Heritage Park Ceremonial Groundbreaking, Blessing, amid Nostalgia, Hope for Future

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By Alin K. Gregorian
Mirror-Spectator Staff

BOSTON — About 1,000 members of the Greater Boston Armenian community came together as one on Thursday, September 9, for the ceremonial groundbreaking and blessing of the Armenian Heritage Park along the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway.

The audience, comprising everyone from infants to seniors, and from every church and Armenian organization in the state, witnessed as Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II, in only his third trip to the United States, took the stage to bless the site and recite a prayer for the souls of Armenian Genocide martyrs as well as the generations to come.

Karekin II performed a service of blessing of the site and prayer for the soul of the martyrs, as well as a prayer for peace and prosperity in the Commonwealth.

Speaking in English, Karekin II thanked the community for extending an invitation to him “to be in Boston and to share in this happy occasion. Your city has played an important role in America,” he said, where the “undefeatable spirit of my people” has found a home.

From left, Mayor Thomas Menino, Rep. Michael Capuano, James Kalustian, Catholicos Karekin II, Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Gov. Deval Patrick and state Rep. Peter Koutoujian
Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, Prelate, Prelacy of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern), left, and Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate, Diocese of the Armenian Church of America share a light moment.

The Armenians who fled the Ottoman Empire, he said, “were received with care and kindness. They became worthy citizens of this great country. [Later] our boys fought alongside their Irish, Italian and African-American neighbors” in World War II.

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This monument, he said, is in memory of all victims of genocide, including the Holocaust, Rwanda, Cambodia and Darfur.

“It is a symbol of survival, rebirth, renewal and service.”

He thanked the city of Boston and the Commonwealth for “their friendship, support and steadfast adherence to the values of tolerance, equality and love.”

And to the Armenians in the audience, he said, “We bring thanks from the Homeland for keeping your Armenian values and culture. May God bless you now and forever.”

George Najarian, left, with former governor Michael Dukakis.
Dr. Carolann Najarian, left, with Rachel Kaprielian

Joining Karekin II on stage were Gov. Deval Patrick, US Rep. Michael Capuano (D- 8th District), state Rep. Peter Koutoujian (D-Waltham), Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and Heritage Park Foundation President James Kalustian.

Karekin II was flanked by the Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern) Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Prelate of the Prelacy of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern) Oshagan Choloyan and Diocesan Legate Archbishop Vicken Aykazian.

Similarly, members of the clergy from the Diocese and the Prelacy stood together.

Among other dignitaries present and pointed out by Koutoujian, who served as emcee, were former Massachusetts governor, Michael Dukakis, and his wife, Kitty, as well as former state Representatives Rachel Kaprielian and Warren Tolman, state Representatives Jonathan Hecht (D-Watertown) and Aaron Michlewitz (D-North End), and state Senators Steven Tolman (D-2nd Suffolk and Middlesex Districts) and Anthony Petruccelli (D-East Boston).

Koutoujian said that the realization of the park was touching for him and the people of his generation, as he grew up with grandparents who tried to erase the memories of what they had seen during the Genocide in their new country.

The location of the park, Koutoujian said, was especially appropriate, as it is flanked by Faneuil Hall, where “some of the first debates on human rights” took place, and a park honoring Christopher Columbus, at the edge of Boston’s North End.

Menino said Boston is made up of neighborhoods and that diversity is what makes the city such a popular destination.

He also pointed out and thanked Peter Meade, chairman of the Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy, for his efforts; the crowd was tepid at best in clapping for him, as he was a long-time opponent of the project.

The residents of the mostly Italian-American North End neighborhood were universally praised for their cooperation during the protracted process.

Menino spoke about the residents’ solidarity with their Armenian compatriots. “They got the job done the right way,” said Menino. “Yes we had a few bumps in the road, but … not only does this pay tribute to our diversity, it pays tribute to our heritage — without taxpayer dollars.”

Capuano, who represents the North End in the House and who is a member of the House Caucus on Armenian Affairs, said the celebration of ethnic heritage by various communities “doesn’t make us different; it makes us respectful.”

He added, “The North End welcomed the Armenian people.”

He both acknowledged the Genocide and praised Turkey as a vital US ally.

“People try to rewrite history. The Armenian Genocide is one of [those cases], he said.

“I regard the Turkish government as an ally, but that doesn’t give them the right to deny history.” He concluded his remarks by saying, “Congratulations. It’s been a long time coming.”

Patrick, who received thunderous applause, thanked his “brothers and sisters,” adding, “I am so proud to stand with you today and to pay tribute to human perseverance. It is an acknowledgement of a historical event that cannot be denied; it must be acknowledged, but it has value beyond that tragedy.”

“Every ethnic group wants to do better than previous generations. This is a remarkable country unlike any other in human history. We are organized around a handful of civic ideas,” rather than an ethnic background, common religion or point of origin, he said.

About 1,000 people were present at the event.

Knights, Kalustian Praised

Koutoujian praised Charlie Guleserian and Haig Deranian of the Knights of Vartan, as well as “the third guardian,” James Kalustian, for making the park a reality.

He said of Kalustian, “No one else could have brought us to this point.” The 38 board members of the foundation, he said, voted unanimously on every decision, no mean feat, thanks to Kalustian’s team-building efforts, he said.

Kalustian, visibly touched, thanked the Armenian community for giving “a gift of $6 million” to the City of Boston, as not only the park will be constructed with funds raised privately, but it will be maintained with this fund. In addition, a related lecture series will be launched on human rights at Faneuil Hall, again funded privately, in that case, by George and Dr. Carolann Najarian.

The park, Kalustian said, is a tribute to Armenians who escaped “tragedy and misfortune and found safety in the harbor of Boston. … We have not and will not forget the tragedy of the Armenian Genocide and we have to make sure” that similar catastrophes do not occur again.

He stressed that Armenians in the state do not define themselves solely by the Genocide; indeed, he said, the community has produced many notables in the world of art, including Arshile Gorky, Yusuf Karsh and Alan Hovhaness, as well as people like Moses Gulesian, whose efforts saved Old Ironsides from being turned into scrap metal.

Speaking in Armenian, he said the community is “one spirit and one body, in order to help realize the dream of our people.” Kalustian thanked Patrick as “a man of integrity and character. He did it because [he felt] it was the right thing to do. Governor Patrick, thank you does not seem enough.”

He also thanked committee member Barbara Tellalian, and her husband, architect Donald Tellalian, who designed the site and the monument that will go on it. He also thanked “all our friends in the North End and the Waterfront District.”

Donald Tellalian, speaking after the event, agreed, “our friends in the North End thought it was terrific.”

He noted that he has been involved with the project for seven years. “I was really very impressed by the pomp and circumstance of it all and very pleased to see that so many of our community came out to celebrate this event. I am very, very, pleased that Mayor Menino and Governor Patrick again showed their support. It speaks to the friendships that Jim Kalustian has made and the relationships that Peter Koutoujian has.”

Victoria Avetisyan and Yeghishe Manucharian sang the Armenian and American national anthems, while a chorus comprising members of the Holy Trinity, St. James and St. Stephen’s Armenian Churches’ choruses, sang hymns.

Also present were students from St. Stephen’s Armenian Elementary School, as well as the Armenian Sisters’ Academy.

The park is expected to be completed within one year.

A chorus comprising members of three area Armenian churches sings hymns.

The Knights of Vartan flank state Rep. Peter Koutoujian, Gov. Deval Patrick and Rachel Kaprielian.