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Freeway signs in Montebello take note of Armenian genocide

The signs next to the Pomona Freeway direct motorists to the Armenian Genocide Martyrs Monument, which draws thousands of Armenians each April 24 to commemorate the 1915 massacre. Armenians say a freeway marker could lead to wider acknowledgement of the deaths of 1.5 million.

April 02, 2011|By Bob Pool, Los Angeles Times
  • At an emotional ceremony, Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian of the Armenian Apostolic Church blesses a new sign along the 60 Freeway.
At an emotional ceremony, Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian of the Armenian… (Bob Chamberlin, Los Angeles…)

It's only a sign.

But the large green message board unveiled next to the Pomona Freeway packed an emotional punch for those gathered Friday in Montebello.

"Armenian Genocide Martyrs Monument Next Exit," it reads.

A pair of the directional signs, authorized by the state Legislature, point the way to a memorial tower above Garfield Avenue that commemorates the attempt a century ago to eliminate Armenians from the Ottoman Empire.

People of Armenian descent from throughout Los Angeles gathered beneath the tower to thank state officials for recognizing their history — and for perhaps leading the way to what they hope is wider acknowledgement of the massacre of 1.5 million people.

Leaders of modern-day Turkey dispute the "genocide" label. The United States, worried about U.S.-Turkish relations, has not taken a formal position on the subject.

The directional signs will likely send "shockwaves" through those who fail to recognize the impact that the killings and deportations still have on Armenians around the world, said Grigor Hovhannisyan, Armenia's consul general.

"This is an international event that will be heard around the world," agreed Levon Kirakosian, a Glendale lawyer who helped organize the ceremony.

"These words are now nailed on the wall for all to see."

Legislation authorizing the signs was authored by state Assemblyman Charles Calderon (D-Whittier), who recalled growing up in Montebello and being influenced by his boyhood best friend's Armenian grandmother.

"This is not just another freeway sign," Calderon told the crowd of about 200.

The six-legged memorial tower, dedicated in 1968, draws thousands of Armenians each April 24 to commemorate the 1915 massacre. Calderon described the tower as "a beacon that stands in the night" for human rights.

Although there are few living survivors of the massacre — ceremony organizers say one of them, Montebello resident Hrant Zeitounzian, was 100 when he died Wednesday— Los Angeles-area Armenians labor to keep their history alive among younger generations.

"We're here today because of the hard work of our grandparents and great-grandparents," said Kevork Tutunjian, a 25-year-old writer from Glendale. "I'll make sure this monument resonates with my great-grandkids."

Garabed Armoudikian, 61, a Pasadena service station operator, held Armenian and American flags as he watched the ceremony. He predicted that the display will prompt discussion among those who travel the Pomona Freeway and who may be unaware of Armenian history.

And that's a good sign, Armoudikian said.

bob.pool@latimes.com

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