Just over two years ago, when sixth-grader Taleen Tertzakian visited her ancestral homeland, she stood in awe of a statue of Mother Armenia in the city of Leninakan.
“It was beautiful,” she said. “I was real happy.”
Just a month after her visit, the city was among those hardest hit by the Armenian earthquake, killing approximately 25,000 and devastating entire villages. But the statue of Mother Armenia survived. On Friday, that was a special memory in Taleen’s mind as she and just over 100 students at Ari Guiragos Minassian Armenian School in Santa Ana remembered the devasting quake on its second anniversary. Carrying Armenian and U.S. flags, the students planted a new oak in front of a church adjacent to the school, and prayed for a new, independent and prosperous Armenia.
“This is a symbol of how the new Armenia will grow,” Taleen said after she had placed a red rose near the newly planted oak. “I’m always going to stay Armenian.”
Although most students didn’t know or had never met their relatives in the hardest-hit areas, they said they felt a special kinship to them, especially after the earthquake.
“I felt sad because all the innocent people died,” said sixth-grader Hovsep Dakirmenjian, 12, of Santa Ana, the student council president. “There was no notice (of the tragedy). This tree will keep that memory alive and will grow with the students.”
“We have faith that one day we will go home and live in our home country that will be our own,” Hovsep said.
The ceremony also was filled with hope, particularly because of a new spirit of nationalism that has arisen in the last few years.
“I feel kind of sad because of all the Armenians that died,” said Taline Khojikian, who is the fourth grade. “My family was sad. But pretty soon the Armenians will be back to normal.”
At a church service after the tree-planting, however, the students and some parents were reminded of the hardships of Armenians because of the dismal state of the Soviet economy.
“There are a half-million homeless,” said Sarkis Yegenian of Cowan Heights, president of the school board. “Two years now, they are still in tents.”
“Right now, it’s a complete mess, as are the other republics,” said Taleen’s mother, Sylvie Tertzakian, who visited Armenia in October with her husband, Garo.
On their most recent visit, the Tertzakians, who live in North Tustin, toured hospitals and Garo, a urologist, treated dozens of patients. He had done the same two years ago just after the earthquake.
But Sylvie Tertzakian said that even with the hardships, the people are excited about their new freedoms. While she was in Yerevan, the Armenian capital, she helped establish a sister-school relationship with School No. 58. Lillie Merigian, the principal of the Santa Ana school, is planning to visit the Armenian school next August.
While talking to school officials on her visit, Sylvie Tertzakian even suggested that they name the school after an author or a poet. She recommended Moushegh Ishkhan Hamazkayin, a writer whose works had been banned before glasnost. The next day, the name was changed, a sign of how much freedom has come to the country.