The Orange County Armenian Genocide Memorial Committee hopes to start construction in the first half of 2026,
By HANNA KANG,
Early plans for the memorial, approved by the Great Park Board on Tuesday, Jan. 9, include a potential location, the size of the memorial and how the memorial will be funded. City leaders unanimously approved the Orange County Armenian Genocide Memorial Committee’s proposal and directed staff to work with the committee in developing a schematic design and budget.
The proposed location is what will be called the Heart of the Park, a yet-to-be-completed area of the Great Park in its expansion over 300 acres of amenities. Because it is surrounded by a dense forest, the location will provide privacy and peace, said assistant city manager Pete Carmichael.
And the size of the memorial will be consistent and commensurate with the vertical and horizontal area provided within the surrounding forest, approximately 20 feet wide and 15 feet high, said Lauren Jung, the city’s senior management analyst.
The Orange County Armenian Genocide Memorial Committee, comprised of 11 members representing various Armenian organizations from around the county, hopes for construction to begin in the first half of 2026 and be completed in 2027, according to a staff report.
The Heart of the Park, where the memorial will be located, is slated for initial grading beginning this year with subsequent construction starting in 2026. That area “is a mix of quiet contemplation and social interaction,” Carmichael said.
The committee is in the process of incorporating as a nonprofit in California and requesting nonprofit status with the IRS to fundraise for the cost of the memorial’s design and construction, said chairperson Kev Abazajian.
Per city rules regarding monuments and memorials, the project proponent must foot the bill for the project while the city is responsible for the daily maintenance and upkeep of the memorial.
Abazajian said he anticipates the state designation to be made within the month while the 501(c)(3) designation may take a couple more months.
The process of homing an Armenian genocide memorial in Irvine began in 2022 after a video surfaced in which Mayor Farrah Khan appeared to joke and laugh with representatives of local Turkish groups, among them a man who has been outspoken in denying the genocide.
Khan, at the time, said the genocide was not a topic of conversation and the video was released out of context. Members of the Armenian community met with Khan, and she said she would support finding a place in the city for a memorial.
“Irvine is home to people from all over the world, including many like Armenians, who have faced a devastating genocide. We currently have Armenian community members whose family members are facing forced displacement in Armenia, Azerbaijan and in Jerusalem,” Khan said. “This is one of the ways that we, as a city, can provide a safe space for people to reflect on the past and strive to do better in the future.”
An estimated 1.2 million Armenians died during the genocide that began in 1915 in the Ottoman Empire, widely considered to be the first genocide of the 20th century, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. While most historians — and the White House — agree the deaths that occurred constitute a “genocide,” the Turkish government has denied a genocide occurred, contesting the estimated death toll.
In February 2023, city leaders directed staff to work toward the dedication of a memorial within the Great Park to the Armenians who died, according to the staff report, and in September, the Great Park Board adopted a policy dictating how the city considers requests for monuments and memorials within the park.
“Out of something horrific and divisive, something beautiful can come out of it,” said Garo Madenlian, a member of the Orange County Armenian Center.
Madenlian said the city moving forward with a plan for the memorial means a lot to the Armenian community in Orange County since many are descendants of genocide survivors.
“My grandparents were orphaned in the Armenian genocide,” he said. “This is really important for us to remember and never forget.”
The committee has planned for April a small commemoration of the start of the Armenian genocide, April 1915, which may take place at the project site.
“We are excited to move something like this forward of this gravity,” said Councilmember Mike Carroll, who also chairs the Great Park Board.
Staff is set to return in March with the schematic design and budget, Jung said.