Love has bloomed at an unlikely place: A large monument remembering victims of the Armenian genocide – as many as 1.5 million Armenians killed from 1915 to 1923 at the hands of Ottoman Turks.
In the shadow of the gray somber Armenian Genocide Monument at Fresno State, Mitchell Peters talked with Marine Vardanyan for the first time. She was serving as president of the university’s Armenian Students Organization at the time and had just finished a speech for a genocide commemoration event. He smoothly approached after and offered to take a photo of her and others in the organization as a way to strike up a conversation. A couple days later, the young Armenian couple went on their first date.
On Monday evening – on the 102nd anniversary of the Armenian Genocide – they returned to the monument to promise to love each other forever. After a genocide commemoration event that evening, the couple’s family gathered around them as Peters asked Vardanyan to marry him. She said yes. That the proposal would happen there is anything but unromantic to this couple.
It was a way to show the Turks and those who tried to eliminate the Armenian people that we are still here and no matter what they did, we are able to be happy and find love.
Marine Vardanyan of getting engaged at the Armenian Genocide Monument
Vardanyan posted a video of part of the proposal on her Facebook page Tuesday morning with a famous quote from Armenian writer and Fresno native William Saroyan: “For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.”
Of the proposal happening in front of the genocide monument, Vardanyan says: “It was a way to show the Turks and those who tried to eliminate the Armenian people that we are still here and no matter what they did, we are able to be happy and find love.”
The couple also visited the monument last year to celebrate their first anniversary together. Standing beside a large symbol in the center of the memorial representing eternity, Peters gave Vardanyan a bracelet with an image of the same swirl.
I think it’s important to not only look at the dark side of what happened, but also the resiliency of the Armenian community.
Vardanyan is the co-host of a Saturday morning Armenian radio show in Fresno on 90.7 called “Hye Oozh” – which means “Armenian power” in Armenian – and is a Fresno State graduate student majoring in higher education administration and leadership. Peters is working to get his teaching credential at the university to become a high school English teacher. He is from Fowler but was living in Los Angeles shortly before meeting Vardanyan, working as a reporter covering the music industry for Billboard Magazine.
Vardanyan is a writer, too, and Peters took notice. One of his first compliments to her was that she was a great writer after he read some articles she wrote about her Armenian heritage.
One of their first conversations was about trips they have taken to Armenia. They’ll get an opportunity to visit the country together for the first time next month, where they hope to receive a blessing from an Armenian priest. A wedding date hasn’t been set yet. Vardanyan expects they’ll likely wait to say “I do” until after they finish college this year.
Peters says that he and Vardanyan make a good match.
“We’re opposites,’ he says. “She’s spunky and lively and I’m laid-back and mellow.”
Peters says he’s excited for his fiancée to teach him how to speak Armenian. He’s a third-generation Armenian, and she immigrated to Fresno from Armenia with her family when she was 6 years old.
“It’s sort of completed me in the sense of finding my culture,” he says of having Vardanyan in his life. “It’s nice. I feel like I was always lacking that in my life, and she brought that to me.”
I think our ancestors would want us to be happy now.
They hope to have children together someday and instill a strong sense of Armenian pride in them, too. They like that they share the same heritage, but Peters says it’s just a “nice happy coincidence” that they both happen to be Armenian.
When Peters proposed, he stood beside a concrete pillar of the Armenian Genocide Monument representing the city his ancestors came from – Bitlis, Turkey.
“I think it’s a good way to honor your ancestors,” he said of the location of his proposal. “It’s horrible what happened with the genocide, but they (his ancestors) would be happy to see two Armenians fueling their love there and starting a new family together. That was part of the significance for me and for her. It’s a special place.”