By Hannah Kirijian
On the morning of January 29, 2019, in Los Angeles, teachers arrived at the Armenian schools AGBU Manoogian-Demirdjian School, and Holy Martyrs Ferrahian High School, to find Turkish flags hung around the campuses. It is important to note the weight of the Turkish flag in this context, given that the Ottoman Empire committed genocide in 1915, massacring between 300,000 and 1,500,000 Armenians.
L.A. has one of the largest Armenian populations in the world. Even so, the United States federal government does not officially recognize the Armenian Genocide.
These schools are emblems of Armenian communities’ success at preserving their culture and heritage in the aftermath of the genocide. Holy Martyrs Ferrahian High School was founded in 1955, and AGBU Manoogian-Demirdjian School was founded in 1906. AGBU’s website depicts the school as having “recognized the vital role of education in the self-preservation and sustenance of the Armenian people and the Armenian cultural heritage.”
It is a tragedy that these sanctuaries of education were the targets of hate crimes. The L.A. Times quoted Councilman Paul Koretz, who described the act as the “equivalent of putting a Nazi swastika on the side of a Jewish school.” This sentiment was echoed by AGBU Manoogian-Demirdjian School’s principal, Arpi Avanesian. The L.A. Armenian community is horrified, but Avanesian is not surprised by the incident. She told the Times, “What doesn’t shock me is they did it.” Avanesian’s lack of surprise speaks to the unhealed wounds of the Armenian community, given that the genocide is denied in Turkey and not recognized by 167 other nation states.
CBS Los Angeles quoted a statement from L.A. Councilman Paul Krekokian, in which he said that schools such as these are “sanctuaries of safety, education, culture, and dream-building for thousands of young students.” Luckily, the flags were removed before the children, many of whom had relatives who survived the genocide, arrived at school on Tuesday morning.
The Armenian community has not been silent. Students at Ferrahian High School waved Armenian flags around the campus throughout the day, decorating their school with their heritage and pride.