Mount Davidson Cross Anniversary Celebrated in San Francisco

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SAN FRANCISCO — The Council of Armenian American Organizations of Northern California (CAAONC) celebrated the 20th anniversary of their inception and acquisition of the Mount Davidson Cross in San Francisco with a banquet which took place at the Green Hills Country Club in Millbrae, on Saturday February 18.

Mount Davidson Cross, a San Francisco Historical Landmark, sits on the highest point in San Francisco, surrounded by the Mount Davidson Park. In 1923, the first cross was erected in commemoration of California pioneers, and in 1933 became a 103-foot permanent concrete steel monument. President Franklin D. Roosevelt inaugurated the lighting of the cross via telegraph from the White House on March 24, 1934. Sunrise services were held at the cross every Easter, and were broadcast nationwide from the 1940’s through the 1970’s. In the 1990s, the Cross, which was on public property, became the subject of debate among the residents of San Francisco as they tried to weigh its religious role against its status as a historic landmark. That is when the San Francisco Armenian community stepped in. In 1997, after a long legal battle the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals approved its sale and the city auctioned 0.38 acres of land, including the cross, to a private entity. San Francisco voters cast their ballots and gave public support of the sale to CAAONC on November 4, 1997. The cross is lit up twice a year, on Easter and on April 24. Easter Sunrise services continue to take place at the cross for 94 years now. Annual Genocide Commemoration activities are also held at the cross.

Mount Davidson Cross serves as a symbol of unity for different faiths, and as of 1997 became a memorial to the victims of the 1915-1923 Armenian Genocide and all crimes against humanity. The Council of Armenian American Organizations of Northern California owns, preserves and maintains the site for use of residents of San Francisco and its visitors. In addition to being the steward of the Cross, CAAONC also serves as the umbrella organization for the coalition of more than 35 Armenian churches and organizations of the greater San Francisco Bay Area.

The 20th anniversary banquet was organized by Banquet Chair Judy Jingirian. The Mistress of Ceremonies was Kimberly Bardakian, who connected with the audience, was gracious in acknowledging the guests, inviting speakers and encouraging support of the Mount Davidson Cross and the Council.

The evening started with the invocation by Clergy of all of the Bay Area Armenian Churches: Very Rev. Barouyr Shernezian of St. Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church of San Francisco; Northern Region Vicar, Rev. Datev Harutyunian of St. Andrew Armenian Church of Cupertino; Rev. Hovel Ohanyan of St. Vartan Armenian Church of Oakland and Rev. Nerses Balabanian of Calvary Armenian Congregational Church of San Francisco. Following the invocation, the chairman of CAAONC, Sevag Kevranian, welcomed the guests and thanked the council board members and other volunteers for their dedication and efforts.

The guest of honor, Archbishop Aris Shrivanian of Jerusalem, who spearheaded the acquisition of the Mount Davidson Cross 20 years ago, was scheduled to attend the event, but due to last minute circumstances beyond his control unable to travel to San Francisco. Instead he sent his message via video presentation, where he spoke of the importance of the cross as a symbol, and as to its importance to the Armenian Community as a Memorial of the Genocide of 1915.

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The audience was treated to moving renditions of Groong, Dzirani Dzar and Horovel by Karo and Nadima Avakian. The talented Naiyry Sarkiss played piano selections throughout the evening.

The keynote speaker was Dr. Mary Papazian, president of San Jose State University. Papazian spoke passionately and presented an eloquent speech, which touched every member in the audience and received a standing ovation. She made the connections between the Cross, our history, the Genocide, the efforts of rebirth in America, the disastrous earthquake in Armenia and the Armenian independence, progress in Armenia, the uneven relationship between Armenia and diaspora, and, pilgrimage to Western historic Armenia. She made the point that “A patriotic Armenian-American, is a patriotic American!” Her concluding remarks were: …”as the Mt. Davidson Cross stands 103 feet tall on the highest point in San Francisco, lit up on Easter and on April 24th, it reminds all who see it of the beacon of light and hope, not only for Armenians, but for our common humanity and all who cross its path.”

The program concluded with benediction by Bay Area clergy.