For the first time in the history of the Pasadena Tournament of Roses, an Armenian float took part in the traditional New Year’s Day parade and went on to win the tournament’s prestigious President’s Award. Seen by thousands of spectators lining Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena, California, on January 1, 2015, the parade was also watched by a world audience of more than 1 billion in over 100 countries.
The Armenian float, dubbed “Cradle of Civilization,” was the brain child of the American Armenian Rose Float Association (AARFA), a nonprofit organization that was launched in February 2014 and accepted into the 126th Tournament of Roses soon afterward. Based on an original design by the AARFA, the float was constructed in the months leading up to the parade, with the floral display assembled in December 2014 by a crew of some 600 community volunteers.
The 126th Tournament of Roses included around 40 floats showcasing “Inspiring Stories,” the theme of the parade, as well as high-stepping equestrian units and marching bands. For the Armenian float, the AARFA chose the theme “Cradle of Civilization,” as a tribute to the rich cultural heritage of the Armenian people, encompassing many inspiring stories to share with the world.
“Through the design of the Armenian float, we sought to encapsulate the breathtaking panorama of human achievement throughout the 8,000-year history of the Armenian people,” explained Johnny Kanounji of the AARFA Board. “Our final design comprised an ensemble of elements and symbols that define Armenianness in terms of culture, mythology, and world view.”
The Armenian float won the President’s Award for “most effective floral use and presentation.”
The centerpiece of the float’s floral art was the Armenian Tree of Life, with pronounced pomegranates and birds perched on the fruits. The tree, whose design was based on a painting by Los Angeles artist Seeroon Yeretzian, was flanked by two storks that looked “inwards,” toward the Tree of Life, symbolizing a return to Armenian identity. Placed at the foot of the tree was a sculpture of an Armenian woman’s head with a traditional headdress, symbolizing both Mother Nature and Mother Armenia. The sculpture was flanked by a peacock, symbolizing immortality; and the Armenian Symbol of Eternity, the world’s oldest symbol of its type. These two symbols were placed on the other side of the float well.
The floral work on the back of the float featured a loom and a carpet, a tribute to the fact that the world’s oldest carpet, the Pazyryk, is of Armenian origin, as determined by textile expert Ulrich Schumann. Other elements included apricots, given the fact that the apricot’s binomial name is prunus armeniaca, or “Armenian plum;” bunches of actual grapes, in tribute to the fact that the world’s oldest wine-making factory has been discovered in Armenia; and a sculpture of an arch with a pitched roof, representing the uniqueness of Armenian architecture. At the center of the roof’s façade was placed the seventh letter of the Armenian alphabet, representing the life essence. Another element related to the Armenian alphabet was a set of two mini sculptures representing the alphabet’s first three letters, in tribute to the fact that Armenian is one of the world’s oldest languages, with its own branch in the family of Indo-European languages.
Riding on the Armenian float were several prominent American-Armenians including Judge Samuel Der-Yeghiayan, the first Armenian immigrant federal judge currently on the bench; former Pasadena Police Chief Barney Melekian; Kapriel Injejikian, former principal of the first Armenian school in the US; attorney Mark Geragos; actress Angela Sarafyan of The Twilight Saga fame; journalist Jill Simonian, author of The Fab Mom blog and spokesperson of the AARFA; and Flora Dunaians, founder of the Armenian International Women’s Association of Los Angeles. Also riding on the float were four young women, aged 13 to 23, who represented the new Armenian generation, and duduk player Ruben Harutyunyan, representing the deep roots of Armenian musical heritage.
The Armenian-float project, which cost a total of $300,000, was realized through grassroots support and in particular a $50,000 donation by Anto Baghdasarian of Karoun Dairies, which provided the project’s seed money. To date, community contributions have helped cover $225,000 of the cost, with $75,000 still needed to be raised. Toward this goal, the AARFA will auction off components of the Armenian float at the end of this month. Details of the auction will be posted on the association’s site at AARFA.org as well as its Facebook page.
Already the AARFA has begun work on planning the next Armenian float, which will participate in the Tournament of Roses in January 2016. The association, whose sole stated mission is to raise funds to be spent annually on the Armenian float, is accepting donations and seeking corporate sponsors to help fund the project. Tax-deductible contributions can be made securely through the AARFA site or by mailing a check to: AARFA, P.O. Box 60005, Pasadena, CA 91116. The AARFA is also encouraging community members to sign on as volunteers to help construct next year’s float.
“It is enormously gratifying to have been able to share the greatness of the Armenian heritage with a global audience,” said Stepan Partamian of the AARFA Board. “Thanks to the wonderful dedication of the AARFA, our army of volunteers, and our supporters, we presented to the world a novel and dazzling image of the Armenian identity, generating a whole new level of positive interest. As importantly, we carried out this project for the benefit of the young Armenian generation, in an effort to inspire it and instill it with a dynamic sense of cultural awareness.”