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Armenian-American unity emphasized at wreath-laying ceremony

From left: Archbishop Khajag Barsamian of the Armenian Church of America, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, and Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America took part in a wreath-laying ceremony in memory of victims of the Armenian genocide at the Armenian Heritage Park on the Rose Kennedy Greenway on Tuesday.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Clad in the deep orange, red, and blue of the Armenian flag, onlookers gathered Tuesday for a wreath-laying ceremony held by President Serzh Sargsyan of Armenia at the Boston memorial to the victims of the genocide carried out against his people a century ago.

Sargsyan presented a large wreath, adorned with red and white flowers and a presidential sash, as he visited Boston for the first time during his eight-year tenure. At the event, officials described the region’s deep connection to Armenia and the Armenian people.

Grigor Hovhannissian, Armenia’s ambassador to the United States, thanked the state for its “track record of support to our community and our nation” — even before Armenia split from the Soviet Union a quarter-century ago.


“Long before Armenia became independent, Massachusetts in 1976 recognized the Armenian genocide,” Hovhannissian said to the crowd, about 200 strong. “That was a major stimulus in the international recognition effort.”

The wreath-laying ceremony took place Tuesday morning on the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway in front of the memorial that remembers the 1.5 million victims of the genocide, carried out by Ottoman Turks from 1915 to approximately 1922.

“This is also a symbol [of] your activism that has been lasting for 100 years now,” Hovhannissian said, thanking the city of Boston.

Sargsyan did not speak at the event.

After laying the wreath, Sargsyan and other officials took a walk through downtown Boston, near Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall.

They also visited the New England Holocaust Memorial in front of City Hall, before having lunch at Union Oyster House.

Middlesex Sheriff Peter Koutoujian, who is Armenian-American, led the tour.

On Wednesday, Sargsyan will be officially welcomed to the Massachusetts State House via the opening of the front doors, a gesture reserved for the US president and international heads of state. Governors of the Commonwealth also receive the honor when they conclude their terms in office.


Sarkis Gennetian (right), a former commander of the Knights of Vartan, stood with fellow members at the ceremony.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Massachusetts is home to a large number of people of Armenian descent.

“A lot of the survivors of the genocide over the years ended up in the US and found refuge here and found freedom and found hope and new lives,” Herman Purutyan, the state chair for the Armenian Assembly of America, said after the ceremony. “So that’s why [there is a] very, very close connection between Armenians, Armenians around the world, and the United States.”

Carolyn Mugar, an Armenian-American who now lives in Cambridge, said it was meaningful for the president to visit.

“Armenians here feel very much connected to the homeland of Armenia,” she said. “Especially at this time, 25 years after Armenia became independent, there’s a lot of connections that people feel here, and a lot of people go back and forth. We feel that both countries are ours, really.”

In his remarks during the ceremony, Koutoujian echoed Mugar’s sentiments.

“Thank you for your presence. This is indeed a great day,” he said to the Armenian president. “We welcome you to our home, now your home.”

Sarkis Gennetian, who moved to the states in 1956 at age 19, was especially moved by the ceremony. He is a former commander of the Knights of Vartan, an Armenian fraternal service organization.

“I never thought I would see this day,” said Gennetian, who stood front row at the wreath-laying service. “It’s the biggest gift for me.”


Craig F. Walker of the Globe staff contributed to this report. J.D. Capelouto can be reached at jd.capelouto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jdcapelouto.