Every morning in the 1980s, Santa Clarita resident Patricia Karasarkissian Frat’s mother would look out the window of her apartment in Dbayeh, Lebanon to alert her family when the bombs were getting too close.
“That was my childhood,” Frat said about living through the Lebanese Civil War, “We would pick up the [bullet] casings and run around with them. I didn’t see my parents for two weeks. The [school] buses had to take us away from the bullets and bombs.”
Like many Armenians, she is part of a diaspora that was forced to migrate because of the Armenian Genocide.
April 24 is the 105 year anniversary of the genocide, and she is reflecting on her family’s journey as genocide survivors to where they are now as Santa Clarita residents.
The Armenia Genocide was perpetrated by the Ottoman Turks in 1915.
1.5 million people died and many were forced to leave their homeland. Among these people was Karasarkissian Frat’s great grandfather, who was kicked out of his hometown of Marash, Armenia. His mother, along with a couple siblings were killed.
Him, a sibling and his father then made their way to Beirut, where many Armenians still live today; including some relatives of Karasarkissian Frat.
Eventually, the Lebanese Civil War forced Karasarkissian Frat and her family to move to the United States. Although she started off in La Crescenta and Glendale, she moved to Santa Clarita because some family had already established lives there and she wanted to remain close to them.
The trauma that Karasarkissian Frat experienced has not only allowed her to remain close with her family, but culture as well.
In Santa Clarita, she and her kids are involved with the Homenetmen, a nonprofit organization that provides Armenian American youth with moral, physical and social education. They also educate the youth on Armenian culture and heritage.
This community went through an unimaginable tragedy that almost tore their culture apart, and Turkey, the former Ottoman Empire, denies that the genocide even happened. It is a constant battle for recognition and belonging. The Armenians sometimes rely on these nonprofits to preserve their culture by educating the youth. It is a symbolic attempt to fight back those who killed their ancestors.
“They’re trying to do [everything possible] to bring us to our knees. But they didn’t learn from the genocide: We are a nation that can take anything. We’re not going to give up our beliefs, we’re not going to give up our lands, we’re not going to give up anything,” the Chairman of Homenetmen SCV Giligia said.
A part of that fight is the annual March for Justice, where people all over the world march on April 24 to protest genocide denial. The march has been canceled in Los Angeles because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it is not stopping Karasarkissian Frat from doing her part.
At 1 p.m. on April 24, she is going live on Facebook with her son, Alex, to help him give a presentation on the Armenian Genocide.
The Homenetmen are also spreading the word through social media by working with Feeding America and the Armenian National Committee of America to provide 1.5 million meals. Many Armenians starved to death during the genocide, so they want to raise awareness while helping those in need during the pandemic.
Thanks to the incredible generosity of our community, we’ve just hit our target of 1.5 million meals donated through @FeedingAmerica to help those in need as a result of the #COVIDー19 pandemic. #americawethankyou #ArmenianGenocide pic.twitter.com/msmKJxMPgC— ANCA Western Region (@ANCA_WR) April 21, 2020
Right now, social media is allowing Karasarkissian Frat, and nonprofits like Homenetmen, to stay connected with Armenians, and advocate for the preservation of her culture.
Armenians were forsaken in 1915. Communities were destroyed and this began a wave of generational trauma which became a common denominator among all Armenians across the world. However, simply seeing another Armenian, or hearing them speak at a local market are interactions that bring joy to Karasarkissian Frat. It is a reassurance that they are still here, and that they will hopefully continue to grow in Santa Clarita.
“We could build the community here. We just need the people to come and see that we are here and we want to be with them and build something,” Karasarkissian Frat said.