On a stretch of Colorado Street in Glendale, a short distance from the Americana at Brand mall, construction crews are hard at work on a building’s foundation and an underground parking lot.
Armenian American Museum Opens in Glendale
All a visitor can see are concrete pillars and rebar sticking out of the ground. But standing on a patch of gravel facing the construction site, Shant Sahakian points to an imaginary doorway to the future Armenian American Museum.
“We are looking at the north entrance of the building,” said Sahakian, the museum’s executive director. “And it’s from here that you would enter and be greeted by the grand lobby.”
Armenian community leaders began making plans for the museum in 2014, around the same time they were planning the big march of april 2015 in los angeles commemorating the centenary of the Armenian Genocide.
“It was for, ‘How do we honor and remember the last hundred years?’ And the second project was: ‘How can we build for the next hundred?’ Sahakian said.
After weighing various ideas — like monuments, a church, a school — the idea for a museum and cultural center won out, said Sahakian, who also sits on the Glendale School Board.
A broad coalition that includes educators, researchers, business and religious leaders, as well as an international museum design firm worked on the project. A capital campaign has so far raised $31 million in public and private donations, Sahakian said, including state and county grants and a $1-a-year lease on the Glendale land.
Sahakian said the current construction budget – which does not include exhibits – is $35 million.
Marking thousands of years of history
The next step is the development of the museum’s permanent exhibition, which is in the planning phase. Sahakian and other organizers say that although the museum began with the commemoration of the genocide, it will be about much more.
“Armenian history goes back thousands of years,” he said. “We have a rich history, traditions, a culture that we also want to highlight.”
Plans for the museum, which is expected to open in the summer of 2024, are ambitious: organizers say it will explore Armenian history as well as contemporary Armenian culture and its contributions.
There will be an indoor auditorium for things like lectures and screenings, as well as an adjacent outdoor amphitheater in Glendale’s small Central Park, which is reconfigured by the city to house the museum. Inside, there will also be a demonstration kitchen, where visitors can experience and taste Armenian cuisine.
the the armenian genocidein which it is believed that up to 1.5 million Armenians lost their lives at the hands of the Ottoman Empire, will also play an important role.
“I am someone, but I am nobody”
Oral histories, including those of genocide survivors, will be essential in telling the whole story, said Shushan Karapetian, associate director of the Institute of Armenian Studies at USC.
“Because the genocide is not just the brutality, but it is what has been lost – including language, including culture, including heritage,” said Karapetian, a member of the permanent exhibitions committee of the museum.
These accounts will likely include interviews with survivors curated by USC’s Shoah Foundation, which is also involved in the museum project.
An example: a 1985 interview conducted in Australia by the Armenian Film Foundation with a man named Jirair Suchiasian, who was orphaned by the genocide as a young child.
Armenian history is still being written. And so we see the building as a living, breathing building that will evolve as Armenian history also evolves.
— Shant Sahakian, Executive Director of the Armenian American Museum
In the interview, Suchiasian, who was adopted, said he never knew who his biological parents were or his real name.
“I don’t know what my name is, where I was born, who (were) my parents,” Suchiasian says in the recording, provided to LAist by the Shoah Foundation. “Now I’m here, I’m somebody, but I’m nobody.”
Stories like Suchiasian’s can bring the weight of Armenian American heritage to life, said Sedda Antekelian, education and outreach specialist at the Shoah Foundation and a member of the museum’s permanent exhibits committee. She said other oral histories that can be included can give voice to more contemporary issues, like the dual identities of Armenian Americans.
“Armenians were global before globalization became a thing”
“For me, what this museum offers is this opportunity for the next generation of Armenian descendants…to find out, ‘What does it mean to be Armenian?’ “said Antekelian. “What does this identity look like through time?”
USC’s Karapetian, who studies the language, said the migration of Armenians to the United States and so many other countries before and after the genocide has created a rich and evolving diaspora history worth exploring. .
“Armenian history is a history not only of diaspora, capital D, but of diasporas, isn’t it? Armenians were global before the world was a thing,” she laughed. “So I think one of my goals is to highlight the kind of plurality and multipolarity of the Armenian experience.”
Karapetian said this could be captured, for example, in an exhibition about the different and evolving versions of spoken Armenian around the world – like what she and others lovingly call “Armglish” as it is. spoken here in Southern California, in the largest Armenian community in the United States.
“My big goal, however we go about it, is to make language something accessible, tangible and playful and to give people a sense of belonging, regardless of your skill,” Karapetian said. .
Sahakian, the museum’s executive director, said that kind of approach is exactly what the Armenian American Museum is all about.
“We want it to be a place that honors our past, but we also want it to be a place that builds our future,” Sahakian said. “Armenian history is still being written. And so we see the building as a living, breathing building that will evolve as Armenian history also evolves.
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