Beneath a starry sky, Sosé Thomassian and Allen Yekikian held each other on their wedding night, arms looped around hips, eyes locked, for more than 20 minutes so the photographer could capture what would become their favorite wedding photo.
Back at the wedding reception in a lakeside Armenian town, the photographer showed off the shot and the crowd cooed.
The couple got their wedding, but there will be no first anniversary. About eight months after the wedding, on May 10, Thomassian and Yekikian died in a head-on car crash while on a weekend getaway in Georgia, Armenia's neighbor to the north.
He was 28, she was 30.
News of their deaths shocked the local Armenian community, prompting memorials, including a candlelight vigil at St. Mary's Armenian Apostolic Church in Glendale, YouTube tributes and obituaries in Armenian publications here and abroad.
"They were supposed to grow old together. They were supposed to have kids," said Arek Santikian, a friend of the couple. "They were supposed to teach their kids about what they did and how to live."
The two worked with the Armenian Youth Federation and Armenia Fund, a nonprofit that raises money for infrastructure improvements and humanitarian aid projects in Armenia. Thomassian was instrumental in revamping and running Youth Corps, an Armenian Youth Federation summer program that served nearly 1,000 underprivileged youth from rural Armenia.
They met at an Armenian Youth Federation convention about four years ago. She attended the organization's Orange County chapter, but would often go to events hosted by the La Crescenta chapter, where one of her best friends, Knar Kitabjian, was a member.
Yekikian also was a member. And it was there — not at UCLA, where they both attended — that they grew to know each other.
She watched Star Trek for him. He learned how to pronounce the name of French fashion designers for her.
She loved the sweet cards he left for her. He admired her energy and compassion. They both were infatuated with Armenia, where, in August, they were married.
The couple moved to what they called their "homeland" five months later. Repatriating is highly respected in the Armenian community, which was scattered around the globe following the genocide of 1915 at the hands of the Ottoman Empire.
"They really believed that they could bring real change in that country," said Caspar Jivalagian, a friend of the couple. "They thought, you know, young fresh blood would help flourish the country."
The two started a blog to share details of their wedding, soseandallen.com, and then another to chronicle their adventures in Armenia, howtomakeitinarmenia.com, which featured political posts about the recent national election, but also lighter fare about searching for uncommon ingredients.
"They were in love, but they also shared a common vision and common goals that were larger than just living what the standard expectation of a newlywed couple was," said Vaché Thomassian, the bride's younger brother.
Yekikian did communications work for the American University of Armenia while Thomassian took classes there to improve her "Eastern" Armenian dialect, which differs from what she learned growing up in California.
There are plans to start a foundation in their names, the Sosé and Allen Legacy Fund, to support education programs and other Armenian repatriates. A Facebook page set up in their name, facebook.com/soseandallen, may soon have more detailed information about the foundation.
More than 2,700 people, some strangers, have already "liked" the page, which Vaché Thomassian said has helped the family deal with its grief. There are baby photos of Thomassian with pigtails, a young Yekikian hugging a stuffed white bear, and then years later, the two embracing each other on their wedding day — the comments have a common theme: the newlyweds died too young.
"It's what's keeping [their mothers] sane, that tribute and that love that's happening," Vaché Thomassian said.
A public memorial service is scheduled for May 25 at St. Mary's Armenian Apostolic Church, 500 S. Central Ave. The funeral will be at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills.
[For the Record, May 20: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the memorial service came after the funeral.]