Krikor Zakaryan stood inside the Armenian Apostolic Church in Rancho Mirage on Sunday, smiling as he explained his religion to curious guests.
Zakaryan, the church’s priest, explained how an architect melded two different Armenian church designs into the structure on Monterey Avenue. The cozy building opened in 2012.
“The church may look modern, but there is no modern element,” Zakaryan said.
Outside, dozens of people shopped in a miniature bazaar and listened to traditional Armenian music. The eighth annual Armenian cultural festival drew a big crowd on its second of two days.
Zakaryan gently closed the church doors to keep out the noise. He explained to a small group of listeners that Armenians celebrate Christmas on January 6, unlike most western Christian denominations. He pointed out the 12 windows in the church’s dome – one for each of Jesus’ apostles.
“There is symbolism in everything,” he said. Still, “our belief is very simple.”
The Armenian festival is designed to spread the country’s culture across the Coachella Valley. Zakaryan estimated as many as 2,000 Armenians live in the valley, and his church is the newest of its kind in California.
Linda Jones Gizirian grew up with Armenian music and dances. She told a reporter Sunday all about Armenian food, like shish kebabs and pastries stuffed with cheese.
Gizirian also pointed out that this year marks the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, in which the Turkish government systematically killed more than 800,000 Armenians. Many world governments do not officially recognize the event as a genocide despite decades of calls to do so from Armenian dignitaries and descendants.
“They just don’t want the Armenian people to be forgotten,” Gizirian said.
Gabriel and Ildiko Mittelmann planned to spend just a few minutes at the festival. But an impressive dance number and a talented singer kept them much longer.
The Mittelmanns, of Palm Springs, also heaped praise on the Armenian food. They bought some honey to give to their grandchildren.
“We use these two days to share,” Zakaryan said. “Just to make ourselves known.”