Armenians Hail Recognition : Official U.S. Acceptance of Homeland Delights Area Residents

TIMES STAFF WRITER

This holiday season, the Armenian diaspora received a gift for which it has waited nearly 70 years.

On Christmas Day, the U.S. government formally recognized Armenian independence, ending an era that Armenians refer to as the "Soviet Occupation."

For members of the Armenian National Committee--a politically active organization in Glendale that has long clamored for an independent Armenia--it was a moment they feared would never occur in their lifetime.

"Whenever you witness your country becoming independent, it is a momentous occasion," said Vahe Bozyoian, 34, as he sat at a table Friday afternoon. "We never expected to see this day, frankly," he added, sharing a meal with friends who had gathered at St. Mary's Armenian Apostolic Church in Glendale.

But considering the significance of the event, the Christmas party was a surprisingly low-key affair. There was little dancing, despite loud folk music blasted by a disc jockey.

The joy felt by many was muted by a sense of confusion over what to make of the new geopolitical reality. Mostly people sat feasting on an array of traditional Armenian dishes and talking about the future.

For many, it was a day to contemplate their long-anticipated future and acknowledge that subtle changes had taken place during those years of waiting.

Garen Yegparian, 29-year-old executive director of the Armenian Youth Federation, has long advocated moving to Armenia if and when the country ever became independent. Now "I have to put my money where my mouth is," he said.

But it was clear that Yegparian, who was born in Lebanon of Armenian parents and moved to the United States at age 9, did not relish the thought of leaving the comforts of life in America to help rebuild a country where shortages are commonplace.

He said he will probably wait a few years to give himself time to figure out what he can do to contribute to the new society. "I'm not just going to go over there and be a bum."

Berdj Karapetian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee, plans a different approach. He will work as a U.S. lobbyist for Armenian interests and is accompanying U.S. Sen. Claiborne Pell (D-Rhode Island), who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on a trip to his homeland, where he will act as interpreter and guide.

"We are Americans, of Armenian descent. We want to ensure that our government sees the value and benefit of having Armenia as an ally, and to continue to develop relations between the two nations," Karapetian said.

He noted that the Armenian National Committee, which once fashioned itself as the official government-in-exile, has reoriented itself as a more traditional lobby organization.

But despite the party-goers' differing opinions on methods, most were in agreement that the work for their country is not done.

"We still have a cause," Bozyoian asserted.

A friend sitting next to him elaborated.

"There is a new country in the building," said Garo Momdjian, 32, who was born in Lebanon and has never visited Armenia. "Every Armenian in the diaspora has a moral obligation to help. We, the people of the democracies, have to help."

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