Gary Deratzou lives comfortably in a quiet Sunrise neighborhood with his wife, Doris. Despite his relatively peaceful life, he remembers tragic stories shared by his mother, who lived through the Armenian Genocide of 1915. His close connection with his mother is what led him to sponsor a statue to remember the women who survived the massacre, reads an article by Sandy Lopez published by the Las Vegas Review Journal.
“My wife and I used to travel around the world, and we would stop at different Armenian centers,” Deratzou said. “We never saw anything to honor the Armenian women that escaped the genocide. I wanted to bring my mother’s intentions out into the world and give credit to these women.”
Deratzou was born in Aleppo, Syria, shortly after his father and mother escaped the Armenian Genocide, which occurred in present-day Turkey. The genocide took place during World War I and killed an estimated 1.5 million people.
Michelle Tusan, professor of history at UNLV, said the Armenian Genocide became recognized as a systematic attempt to exterminate the Armenian community.
The event is commemorated on April 24, when the government rounded up hundreds of leaders of the Armenian community and subjected them to deportation and then executed most of them.
“My mom said that the massacre was very harsh,” Deratzou said. “She remembered those times and told me stories about how much the women suffered.”
Although men were initially targeted, the genocide forced the deportation of many women and children through the harsh conditions of the Middle Eastern desert.
“The women showed great courage and strength during the most horrible of times,” Tusan said. “These mothers and children survived in the most inhospitable circumstances. The survival (of Armenians) was really based on the courage of these women.”
Deratzou and his wife moved to Las Vegas 28 years ago from the East Coast. Since moving to the city, Deratzou has been involved with the Armenian community.
In 1988, he founded the Armenian American Cultural Society of Las Vegas. He has since retired from his position of president, but the society is still active with nearly 60 members.
Adroushan “Andy” Armenian, secretary of the St. Garabed Armenian Apostolic Church of Las Vegas and a member of the Armenian American Cultural Society, said the group continues to honor the memory of the millions of
Armenians who lost their lives during the 1915 genocide through events and memorials at the church.
With the help of Armenians, Deratzou was able to track down sculptor Roman Galstyan to create a bronze 8-foot-by-4-foot statue in memory of Armenian mothers who survived the 1915 genocide and created a new generation of Armenians.
The statue is titled “The Surviving Mother” and found a home at the entrance of St. Garabed Armenian Apostolic Church of Las Vegas.
After three years of planning, the unveiling of the statue occurred in May under the auspices of H.E. Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian and was celebrated with a performance by the Armenian Dancers of Las Vegas.
“The statue has been a magnet for the (Armenian) community,” Armenian said. “Every single (Armenian) family was affected by the genocide. People come to take photos with the statue and to honor these women.”
The church, which was established in 1994 and became consecrated this year, has attracted Armenians from all over Las Vegas.
“The government ordered the killings of male Armenians, including children,” Deratzou said. “My father was in fear of his life, so he ran away to Syria. Two years later, my mother was able to locate him, and that’s where I was born. I am very thankful for my mother’s courage.”
The women who stayed in Turkey during those times had to accept the local religion and marry someone from Turkey, which was against their Christian faith, Deratzou said.
“I’ve never seen an acknowledgement of Armenian mothers or women who ran away,” Deratzou said. “I ordered the statue and donated it. The statue is in memory of Armenian mothers who created our new generation in America and around the world.”
Deratzou said he hopes the statue will teach the new generation of Armenians to remember their history and cultural roots.
Tusan said there are an estimated 800,000 people of Armenian descent living in the U.S. and 3,078 Armenians living in ClarkCounty.“This is a great accomplishment that he did,” Doris Deratzou said. “We just hope that the young Armenian generation appreciates where they came from.”
“These were the generations that were able to survive because of the women who escaped the genocide,” Armenian said. “We are all the results of the dislocation of millions of Armenians.”