Anniversary of Armenian Genocide remembered by artists

20090422_070040_do23-armenian11.jpgBy Susan Abram
Kaloust Guedel with his mixed media artwork of a variety of Genocides. Armenian Artists have come together for an exhibit at the Brand Library Gallery that is inspired by the Armenian Genocide. Photographed in Glendale, CA 4/16/2009. (John McCoy/Staff Photographer) GLENDALE

The story of mass murder unfolds within a single room brightened by a skylight and filled with paintings, sculptures and still frames.

In one corner sits a wooden cart made by an artist named Zareh. The cart carries a stockpot holding a skeleton and a sign that reads: “Turkish Soup made with Armenian Bones.”

On a wall nearby lean three canvas panels filled with black-and-white photographs of emaciated men, women and children. The piece, compiled by artist Kaloust Guedel, is called: “Before Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur.”

The works are displayed in a new exhibit titled “Man’s Inhumanity to Man” that opened recently at Glendale’s Brand Library Art Galleries, just as the worldwide Armenian community


Harout Kazanjian with his sculpture. Armenian Artists have come together for an exhibit at the Brand Library Gallery that is inspired by the Armenian Genocide. Photographed in Glendale, CA 4/16/2009. (John McCoy/Staff Photographer) marks the 94th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide Friday.
“It raises the question of what could have been avoided,” Guedel said one recent day at the galleries.

In Guedel’s view, if the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians by Turkish hands beginning in 1915 had been recognized for a genocide, then future atrocities such as the Holocaust, the Pol Pot massacres and those in Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur, could have been avoided.


As the anniversary of the genocide is marked with somber reflection on Friday locally in Glendale – home of the largest Armenian community outside Armenia itself – and beyond, the community will be looking toward the Obama administration for affirmation.

They are frustrated that the United States has never acknowledged the killings as genocide, in part to maintain good relations with Turkey, a NATO ally.

But they also say never before has a U.S. president been so assertive in recognizing the massive deaths of Armenians as a genocide. Acknowledgment of that one word, avoided for years by the United States and Turkey, could help close gaping wounds, some say.

“The community is seeking clarity from the American government, to stop in the


Farzad Kohan created the words “Peace” in different languages for his work titled “Peace.” Armenian Artists have come together for an exhibit at the Brand Library Gallery that is inspired by the Armenian Genocide. Photographed in Glendale, CA 4/16/2009. (John McCoy/Staff Photographer) assistance of denial,” said Andrew Kzirian, executive director of the Glendale-based Armenian National Committee Western Region.
“For years now, we’ve seen that the U.S. has abetted that denial.”

Turkey has acknowledged that large numbers of Armenians died between 1915 to 1923 but has denied that it was genocide. Instead, its leaders say their deaths, and those of Pontian Greeks and Assyrians, were the result of civil unrest during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

President Barack Obama, who traveled to Turkey this month, indicated during his campaign that he recognized the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians in the former Ottoman Empire as a systematic genocide.

But when asked about his stance while visiting Turkish President Abdullah Gul earlier this month Obama simply said: “I have not changed my views.”

“We thought it was a missed opportunity, especially with the audience he had,” Kzirian said.

Obama’s avoidance was disappointing, but his caution should not be interpreted as a broken promise given current wars in the Middle East and the economic crisis, said Levon Marashlian, professor of history and Middle East politics at Glendale Community College.

A difficult position

Many presidential candidates have supported backing a nonbinding resolution to recognize the Armenian Genocide, then have pulled back at the last minute because of influence from the State Department.

“Obama finds himself in the most difficult position than any other president before him,” Marashlian said.

“The Iraq war is continuing, and Turkey’s position is important. With Afghanistan, Obama needs additional support. I believe if it were not for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama would have recognized it, but we’re also confronted with an unusual unprecedented economic crisis.”

Marashlian said Obama’s statement in Turkey moved the issue forward, but he said the U.S. should not give in to Turkey simply because it is an ally.

For their part, Turkish officials said they will be listening to any speeches Obama plans for Friday.

Future relations between themselves, Americans and Armenia could be challenged depending on how Obama addresses “the events of 1915.”

“Any initiative, any statement would damage that process,” said Hakan Tekin, Los Angeles-based consul general of Turkey.

Tekin said his government has urged the formation of a commission of Turkish, Armenian and third-party scholars to study the killings.

“We believe we can reach a common ground in that regard,” Tekin said. “Let’s open our archives and see what happens. What ever the commission finds, we will accept.”

But Armenian leaders have rebuffed that idea out of skepticism such a commission would ever actually be formed.

For many Armenians, the story of massive roundups, of death marches and beheadings have been handed down by grandparents who managed to survive, but who grew up scarred and forgotten.

“All of my grandparents were survivors,” said musician Serj Tankian, a solo artist, activist and frontman for the multiplatinum rock band System of a Down.

Recognition by Obama would “honor their memory as survivors of the genocide.”

Tankian, who has posted a video on YouTube with other activists, is urging President Obama to affirm his pledge and officially recognize the Armenian Genocide.

“I personally think he is going to do it,” Tankian said. “He is the best-positioned American president in generations to help bring about real change… our best hope to bring the peoples of the world together to end the cycle of genocide.”

Back inside the Brand Library, the “Man’s Inhumanity to Man” exhibit presents three aspects of atrocity and its aftermath, including hope, survival, and forgiveness.

“My art is about freeing myself from the anger and heartache,” said artist Harout Kazanjian. His sculpture, “Affirmation of Life,” was inspired by his mother’s ability to forgive “the cruelty of the perpetrators.” The piece depicts a winged creature atop a bone, to signify that life rises from death.

Kazanjian said he looks forward to the day when Armenians can be ready to move forward.

“To forgive is to free yourself,” Kazanjian said.

Artist Farzad Kohan’s work, four differently colored canvas panels each depicting a symbol of the word peace, takes freedom to the next level.

“It is saying, there could be a place in the world where people could coexist,” he said. “Where we can all come together and be happy.”