Small Armenian museum houses a world of history

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One of the reasons why I began this blog is because the Daily News website used to be unreliable. Our stories disappeared and I wanted to collect my favorites in one place. Another reason is that I believe some stories deserve a second chance, especially those that are discovered just by luck.  That was the case with the Ararat Eskijian Museum in Mission Hills. I had been assigned to cover a visit by His Holiness Aram I, the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church at the Ararat Home of Los Angeles.  Near the nursing home is an incredible little museum that houses  art, photographs, music, literature, culture and history of the Armenian people. No one had written about it and I thought I would visit it again when it was time to write about the annual commemoration of the Armenian Genocide.  Above is a statue that greets visitors of a woman protecting her child from the Turks. Below is a photograph displayed inside the museum of two Armenian women armed and ready to fight (circa early 1900s).  From my story:  (Daily News, April, 24, 2012).

They held their children in their arms and carried whatever else they could into the desert:

Bibles that had been in families for centuries. Handmade lace handkerchiefs made for weddings and baptisms. Documents that listed their names and where they were born.

Nearly 100 years after the Armenian Genocide began in the Ottoman Empire, some of those very same items can be found carefully preserved in glass cases and in frames in the San Fernando Valley, a testament of survival.

“People have sudden emotional reactions when they walk in,” said Nora Nalbandian, treasurer and interior designer for the Ararat Eskijian Museum in Mission Hills. “It’s historical, but not so far back that people can’t relate to it.”

Founded and designed by Luther Eskijian, himself a child survivor of the Armenian Genocide, the museum was opened in 1996 near the Ararat Home of Los Angeles, a senior care facility that opened in 1949. The museum houses historical maps, coins, crafts, medals, sketches, musical instruments and a library. While the Armenian Genocide is its focus, the museum also pays tribute to Armenian-Americans who are or have served in the U.S. Armed Forces, and to contemporary writers, such as William Saroyan.

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Many children come for field trips to the museum, as well as scholars, said Maggie Mangassarian-Goschin, who is the curator. But she called the museum a gem that the public at large may not know about.

Although usually only open on Saturday and Sundays, the museum also will be open today – the international day of remembrance of the genocide.

Several events – including lectures and demonstrations – will be held throughout Los Angeles today as Armenians commemorate the genocide. Glendale, as well as parts of the San Fernando are home to the largest diaspora of Armenians outside of Armenian.

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An estimated 1.5 million Armenians died from 1915-23 in what has been called the first genocide of the 20th century.

The Turkish government maintains the deaths were a consequence of betrayal and civil unrest in what was then the Ottoman Empire. Even the genocide has become politicized with both the United States and Turkish governments refusing to call it such. Armenian-American activists have said the U.S. government won’t officially recognize the killings as genocide because it would hurt relations with Turkey, a NATO ally.

“Turks believe it was a civil war within a world war, engineered, provoked, and waged by the Armenians with active support from Russia, England, and France, and passive support from the U.S. diplomats, missionaries, media and others with anti-Turkish agendas, all eyeing the vast territories of the collapsing Ottoman Empire,” said Ergun Kirklikovali, president of the Assembly of Turkish American Associations, based in Washington.

Armenians, however, say the killings involved the systematic cleansing of Christians, which included Assyrians and Pontic Greeks. Priests and intellectuals were beheaded. Women and children were terrorized as they were marched out of their homeland and into the Middle East.

“How do explain 200,000 orphans?” asked Nancy Eskijian, whose father built the museum. “Where were their parents?”

Her grandfather, the Rev. Hovhannes Eskijian, a protestant pastor, dedicated himself to helping those orphans who were left behind after their parents were killed. His prayer robes, which survived after more than a century, also can be seen at the museum.

Rose Garjian, who will turn 104 on May 1 and who lives at the Ararat Home, lived in Killis, Turkey. She remembers when her father told her and her sisters and brother they had to leave home. He did not tell them why, only that they should hurry.

“We left our home and went to the desert,” she said. “I was 10 years old. My father took us to hide. He tried to take us away from the Turks.”

Tucked in a corner of the museum is a glass case filled with shattered bones, remnants of those who died in the Dez Zor desert of Syria.

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Nalbandian and others said the museum stands as proof of what happened to Armenians. And though the survivors such as Garjian are now few, those who came after must not be afraid to speak out.

“Once fear sets in, then there is silence, and when there is silence, that means the enemy has won,” Nalbandian said.

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