In the summer of 1968, 20 people from the Armenian community gathered together to attend a young woman’s wedding. After forming a choir group at the event, they decided to create a committee with seven members to meet the cultural needs of the small Armenian community in Vancouver. Originally called the Armenian Christian Cultural Association of British Columbia, they eventually dropped the “Christian” to become the Armenian Cultural Association of British Columbia (ACA).
The non-profit organization is dedicated to preserving and promoting the heritage and culture of Armenian people. Since its establishment, the association has grown and expanded on a large scale due to the work of its members and volunteers. Throughout its 45 years, ACA has organized many events like lectures, concerts and banquets, as well as running a weekly Armenian school and radio program on Vancouver’s Co-op Radio.
Building community through business
Along with the association, the growth of the Armenian community is assisted by local businesses and individuals.
One example is the establishment of La Majoun Bakery, specializing in lamajoun bread. What started out as a small commercial kitchen in Surrey now delivers wholesale products to clients as far as Calgary, Ontario and Northern B.C.
While La Majoun Bakery facilitates Armenian traditions by allowing people to enjoy freshly baked cultural foods and breads they love and miss, it also fosters relationships within the community.
“When delivering products to our customers we often make new friends – the acquaintances of Armenians – who for some reason do not participate in community events. I am glad that I personally introduced many “hidden” Armenians to our community, and they eventually made friends with other members. Thus our community becomes greater,” explains Serge Maranjyan, president of the bakery.
Passing on the torch
Alongside fostering a wider appreciation of Armenian history, traditions and values, the Armenian Cultural Association of B.C. also aims to provide a means for the younger generation to know their heritage and culture.
“Our culture means our heritage, our values. It’s what we need to pass on to our children –
in order for our language not to get lost. It’s important for many Armenians to ensure our kids speak the language, understand where we came from, and know our long history,” says treasurer Ani Geragosian.
Because of this traditional belief, the association recently put on a youth talent project featuring young Armenian artists, singers, and actors to showcase them to the community. Participants of this initiative host a talent show and also assist with ACA’s radio show.
“This gives them confidence, self-esteem, recognition within the community and also growth in their ventures,” Gerogosian says.
Astighik Harapetian, president of the Armenian Student Association of UBC, believes preserving one’s culture and heritage is crucial to shaping the community for young people to thrive.
“I can say from being a diasporan Armenian, no matter where you are, no matter what language or languages you speak, what you eat, or what you wear, your upbringing ensures you will never lose your sense of being Armenian,” says Harapetian.
She grew up in a very large Armenian American community in Los Angeles.
“A lot of who I am is thanks to that community,” says Harapetian.
Reflecting on History
From 1895 to 1922, the Ottoman Empire – in what is now present-day Turkey – had forced the deportation of many Armenians to “relocation centers” in the deserts of Syria and Mesopotamia. On April 23 and 24, 1915, Armenian political, religious, educational and intellectual leaders in Istanbul were arrested, deported to the interior and put to death.
The Armenian genocide and systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing, carried out by the Turkish government during the time of World War I, has left many adverse impacts on the Armenian community today.
“We all know that history plays a big role in the lives of all people. Crimes against humanity, such as the Armenian genocide, have impacted our people in many ways,” explains Greg Yaghdjian, executive director and chairman of ACA’s Trustee Board. “Our culture cannot help but be affected by an event of this magnitude. Our literature, music, arts etc. have all been affected by the genocide.”
For Yaghdjian, the acknowledgement and condemnation of committed genocides is crucial for their prevention in the future. Non-acknowledgement or willful ignorance of genocide, he believes, pave the way for the repetition of new crimes against humanity.
In 2004, Canada passed a resolution in the House of Commons denouncing the Turks for the atrocities committed in 1915. After decades of avoiding the sensitive issue, the Canadian government officially recognized the event as “genocide” instead of calling it a “tragedy.”
The motion states, “This House acknowledges the Armenian genocide of 1915 and condemns this act as a crime against humanity.”
According to Harapetian, representing history accurately is paramount to moving forward.
“The Armenian genocide is undoubtedly and unfortunately a large part of the Armenian identity – it means we [need to] know first-hand the importance of truth, and the importance of supporting one another,” she says.