Fresno: Day of Remembrance

Fresno Bee
May 31 2004

Day of Remembrance

Armenian church in Yettem celebrates how early Valley settlers

By Ron Orozco

Choir members sing during a special outdoor service Sunday
commemorating the 100th anniversary of St. Mary Armenian Apostolic
Church in Yettem. The service was held under trees adjacent to the
church, where early settlers to the area held their first service.
Richard Darby / The Fresno Bee

YETTEM — Under a canopy of trees, parishioners of St. Mary Armenian
Apostolic Church in eastern Tulare County symbolically celebrated
the church’s 100th anniversary on Pentecost Sunday.

Pentecost is the Christian festival on the seventh Sunday after Easter,
celebrating the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles.

In the central San Joaquin Valley, Pentecost is observed with special
sermons from the pulpit.

St. Mary Armenian Apostolic Church celebrated under its trees to
remember how early settlers in the area worshipped.

In 1904, settlers gathered under a tree at the home of Tateos Davidian
to celebrate Feast of Pentecost, thus beginning the religious life
of the community.

Sunday, the symbolism left parishioners with a sense of gratitude to
the settlers.

Yettem is the Armenian word meaning Eden.

“It takes you back in memory in how they did it before,” said Charlie
Basmajian of Selma. “They put their heads together and built a church.”


At the outdoor service Sunday, birds chirped from branches and
morning sunlight glistened on leaves as nearly 150 parishioners
were reminded that the early settlers sang the hymn “Aravod Loosoh”
(“Morning of Light”) and read from the New Testament book of Acts.
The Rev. Vartan A.K. Kasparian, pastor of St. Mary, and Archbishop
Hovnan Derderian, primate of the Western Diocese of the Armenian
Church in America, chanted the service in Armenian along with deacons
and 14 choir members.

Mary Enfiedjian of Visalia followed the service in her prayer book,
“Pokrikneroo Jamakirk.”

“It gives people the courage and inspiration to recall what our
forefathers have gone through as survivors of genocide,” said
Derderian, who visited from Burbank.

An estimated 1.5 million Armenians were killed in the Armenian genocide
in the Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1923.

“In a short period, they had a vision to establish a church, to be
fully integrated in the community and to give life to the community.

“This is special for all of us, not just for Yettem. This will be
the beginning of many more celebrations.”

At the end of the service, Kasparian invited parishioners to come
forward to kiss the Gospel book — and a line quickly formed.

After a short break, parishioners filed inside the church, where
Derderian blessed a new Rodgers pipe organ and celebrated Divine

In the afternoon, nearly 300 people filled the parish’s Majarian Hall
for a luncheon.

“This is so exciting,” Lucinne Bennett of Visalia said of the
celebrations. “My family has lived here for many, many years.”

It definitely was a day of remembrance.

Betty Farsakian, one of two St. Mary organists, remembered with pride
that her father, Garabed Charles Simonian, built the church.

Member Araxie Menenian also remembered her father: Garbed Kalfayan.

He was parish priest from 1939-65, including during one of the most
difficult times for parishioners.

In 1955, a fire destroyed the church.

“When it burned, he was in Armenia voting for the ‘pope’ of the
church,” Menenian said.

If parishioners had a hard time remembering, six display boards with
the names of Yettem residents in 1910 helped them.

The oldest living person on the board who was in attendance Sunday:
Harry S. Jenanyan, 95.

The Rev. Kasparian pointed out that many have moved away from Yettem,
which remains a hamlet with a population of just 284.

Kasparian said, “Even though a lot of people have moved away from
the area, some to the East Coast, Yettem is still home to them.”

The reporter can be reached at [email protected] or (559) 441-6304.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress

Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS