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Central California Life Magazine

Fresno State’s Armenian Genocide Monument: first of its kind in the nation

Apr 20, 2015 09:30PM ● By Cen Cali Life Magazine

Marine Vardanyan, president of the Armenian student organization at Fresno State, in front of the Armenian Genocide Monument. The monument is the first of its kind to be built on a university campus in the U.S. It will be unveiled in a special ceremony on April 23. Photo by Dan Minkler

Fresno State’s Armenian Genocide Monument: first of its kind in the nation 

Story by Marine Vardanyan

Not unlike members of other immigrant groups, Armenians came to the Central Valley in pursuit of a better life. In many ways, however, their story is unique. They arrived not only as farmers and laborers, but also as immigrants escaping genocide. An estimated 1.5 million Armenians were massacred by the Ottoman Turks between 1915-1923. Those who survived were forced to scatter to all corners of the world.  

Armenians have successfully integrated into American society, contributing locally and nationally as politicians, lawyers, judges, doctors, educators, business professionals and more. Today, about 40,000 Armenians live in the Central Valley. Many are direct descendants of genocide survivors.

“Armenians have been involved in virtually every aspect of Fresno’s development,” says Barlow Der Mugrdechian, coordinator of the Armenian Studies Program at Fresno State, of their strong local presence.  

On the evening of April 23, a monument commemorating the tragic event that catalyzed Armenian immigration to the U.S. will be unveiled on the Fresno State campus. The Armenian Genocide Monument is intended to serve as a permanent structure for honoring the lives of the martyrs, raising awareness of the tragic event and the historical injustice that surrounds it, and inspiring the world to overcome adversities and condemn the reoccurrence of similar crimes.

That Fresno State would be the first university in the nation to house such a monument is of no surprise given the multi-level contributions Armenians have made to the Central Valley in general and Fresno in particular. Fresno State President Joseph I. Castro, who has consistently voiced support for the campus project, summarized the perspective of many when he asked, “Where else should that [monument] be but here in Fresno?"

The monument will be erected on Maple Mall, a campus location selected for its high student traffic and accessibility to the public. The area is considered a fitting location because of its surrounding monuments, which include the World War I and World War II memorials.

Architect Paul Halajian worked with the Armenian Genocide Centennial Committee of Fresno (AGC Fresno) on the monument’s design. The goal was to create a monument that represented the event both as a traumatic moment in Armenian history and as a foundation for the way Armenians see themselves today.

The monument will be a circular stone structure composed of nine pillars, each representing an aspect of Armenian history. The pillars will be constructed of Tufa stone imported from Armenia. Similar to the Armenian Genocide Monument in Yerevan, Armenia, the pillars of the Fresno State monument will be angled inwards. A unique feature of the local monument will be the height of the pillars. The first pillar will be 19-feet high. Subsequent pillars will gradually descend in height to the last pillar, which, at 15-feet high, will symbolize the year of the Armenian genocide.

An incomplete stainless steel halo will be placed on top the pillars to symbolize the disruption in Armenian history and the fracture caused by the genocide. A symbol of eternity will be featured at the center of the monument, symbolizing the perpetuation of the Armenian people in the face of adversity. Other features of the monument will include a waterfall in the middle of each pillar, lighting at nighttime and a timeline of important dates in Armenian history. 

"The monument is a way to artistically represent the feelings of the community as well as ...  an object for pedagogical purposes," says Sergio La Porta, professor of Armenian Studies at Fresno state and chairman of AGC.

The monument is expected to provide thousands of students, faculty and campus visitors with opportunities to learn. Along with its symbolic design, the structure will have signage that includes QR codes that direct individuals to more information about the genocide.

The program on April 23 will begin at 7:30 p.m. in the Maple Mall on the Fresno State campus. Free and handicapped parking will be available for the ceremony in lots P5 and P6 near the Peters Business Building. Overflow parking will be available free of charge in the Save Mart Center parking lot. For more information about this and other centennial events, go to

            Marine Vardanyan is a student at Fresno State, where she is president of the campus Armenian student organization and editor of the Armenian student newspaper, Hye Sharzhoom.