Rancho Mirage Festival Celebrates Armenian Culture

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Residents of the Coachella Valley were able to enjoy a bit of Armenia over Veterans Day weekend.

The Armenian Apostolic Church of St. Garabed of the Desert hosts an Armenian cultural festival on Saturday and Sunday. It is the church’s 14th annual festival, attracting hundreds of guests to enjoy Armenian cuisine, music and dance.

Vartan Nazarian, chairman of the parish council, said the church was established 17 years ago but its building was constructed 11 years ago. The festival was held on the grounds before the church was built, he said.

“It’s basically, this festival, is the source of income for the whole year for the church,” he said.

The church asks for a $3 donation to enter, although children under 12 and veterans can enter for free.

Booths at the event sell items like jewelry, clothing, and hair care. The Hamazkayin Ani Dance Company presented traditional dances and there was live music from David Samuelian, Aram Lepedjian and DJ Greg.

Garbis Hindoyan, vice chairman of the parish council, said it makes them happy to see that many festival attendees include non-Armenians. He said the church was expecting around 3,000 guests on Saturday and Sunday.

“We feel so good that we introduce Armenian cuisine, dancing, pretty much everything Armenian – how hard we work… it gives us a sense of pride and joy,” Hindoyan said.

He praised the church’s volunteers, citing how his ladies’ auxiliary members prepared for months and prepared almost all of the food offered at the festival.

Some of the dishes include boreg cheese, stuffed grape leaves, paklava and khadayif. The men of the church prepared a barbecue – a staple of any Armenian gathering.

Guests enjoying food at the 14th annual Armenian Cultural Festival on November 12, 2022. Members of the Saint Garabed Armenian Apostolic Church of Auxiliary Ladies of the Desert prepared most of the dishes.

Houry Sonia Matossian, former president of the parish council and volunteer, participated in the 14 Armenian cultural festivals and was one of the women who prepared the dishes. She said each festival has been more successful than the last, leading them to extend the event from one day to two.

“We attract a lot of non-Armenians because they are crazy about our food,” she said. “They’re waiting for this all the time.”

Matossian spoke about the importance of having an Armenian church in the Coachella Valley. She estimated that there were around 400 Armenian families here.

“You go all over the world, if you have two Armenians, there should be a church,” she said. “That’s what Armenians are, they love their church.”

Many Armenians also come to visit cities with larger diaspora communities, such as Los Angeles. According to Hindoyan, four buses brought guests from sister churches in Glendale, Pasadena and other towns in the San Fernando Valley.

The interior of Saint Garabed Armenian Apostolic Church of the Desert in Rancho Mirage on November 12, 2022.

Guests seemed to be enjoying the event on Saturday, with many carrying bags of Armenian food they had purchased and strolling through the festivities to talk to each other.

Tables have been set up under the shade for people to eat and children to play in a bouncy house. The church was open to guests who could come in and sit on the pews or light candles.

Hasmik Sarkissian said she has been attending the festival for many years. She said it was crucial to have the festival because Armenians are a small minority in the valley.

“Through this, when you get foreigners’ attention, then you can introduce April 24, then you can talk about the genocide, then they will understand when they see in the news that Armenians are protesting something, they won’t change. just the channel,” she said. “It might ignite some memories and they might be like, ‘Oh, these people have a right, have a reason for doing what they’re doing.'”

Sarkissian refers to the armenian genocide who killed an estimated 1.5 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire and is commemorated annually on April 24.

Hasmik Sarkissian lights a candle inside the Saint Garabed Armenian Apostolic Desert Church on November 12, 2022. She was attending the church's 14th annual Armenian cultural festival.

Robert and Leanne Pilcher had seen the festival advertised for weeks. Leanne Pilcher said they visited the kiosks and bought food to take home.

“It’s well worth the time and it’s fun to listen to music,” she said. “The music is festive and wonderful.”

Lusine Poghosyan’s daughter performs as part of the Hamazkayin Ani Dance Company. She said she didn’t know there was an Armenian church or community in the Greater Palm Springs area.

“It’s new, it’s a new experience and it’s really nice to see that we are so different and yet there are a lot of things that connect us,” she said.

14th Annual Armenian Cultural Festival

When: from Saturday 12 Nov. to Sunday 13 Nov.

Where: St. Garabed Armenian Apostolic Church of the Desert, 38-905 Monterey Ave. at Rancho Mirage

Cost: $3. Children under 12 and veterans enter for free

Program:

  • Saturday: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., with live performances at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Sunday: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., with live performances at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.

Ani Gasparyan covers the western Coachella Valley towns of Desert Hot Springs and Cathedral City. Contact her at [email protected]

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