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Glendale Won't Lower Flags for Armenian Event

Observance: City seeks to avoid flap of last year when colors were put at half-staff to mark Day of Remembrance.

April 24, 2002|KRISTINA SAUERWEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Breaking tradition and ending months of controversy, no American flags will be lowered on Glendale's city buildings during today's worldwide observance of the Armenian genocide.

Instead, the foothill community--home to the highest proportion of residents of Armenian descent of any city outside of Armenia--will host an evening of educational lectures and a video, songs and an art exhibit to commemorate the most solemn day in the Armenian community.

Roughly one-third of Glendale's 190,000 residents are of Armenian descent.

"We want to educate the community and pay our respects," said Glendale Mayor Rafi Manoukian, whose grandparents survived the genocide.

City officials did not want to repeat the flap that ensued last year when then-Mayor Gus Gomez, like his predecessors, ordered the American flag flown at half-staff at city buildings on the Armenian Day of Remembrance.

The gesture led to an unsuccessful attempt to recall the mayor and sparked underlying ethnic tensions in Los Angeles County's third-largest city.

City's Commemoration Approach Is Praised

"The city's heart was in the right place, but lowering the flag diverted attention from the genocide," said Levon Marashlian, a history instructor at Glendale Community College. "It gave some people an excuse to bash Armenians."

Marashlian, who will participate in tonight's event with a talk on Americans who supported Armenians during the genocide, praised the idea of a commemoration.

"It has more substance and depth," he said. "People can learn from it."

Earlier this year, the city formed a committee of 26 residents to plan a less divisive way to honor the 1.5 million Armenians who died when Turkish soldiers rounded up and massacred artists, leaders and intellectuals to "cleanse" the country of non-Muslims.

The Turkish government has denied the 1915 event ever occurred.

Many of those who objected to lowering the American flag last April said they believe the genocide occurred but questioned the propriety of the gesture.

"It was inappropriate," said Joe Mandoky, a longtime Glendale resident who spearheaded the recall effort.

"It's about flag respect," Mandoky said.

"You can't do a special favor for one group without taking away from another group," said Mandoky, a real estate agent who is known for lugging a giant cross around town as part of his Christian ministry.

Mandoky, however, supports the city's efforts this year to honor genocide victims and survivors. "It's inclusive of all groups," he said.

Tonight's program at the Glendale Civic Auditorium, scheduled from 5:30 to 9 p.m., is one in a series of weeklong activities that reflect on the Armenian genocide and other crimes against humanity, including the Holocaust and atrocities in Rwanda and against Native Americans.

Glendale's "Week of Remembrance" will conclude at 6 p.m. Friday with a poetry reading, music, dance and a candlelight vigil at City Hall.

Commemorations also will be held in other parts of Los Angeles County, home to an estimated 350,000 Armenian Americans.

Hundreds are expected to march at 11 a.m. today through Little Armenia in Hollywood, between Sunset and Hobart boulevards.

California's first lady, Sharon Davis, will attend a 12:30 p.m. gathering today at the Armenian Genocide Martyr's Monument at Bicknell Park in Montebello. And between 4 and 6:30 p.m.today, a demonstration is scheduled at the Turkish Consulate at 4801 Wilshire Blvd.

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