide. The march was billed as a major bid for justice on the part of the large Armenian immigrant population in Los Angeles and across California.

The thing about denying the Holocaust or the killing fields or the Armenian genocide is that too many people remember too much. City Councilman Paul Krekorian spoke at the march about his great-grandmother reading a letter about her brother, left to die after his tongue was cut out. “For my family and for many of us that are here, we don't need any help in remembering the Armenian genocide because it is deeply personal to us,” Krekorian said per the LA Times.

LA police estimated that more than 100,000 people took part in Friday's March. City Hall on Friday also officially designated the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Western Avenue as Armenian Genocide Memorial Square.

hovannisian-flag.jpgThe best article I've read around the anniversary is the Atlantic's piece on Raffi Hovannisian moving back to Armenia from LA to run for president in 2013. Hovannisian was born in Fresno, where many Armenians settled early in the 20th century. The Atlantic story, 100 Years in Exile, is by his son Garin, the co-writer and co-director of the new film "1915."

It was difficult to explain to the children why the Armenians had come to the San Joaquin Valley in the first place, and why they had built their schools and red brick church and even their cemetery. Many parents didn’t even try. The children were set free of their pasts and sent running into the vineyards and orchards of this new land: “the strange, weed-infested, junky, wonderful, senseless yet beautiful world” dramatized by the Armenian American writer William Saroyan. He had already won the Pulitzer and an Oscar by the time my father was growing up, but he could sometimes be seen, with his big mustache and mischievous smile, riding his bicycle through the streets of downtown Fresno.

But still there was the secret fermenting underneath it all, and a boy could only guess at it. Sometimes, late into the night, my father would hear his grandfather Kaspar screaming in his sleep.

Many people had nightmares on Alta Avenue. They saw burning villages and death marches. They saw their mothers being raped by foreign soldiers and their fathers hanging from the gallows. They saw themselves running through vast desert landscapes. It was my grandfather Richard’s destiny, even before it was my father’s, to come to terms with those nightmares. In 1963, Richard moved his family to Los Angeles, where he defended his Ph.D. at UCLA and eventually established an endowed chair in modern Armenian history. He became not only a pioneer of Armenian studies in the United States but also, in time, an internationally recognized authority on those secret events of 1915 replaying in his father’s subconscious: the Ottoman Turkish government’s efficient deportation and slaughter of a million and a half Armenians and the destruction of their ancient homeland.

For the time being, though, my father was living out a childhood unburdened by the history his father was writing. He joined the Boy Scouts and took piano lessons, lifted weights and wrote minimalist poetry. He played the line for the Palisades High Dolphins and became a firebrand member of the student council; he campaigned to get stalls put up in the boys’ bathrooms. He was ripped and mysterious and charismatic—“a golden boy,” according to his Pali High yearbooks, “a kind, thoughtful gentleman,” “a rare man with class and charisma,” “a hunk of man.”

Raffi Hovannisian did not become president in 2013, but the story is worth a read. Garin Hovannisian is also the author of the memoir "Family of Shadows."

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