By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier
Over a year ago, a handful of young Armenians formed the American Armenian Rose Float Association and embarked on an ambitious project that many Armenians had contemplated for a long time, but no one had tried. They decided to enter the first Armenian float in 126 years in the world famous Rose Parade in Pasadena, California.
Around one billion people in over 100 countries watch this spectacular Parade on television on the first day of each year. In addition, an estimated crowd of 700,000 spectators line up along the 5.5-mile Parade route, braving the record-breaking cold temperatures, as my family did on January 1. Some even sleep on sidewalks overnight to have a front row view!
Soon-after the start of the Parade, viewers in Pasadena and around the world heard the unmistakable sound of blaring Duduks and witnessed a beautifully decorated Armenian float with thousands of flowers, accompanied by a dozen elegant dancers in traditional costumes. The overall theme of this year’s Rose Parade was “Inspiring Stories,” and the Armenian float was certainly inspiring with its fitting title, “Cradle of Civilization.” The official catalog of the Parade published the following glowing description along with a picture of the float:
“Welcome to the ‘Cradle of Civilization,’ a float presented by the Armenian community to share their centuries-old rich cultural heritage with the United States and the world. The American Armenian Rose Parade float is a showcase of the contributions Armenians have made to this great nation and around the globe. Every item on this float, from the carpet, the tree of life and the birds and fruits, to the eternity sign and the Duduk (flute), symbolizes a specific aspect of the Armenian culture, including religion, education, industry, music, dance and beyond. The prevailing color is a specific red that is extracted from a worm found only on the mountains of Armenia.” More specifically, the float featured storks, peacocks, pomegranates, apricots, grapes, the Armenian alphabet, figure of an Armenian woman with traditional headdress and costume symbolizing “Mother Armenia,” and a partial church frame representing Armenian architecture. The float was awarded the prestigious “President's Trophy.”
Riding on the 55 ft. long, 28 ft. high, and 18 ft. wide float were several celebrities, including Samuel Der Yeghiayan (first immigrant Armenian US Federal Judge), Gabriel Injejikian (founder of first Armenian day school in the U.S.), Flora Dunaians (noted humanitarian and philanthropist from Pasadena), prominent attorney Mark Geragos, television host Jill Simonian, former Pasadena Police Chief Bernard Melekian, and actress Angela Sarafyan. Amazingly, exactly 100 years ago, an Armenian businessman, Movses Pashgian, was the Grand Marshal of the Rose Parade in 1915!
Even though the float cost $300,000 to build, it was well worth the money, as Armenian culture, for the first time in history, was showcased to over one billion people around the world, at the bargain price of less than a penny per person! Just days before the Parade, the Armenian float organizers were still $110,000 short of their goal. Fortunately, they received a few more donations in recent days, leaving a current balance of $90,000. Those wishing to help cover this deficit can make a tax-deductible contribution by visiting www.aarfa.org.
Given the extensive TV coverage on American and international channels, the Armenian float received numerous positive comments in the social media and websites around the world. Some TV networks even commented that 2015 coincided with the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide.
Since Armenians regularly bring up the genocide issue in their interaction with ‘odar’ circles, most non-Armenians know that Armenian are a victimized nation, but are unaware of their rich cultural heritage and ancient civilization. The world should know that despite the Young Turks’ sinister efforts to eliminate the Armenian people, they have succeeded not only to survive, but to thrive!
This is particularly important for young Armenians who need to grow up with positive role models to look up to and take pride in their heritage rather than feeling like downtrodden victims who seek pity. The Rose Parade float did a magnificent job in celebrating Armenian culture and promoting its image worldwide.
Energized by the tremendous popular reaction to their participation in this year’s Tournament of Roses, the organizers pledged to have an Armenian float in the Pasadena Parade every year from now on!