Orange County’s Armenian community welcomes news that Irvine is moving ahead with plans for an Armenian genocide memorial in its Great Park.

“It’s an excellent decision, we’re pleased it passed unanimously,” said Garo Madenlian, chairman of the Armenian Cultural Foundation of Orange County and the Orange County Armenian Center.

Councilmember Tammy Kim, who requested the Great Park memorial be considered, said the pain felt from the genocide is universal.

“I felt that it was important to provide a space for contemplation and education,” she said.

As next steps, City Manager Oliver Chi said city staffers are “reaching out and engaging with the project supporters to identify additional details.”

Concurrently, Chi said, city staffers are also putting together a program for considering memorial requests in the future.

He anticipates in the next month or so, staffers will be able to share additional details on the process through which the city will review these types of requests. More details on the location and timeline of the Armenian Genocide memorial will also be shared then, Chi said.

Additionally, Madenlian said, the Armenian community will be putting together a committee to work with the city and the Irvine Great Park Board regarding the design and location of the memorial.

Last year, Irvine Mayor Farrah Khan was in hot water with the Armenian community after a video surfaced in which she appeared to joke and laugh with representatives of Turkish local groups, among them a man who has been outspoken in denying the Armenian Genocide, community members said. Khan, at the time, said the genocide was not a topic of conversation and the video was released out of context; the meeting was one of many she had after winning her election in 2020, she said.

Members of the Armenian community met then with Khan, with her saying she would support finding a place in the city for a memorial remembering the Armenian Genocide. Khan also agreed to approach the Irvine Unified school board about organizing training for educators on teaching about the genocide in collaboration with the Bay Area-based Genocide Education Project. She’s also said she donated $1,500 to the Genocide Education Project.

The teaching program will be a part of the 10th grade history curriculum, Madenlian said, adding the community has not received any pushback on the proposal.

He added that the community has spoken with members of the school district and hopes they can soon take some “practical steps” to start implementing the program.

Approximately 1.2 million Armenians died during the genocide that began in 1915 in the Ottoman Empire, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Most historians agree the deaths and massacres that occurred constitute genocide, with U.S. President Joe Biden formally recognizing the Armenian Genocide in 2021 on Armenian Rememberance Day.  The Turkish government has resisted calling the massacres genocide, saying that while tragedies took place during World War I, no coordinated genocide happened.

Members of the greater Armenian community also welcomed the council’s decision to move ahead with plans for the memorial.

“It would show that the city of Irvine is on the right side of history,” UCI professor of physics and astronomy Kev Abazajian said. “Unfortunately that history is outright denied.”

The memorial will serve as a reminder to the lives lost, said Abazajian, who is himself a descendant of survivors.

It will also remind people “that we should not only approach genocide from a historical perspective. It should serve as the basis to take action and prevent future genocides and massacres, violations of human rights from taking place,” said Sarkis Balkhian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America for the Western Region, the largest Armenian American lobbying organization in the United States.

Artin Melkomians, president of UCI’s Armenian Student Association and a fourth-year student studying biological sciences, said the monument “really meant a lot for us.”

“That exact physical structure is very different than just being able to speak about it,” Melkomians said. He looks forward to hosting commemorative events at the memorial site.

The Orange County Board of Supervisors also recently adopted a unanimous resolution to support Armenian Human Rights and urge the ending of the blockade of the Lachin Corridor.  The Lachin corridor, the only land route giving Armenia direct access to the landlocked region of Nagorno-Karabakh or Artsakh, has been blocked since Dec. 12. While the region is part of Azerbaijan, its population is predominantly ethnic Armenian.

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