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Think Again: Undercurrent of hatred

August 25, 2010

A few weeks ago someone decided to get a sledgehammer and begin destroying a monument outside St. Mary's Armenian Church. This "monument" is known in Armenian as a "Khachkar," or stone cross.

The Khachkar has special meaning in the Armenian culture dating back thousands of years during which Armenians shed a lot of blood defending their right to practice Christianity. All over present-day Armenia and historical western Armenia (today's Turkey and Azerbaijan), one can find thousands of these centuries-old Khachkars that have tremendous historical significance. The carvings on each Khachkar are unique and tell their own story, sometimes to memorialize a death, to celebrate a new church or to honor someone living.

Over the years, as part of Turkey's campaign of denying the Armenian Genocide, the government has encouraged and organized the destruction of this archeological evidence of Armenians. They have also systematically destroyed Armenian churches that are centuries old with the military using them for target practice.

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One of the more recent acts of cultural genocide was committed by Azerbaijan, Armenia's neighbor to the east. In the Azerbaijani enclave of Nakhchivan, across the border, there was a cemetery with hundreds of historical Khachkars. Azerbaijan's Army was videotaped as a platoon of soldiers took sledgehammers and destroyed these Khachkars while the rubble was put into dump trucks and hauled away. An entire community's history was eradicated in an instant.

Despite an international outcry, including by the United Nations, the Azerbaijani government continued to the end.

You can imagine the shock in the Armenian American community when the news broke in Glendale. When I heard about the St. Mary's incident, it brought back memories of the video I have of the Azerbaijani soldiers committing the same hate crime on a grander scale.

I can't forget those images, which make me sad and angry. The first time I saw that video it brought tears to my eyes, as it reminded me of my own family's experience with genocide.

I can't control what a government like Turkey and Azerbaijan do, but I hope I can have an impact in my city and community. I was disappointed by the silence in our city when this incident happened, including when the Los Angeles County district attorney's office initially failed to categorize it as a hate crime. They have since changed their position, and I appreciate their effort to look further into this case.

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