An Armenian Genocide monument has been erected at Lowell, MA City Hall. City leaders joined with 102-year old genocide survivor Nellie Nazarian in dedicating the memorial, titled “A Mother’s Hands,” which reads, in part.
“When he was a child, Joseph Dagdigian’s grandmother would have flashbacks at night to the days of the genocide the Ottoman Turks carried out against Armenians and others in the early 20th century,” the Lowell Sun writes.
Dagdigian, who grew up in Lowell, said it was not until years later that he understood his grandmother’s anguish about the slaughter, and why there is a strong push among Armenians for the events never to be forgotten.
To not acknowledge the killing of 1.5 million people from 1915 to 1923 is to falsify his family’s history, says Dagdigian, now in his 70s.
On Saturday, Dagdigian proudly joined hundreds of others at City Hall as the Armenian Genocide Memorial was unveiled and dedicated to the right of the entrance to the building.
The monument, titled “A Mother’s Hands,” is believed to be the first Armenian Genocide monument unveiled on the site of a government building in the U.S.
The last known genocide survivor in the Merrimack Valley also attended the ceremony. Nellie Nazarian, 102, was a young child when her mother helped her escape and eventually make it to the U.S.
Nazarian, of Methuen, was joined Saturday by her daughter, Marlene Aznoian, as well as some of her dozens of grandchildren and great grandchildren. She smiled for the camera when placed in her wheelchair next to the monument.
“I’m just glad she is here for this,” said Aznoian, 76, of Andover. “She went through a lot coming to this country. We are proud of her.”
The Lowell monument is made of bronze and granite. There are two three-dimensional hands at the top of the piece of art showing a mother’s hands crocheting. The hands sit above a large cross.
At the bottom of the structure is inscribed the words “In Memory” both in English and Armenian.
“Knot by knot, her hands weave the history of her people,” reads the monument.
“The delicacy of the crochet integrated into this cross stone is symbolic of the beauty and strength of the Armenian heritage.”
The writing below the cross also states “that in spite of the pain and horror of the genocide, knot by knot, the Armenian People everywhere weave their hopes and dreams, as they bloom and prosper.”
The effort to make the monument a reality began in 2011 when members of the Armenian community approached then-Mayor James Milinazzo about the idea. Milinazzo, now a city councilor, helped launch the project and set aside a spot right outside City Hall.
Members of the Merrimack Valley Armenian Genocide Monument Committee moved the project forward in the time since.
They had support from hundreds of Armenians in the region, New England and beyond.
Armen Jeknavorian, chairman of the committee, said the monument honors all those Armenians who came to Lowell before, during and after the genocide, including his father, who escaped from the genocide.
During the years of the genocide, there were already enough Armenians in Lowell to start their own church on Lawrence Street and in the Merrimack Valley there are an estimated 2,500-3,000 families of Armenian descent today, said Jeknavorian.
Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian said those who supported the monument effort had helped the community secure a significant achievement.
Koutoujian, whose grandparents survived the genocide, said the Lowell monument matches Armenian Heritage Park in Boston in its significance.
“As we continue to seek recognition for our genocide, this is another step in that recognition,” Koutoujian said. “The more people we educate about the genocide, the more people we teach about the genocide, the more people will know the truth of this matter.”
The monument, designed by Chelmsford artist Daniel Varoujan Hejinian, garnered high praise for its artistic merit.
“Our instruction to him was we wanted this monument to be a work of art where someone would walk by and have to turn around to take another look,” said Aram Jeknavorian, a member of the monument committee and brother of Armen. “I think he has achieved that.”
Varoujan Hejinian said the stone and bronze of the statue coming together symbolize the body and soul coming together.
Several speakers noted the symbolism of the dedication of a monument titled “A Mother’s Hands” on Mother’s Day weekend. Armen Jeknavorian said the Armenians have a Mother’s Day saying that, “The earth’s warmth is in the mother’s hands.”
City officials and members of the city’s Statehouse delegation were on hand for the unveiling and made clear they believe the Turks’ killings of Armenians and others should not be forgotten.
“Let us make no mistake, the atrocities committed against the Armenian people are a genocide, an organized killing of people for the express purpose of putting an end to their collective existence,” said Mayor Rodney Elliott, who said he joined local Armenians in recalling the darkness of those days, while applauding the community’s resilience.
City Manager Kevin Murphy credited Koutoujian, his former colleague at the Statehouse, with helping him understand the significance of the genocide and remembering the victims.
“You have my word as the city manager of Lowell this memorial will be maintained in a proper and honorable fashion for as long as I’m city manager,” Murphy told the crowd.