In a gesture of remembrance to the million and a half victims of the Armenian Holocaust, the Armenian Church Youth Organization of America (ACYOA), under the chairmanship of Karen Dardarian, spend a recent Sunday afternoon placing fifteen hundred wooden crosses in stark white rows opposite the golden-roofed St. John’s Armenian Church of Southfield.  The ceremony, which took place April 14th, brought together a slew of young people and the Reverend Father Garabed Kochakian to brave temperatures hovering at the freezing point to pay respect to the victims of this often overlooked tragedy—and the survivors, some of whom are parishioners.  Says Dardarian, with a worldview remarkable for a twenty-year-old, “If we don’t remember our past, the world will forget.  The Armenian Holocaust is one of the most significant events in our history; it’s the reason that most Armenian Detroiters first came here—but it doesn’t get a lot of ‘air play’.  Adolf Hitler thought he could get away with the Holocaust that he perpetrated in the last century.  The Turks did.”

The cross-planted idea was the brainchild of Raffi Elchemmas, who claims an ancestry that’s both Armenian and Lebanese.  Raffi has the build of a linebacker, but the sensitivity of a poet—inspired by a similar cross display he saw at a church protesting abortion, he recognized immediately the impact of a symbolic representation.  The crosses at St. John’s, he points out, represent the individuals slaughtered in the systematic genocide perpetrated upon the Armenian people by the Ottoman Empire during, and immediately after World War I, one cross equating to one thousand souls.  “Every person setting crosses right now, across this field?  All their relatives put together wouldn’t add up to a single one of these crosses.” 

Raffi also points out to a grim irony in the unseasonable cold weather surrounding the Sunday cross event.  “My great grandfather was a part of the forced marches of the Holocaust, those designed inevitably to lead to deaths of the deportees.  Temperatures reached one hundred ten degrees.  It’s fitting that today’s weather is the opposite…”