Vartan Malakian's parents are now dead. But the owner of Arka Gallery in Glendale remembers his mother's stories well. As a young girl in Marash in 1915, she watched as her brother-in-law, niece and other relatives were knifed to death by Turkish soldiers.
On Monday, Malakian's intimate shop of art and antiques will be dark, closed in commemoration of the Armenian genocide that unfolded 85 years ago.
His is one of thousands of Armenian-owned groceries, bakeries, law firms, medical offices, jewelry manufacturers, beauty salons and other small businesses that close each April 24 in memory of a slaughter that is often forgotten.
In Los Angeles--home to the largest concentration of Armenians outside Armenia--the business closures serve as both passionate personal remembrance and community effort to draw attention to the systematic killing of 1.5 million Armenians between 1915 and 1923--considered by many historians to be the 20th century's first genocide.
The widespread business shutdown is also testament to the present: As many as 350,000 Armenians live in the Los Angeles region. Thousands--although exact numbers are hard to come by--have launched their own enterprises, contributing to the Southland's thriving small-business economy.
"The Armenian population in Glendale has been rising steadily for the last 15 years and, as the economy improved, more and more have chosen to open and operate their own businesses," said Berdj Karapetian, immediate past president of the Glendale Chamber of Commerce.
"We've been observing a flourishing of Armenian American-owned businesses for the last four or five years," he said.
Karapetian estimated the number of Armenian-owned businesses in Glendale--where Armenians make up a quarter of the population--at 2,000. He will take the day off from his job at Charter Communications; his wife will close her adult health day-care center.
With no single chamber of commerce representing the disparate business owners--many of whom immigrated in waves over the last three decades from Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Syria, the Soviet Union and modern-day Armenia, it is hard to gauge their economic impact.
But on Monday, the lightly traveled streets of Glendale and the absence of hundreds of jewelers from the downtown jewelry district will tell that story.
"If you're driving through Glendale on April 24, it's pretty barren," said Ara Khachatourian, English section editor of the Asbarez Daily. "It's the one day in the year that every Armenian, regardless of whatever political belief they have, goes along with."
The genocide unfolded as a nationalist group called the Young Turks took control of what remained of the multicultural Ottoman Empire, which had recently lost Bulgaria, Libya, Crete and the Balkans.
The Turkish government has long denied the allegations of genocide, saying those who died were casualties of war.
Many Armenians will attend a commemorative event at the Armenian Martyrs Monument in Montebello's Bicknell Park on Monday afternoon. Others plan to protest at the Turkish Consulate that morning or to attend another commemorative gathering at the county building in downtown Los Angeles.
But to many business owners, closing up shop is an effort to educate.
"Every year we remind all the non-Armenian people," said Sarkis, who asked that his last name and business name not be used.
Sarkis, who has been in the bakery business since 1949, emigrated from Lebanon in 1976, opening his Glendale store 12 years ago. There, photos of Armenian heroes, Mt. Ararat and maps of the Armenian homeland--where Armenians lived uninterrupted for 3,000 years before the genocide--adorn the walls. An oil painting hangs near the front door, depicting a bleeding heart filled with the images of pain and suffering caused by the Turkish campaign.
The bakery closes only three days yearly--on Christmas, New Year's and April 24. Sarkis says the economic sacrifice is well worth it.
Leon Chant Haytayan, vice president of the 200-member Armenian Jewelers Assn., will shutter his shop as well, passing up an estimated $5,000 to $10,000 in revenue. Most of the other association members will also close for the day, he said.
"The main goal is to [let people know] the reason why all these people are locking up their businesses and losing so many business dollars," he said. "If we don't give the victims of the genocide that respect for one day, the history will eventually die and vanish. This is what keeps the torch passing on."
Official denials by the Turkish government--in the face of living testimonials and historical documentation--have caused the Armenian community ongoing pain, says UCLA history professor Richard Hovannisian, who organized a conference on the subject earlier this month.