By Fr. Abraham Malkhasyan
Pastor, Armenian Church of the Holy Martyrs, Bayside, NY
BAYSIDE, N. Y. — Three years ago, in January 2015, as the Holy Martyrs Genocide Centennial Committee began plans for their year of celebratory events, the idea to symbolically co-name 210th Street from Horace Harding Expressway to 58th Avenue as “Armenia Way,” was born. With the help of Garo Sekdorian, former member of Community Board 11 (CB 11) that serves Bayside and the surrounding communities, Dr. Lynn Cetin (Chair of the Centennial Committee) and I embarked on a mission to make this dream a reality. While Dr. Cetin drafted a letter to the Community Board describing the connection of Armenians to Bayside, I personally went door-to-door to all the neighbors on 210th Street to secure their support of symbolically renaming the street. It was important that they understood that the co-naming would not change their actual address, but just be a symbolic gesture to our community. Navigating the world of community politics was new to me and no easy task. With the tremendous help of Garo Sekdorian, I sent letters to community leaders and politicians seeking support for this project. Despite our efforts and the many connections I made with many prominent community members, the project fizzled and the dream of seeing “Armenia Way” on 210th Street dwindled over the next two years.
Last fall, with a new political climate in the community, I revitalized the street co-naming project and resubmitted an updated letter to Community Board 11. With the support of State Senator Tony Avella and City Council Member Barry Grodenchik, the project regained new life. On December 11, 2017, after almost three years of waiting, I was invited to the Transportation Committee board meeting of CB 11 to present the co-naming project. Dr. Lynn Cetin and I attended the meeting and were excited to hear the committee unanimously vote in approval of the co-naming of 210th Street. Now, one more step was needed – the approval of the entire community board. On January 8, 2018, Dr. Lynn Cetin, Bruce Ashbahian (Holy Martyrs’ 60th Anniversary Co-Chairs) and I attended the CB 11 meeting in Bayside. In my public remarks I thanked the local community for their support of Holy Martyrs and the Armenian community for the past six decades. This co-naming is our way of remembering those who established our community years ago and thanking them. Dr. Cetin told the attendees that Holy Martyrs’ annual Street Festival is a way our community has given back to our neighborhood. “Our community has discussed many times about relocating our church, but we have always said that we love Queens and are grateful to the community here. We hope Queens loves us back!” said Dr. Cetin. Community Board Chair Christine Haider told her own story about her connection to Holy Martyrs. A non-Armenian living in the area, Holy Martyrs was the only available kindergarten for her son 49 years ago. She spoke highly of the school and the education her son received. Eileen Miller, another Community Board member, stated that she has lived down the block from Holy Martyrs for 12 years and complimented our church community for being welcoming to the neighbors of all religious backgrounds.
After three years of waiting and some setbacks, on the evening of January 8 our perseverance prevailed as Community Board 11 voted unanimously to co-name 210th Street from Horace Harding Expressway to 58th Avenue as “Armenia Way.”After the vote, which brought applause and congratulations from all, we immediately texted Garo Sekdorian, who now lives in Florida. “What a beautiful gift to Holy Martyrs on its 60th anniversary!” wrote Garo Sekdorian upon receiving the exciting news.
I am humbled and grateful to all who supported this project from day one. I am especially thankful to our wonderful neighbors on 210th Street and the members of CB 11. I am excited to see “Armenia Way” on the corner of 210th Street and will notify all of you about the official street sign unveiling once I am made aware of the details. Nothing is impossible! We must always believe!