In Pasadena, Descendants of Armenian Genocide Survivors Say U.S. Must Recognize Their Holocaust, Too

Published : Wednesday, April 24, 2019 | 5:33 AM

A young woman lays the first remembrance bouquet at the Pasadena Armenian Genocide Memorial after its unveiling on April 18, 2015 in Old Pasadena. Photo by James Macpherson

Today members of Pasadena’s vibrant Armenian-American community are joined by locals of all stripes in remembering the horror of the Armenian Genocide, the Ottoman government’s systematic killing of 1.5 million Armenians which began April 24, 1915.

Unlike the Jewish holocaust, the United States does not officially recognize the Armenian Genocide occurred.

“We constantly push for the U.S. to recognize the genocide,” Shoghig Yapremian, chair of the Pasadena chapter of the Armenian National Committee of America, told Pasadena Now. “Through Congressman Adam Schiff and Congresswoman Judy Chu we constantly work in Washington D.C. to get resolutions passed.”

Schiff, who represents portions of West Pasadena, has worked for years to establish official federal recognition of the mass extermination.

In 2018 on April 21, the Pasadena Armenian-American community honored and remembered its own once with the unveiling of new I-210 Freeway signs directing motorists to Old Pasadena's Armenian Genocide Memorial.

“No one needs to explain to Jews or Armenians how hurtful it is when people deny genocide,” Schiff said during the Capitol Hill Armenian Genocide Observance on April 10 in Washington D.C.

Congresswoman Judy Chu and Californias State Senator Anthony Portantino have repeatedly shown strong support for the official recognition.

“As the representative of the largest Armenian community in any legislative district in the diaspora, I feel honored to represent this wonderful community and to learn from and listen to their family stories,” Portantino said this week.

In fact, family stories originally told by Genocide survivors fuel much of the passion and conviction behind many local Armenian-Americans determination to get federal recognition.

“The genocide occurred 104 years ago, in April 1915, so personally, my grandparents were genocide survivors,” Yapremian said. “My grandfather was about 103, he lived a long time. He had a lot of on-the-record testimonies about the Genocide. He was 3 or 4 when it happened. So I have that personal relationship through my grandparents.

“They constantly told us of the effects and how they had to leave their homeland,” she said. “Actually his story was read in front of Congress by Congressman Adam Schiff years ago. His story was well-documented.”

Former Pasadena Mayor William Paparian said he, too, has a direct connection to the Genocide.

“I am the first-born son of a survivor of the Armenian Genocide, my late mother Serpouhi,” said William Paparian, who practices law in Pasadena. “She was 7 years old when her family came to the USA. The Ottoman Turkish government attempted to destroy my people and my family in 1915. They failed.

“Armenians live and prosper and flourish all over the world, here in the United States and in the homeland,” Paparian said. “My three sons were baptized in the Armenian Apostolic Church and are fluent in the Armenian language. My oldest son, Nishan, born at Huntington Hospital and a graduate of La Salle High School, has repatriated to Armenia. He holds a senior management position at the Tumo Center for Creative Technologies and last year purchased his first home in Yerevan with a view of Mt. Ararat.”

Paparian said he believes one of the realities the community faces is the perceived danger of assimilation: of losing their identity, their language and the closeness to the Armenian church.

It is those cultural and family connections that keep the Armenian American community strong, Tcharkhoutian said she discovered through her research.

Tcharkhoutian will deliver findings of her research at the 104th Armenian Genocide Assembly, coordinated by Armenian 1 and 2 students at Pasadena City College. Her study is not yet published, but she will present her research on descendents of Armenian Genocide survivors on April 24 at 7 p.m. as part of the Vosloh Forum.

Her research was based on a study, intragenerational transmission of trauma and resilience, which looked at descendants of Holocaust survivors and the effects of trauma got passed down.

“There were different psychological struggles that descendants face that I modeled my research after, to see if descendants of Armenian Genocide survivors experience any of the residual effects from the Genocide, and also resilience. I studied that in relation to leadership and advancement and how it affected our desire to pursue leadership.”

Tcharkhoutian’s research focused on several aspects.

“How the stories from our ancestors — and still not receiving recognition  — how those have affected us around our self-esteem and leadership,” she said.

The research indicated that the importance of education is regarded as “something that can’t be taken away through genocide,” she said. “If you’re educated we can always rebuild. That is why so many people in the Armenian community value education.”

“That pushed women in the study to pursue leadership,” she said. “Also, when they believed in themselves, the family support helped them achieve those positions. That support was a positive factor in helping them pursue and achieve those leadership positions. The findings resulted in recommendations we can implement as a community.”

Robert Shahnazarian, recently honored with the Police Activities League Golden Badge Award for his devotion to the Pasadena community, said the resilience among Armenians is strong. Shahnazarian and his wife Maggie own the restaurant and multicultural event venue Noor in Paseo Colorado.

“I grew up on Palm Springs and there were no Armenians there,” he said. “When I was 6 or 7 my parents sent us to Armenian summer camp. They would ask, ‘What kind of Armenian are you?’ When a culture experiences a genocide, they go all over the world, so I at the camp, I was meeting people from Bulgaria, Syria, Lebanon. When you grow up in those other countries you’re still Armenian but you have different characteristics, and there are different nuances. But they all still relate to being Armenian.”

“Armenians are looking for recognition that it happened,” Shahnazarian said. “For political reasons, the United States is one of the holdout countries. It would lift the weight off of people to be recognized.”

“It’s a painful past,” said Danny Donabedian, Armenian National Committee of America – Pasadena Chapter board member. “For far too long the world has sat back and has neglected to resolve the epic miscarriage of justice that is the Armenian Genocide. For as long as the genocide remains unresolved the stain of evil and shame will be engraved permanently on humanity’s legacy.”