Last month I was fortunate enough to visit the Republic of Armenia, the motherland of more than 100,000 of my constituents. In fact, one of the largest Armenian populations outside of Armenia currently resides in the greater Los Angeles area, making this trip all the more significant.
As a former Glendale City Council member and mayor, I attended many events that celebrated the culture and traditions of the Armenian people. With their love of life, family, history, art and music, I was always intrigued and found myself wishing I could visit the place that so many of my constituents, their families, and thousands more in the Los Angeles region call home. So, on Oct. 3 I made my way to the airport and joined a delegation of my colleagues, including Assembly members Adrin Nazarian, Marc Levine, Dante Acosta and state Sen. Scott Wilk. After a 20-hour flight, I took my first steps on Armenian soil.
The first leg of our trip included a tour of Yerevan, the marvelous capital of Armenia. One of my favorite parts of the tour was visiting Cascade. Located in the heart of Yerevan, the beautiful staircase of Cascade led us to the most striking view of the city below. We then visited the TUMO Center for Creative Technologies, a hub created for teens eager to learn about animation, filmmaking, web design and game development, including photography and other programs — all free of charge for students.
We met with many high-ranking officials within the Armenian government, including the deputy prime minister of Armenia, Vache Gabrielyan; Ara Babloyan, speaker of the National Assembly of Armenia; Vice Chairman Arpine Hovhannisyan; Defense Minister Vigen Sargsyan and the president of the Republic of Artsakh, Bako Sahakyan, along with many other officials.
The delegation also visited the Armenian Genocide Memorial Complex (Tsitsernakaberd) in Yerevan, a breathtaking memorial built in 1967 and dedicated to the victims of the Armenian Genocide, a place where hundreds of thousands of people visit annually to lay flowers and pay their respects to the fallen victims. The memorial is comprised of 12 slabs, arranged in a circle, representing the 12 provinces that were lost and are now part of the Republic of Turkey. An eternal flame burns at the center of the memorial, symbolizing the 1.5 million victims. While in Yerevan, we also visited the Jewish Holocaust Memorial, a great symbol of the relationship between Jews and Armenians and the ancestral struggles both have experienced.
Our delegation was then taken to see from a distance Mount Ararat. Since 1921, Mount Ararat has unrightfully been part of modern-day Turkey, which is why we weren't able to get close to the area. However, I was able to see the snow-capped peaks and was awestruck by their magnificence. With its rich symbolism, Mount Ararat is considered the "Holy Mountain" where Noah's Ark landed and has also been on Armenia's national Coat of Arms since 1918.
We spent the last leg of our trip in the Republic of Artsakh; the journey there was an adventurous one to say the least. A historically Armenian land, in July 1921 the region of Artsakh was set in Soviet Azerbaijan, a decision made solely by Joseph Stalin. Currently Artsakh is heavily populated by Armenians, and the Armenian military has been aiding the country against Azerbaijani aggression, often causing Armenian militia and civilian casualties. For years, Armenians in Armenia and the diaspora have seen the consequences of conflict between the Republic of Artsakh and Azerbaijan. The strength of the relationship between Armenians in Armenia and in Artsakh has been vital in keeping Artsakh Armenian. I was fortunate to be able to visit Artsakh, and like so many before me, I’m proud to wear the threat of being blacklisted from Azerbaijan as a badge of honor. Our trip to Artsakh included a meeting with President Sahakyan in the city of Shushi, a visit to the Ghazanchetsots Cathedral, in all of its astonishing beauty, and a stop at the famous “We are our Mountains” monument also known as “Mamik yev Babik” (“Grandma and Grandpa”). The monument features an elderly couple with only their heads visible and their bodies in the soil, symbolizing the deep-rootedness of Armenians in Artsakh.
My trip to Armenia was fascinating, thought-provoking and fulfilling. Like so many incredible trips, it was over all too soon. We ate delicious foods, explored beautiful sights, learned about the deep-rooted history of Armenia. Still, the highlight of my trip was when I saw Mount Ararat, and visited the Republic Artsakh. However brief, my time spent in Armenia made real for me the deep connection between the Armenian people and their ancestral homeland. Their culture is thousands of years old, and that history is evident in every ancient church and in the fabric of every city. While outside threats may attempt to erase and deny that history, they will never be able to wipe out that legacy, as it permeates everything. To be granted the opportunity to visit the homeland of so many of my constituents and their ancestors is a gift that I will forever cherish.