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Chris Chahinian talks American Armenian Rose Parade float in exclusive interview

Chris Chahinian, president of the American Armenian Rose Float Association, holds the traditional duduk.  Behind is a map of Armenia and the Armenian alphabet.
Chris Chahinian, president of the American Armenian Rose Float Association, holds the traditional duduk. Behind is a map of Armenia and the Armenian alphabet.
Laura Berthold Monteros

With irrepressible enthusiasm, Chris Chahinian, president of the American Armenian Rose Float Association (AARFA), sat down with Examiner on Tuesday for his first interview with the media about the first Armenian entry in the Rose Parade, which will be seen on Jan. 1, 2015.

“For us, it’s something very exciting,” Chahinian, who is director for District 4 on the Rose Bowl Operating Company, said. He pointed to the 2014 Rose Parade poster hanging on his wall, with the theme “Dreams Come True.” “Everyone has a dream.”

He said there is positive excitement in the American Armenian community. “Everything we’re doing is the first time. This is the first interview. Everything is history—first meeting, first contact. We’re very excited. The committee is very excited.”

As a member of RBOC, he said that RBOC and the Tournament of Roses have always had a close relationship. “I had the pleasure of working with the tournament of Roses over the past three years. Being able to work so closely with them made me more excited about the project at hand.”

The float is being designed and built by Phoenix Decorating Company, and the rendering will be unveiled in the first major fundraising event on June 21. The price tag for the float is $250,000 and the website is open for donations. The AARFA Facebook page is building interest, as well. “I feel everyone is waiting for an opportunity to chip in,” he said. “We will do it!”

Though the Armenian community is celebrating several anniversaries in 2015—25 years since separation from the Soviet Union, the centennial of the start of the Armenian genocide, and 100 years since M.S. Pashgian served as the Rose Parade’s Grand Marshal—the emphasis will be on the contributions American Armenians have made.

“It’s good timing, but it was not set,” Chahinian said. After two years of discussions, the organization put together a team in February to put wheels on the idea. “We were able to apply this year. For us, this is about positive and inspiring stories.”

He added, “For the Armenian community, it’s a new era, really. It’s going to be a positive message.”

Chahinian quoted Tournament of Roses Pres. Richard Chinen’s explanation of the theme for the 126th Rose Parade, “Inspiring Stories”: “It pays tribute to those who have loved unconditionally, preserved courageously, endured patiently and accomplished much on behalf of others.” He stressed “endured patiently and accomplished much on behalf of others.”

“The focus is ‘Inspiring Stories.’ The focus is a positive message to the world. showing the world Armenian contributions to this land—the United States.”

Armenians have been making contributions to America for 400 years, Chahinian said. The first Armenian to land on the shores of what would become the US was Martin E. Armenian in 1618. He was brought to the Virginia Bay Company by plantation owner and future colonial governor George Yeardley to raise tobacco, Chahinian related.

The first Armenian student, Khatchik Oskainian, came to New York in 1834, and the history of Armenians in Pasadena goes back to 1889, the year the first Rose Parade was planned, when Moses (M.S.) and John Pashgian moved here with their families.

“Armenia has thousands of years of history. It goes back to Noah’s ark,” he said, noting that the biblical resting place, Mt. Ararat, is in the historic boundaries of Armenia. “It has a rich culture, rich history. A lot of things we can share with the world.”

Various cultures can learn from each other, Chahinian said, citing the pageantry of the “Wonderful Indonesia” float, with its music, costumes, history and heritage. The American Armenian float will share also history and culture, including the music of the indigenous Armenian duduk. The double-reed instrument dates back 5,000 years and is heard in many film and television scores.

Prominent American Armenians are being invited to ride the float. Judge Samuel Der-Yeghiayan, a federal judge in Illinois and the highest ranking American Armenian judge, has accepted. AARFA is in talks with former California governor George Deukmejian and basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, who coached at Pasadena City College before going on to coach Cal State Long Beach, UNLV, and Cal State Fresno.

“It’s going to represent all American Armenians and going to be for all Armenians around the world,” Chahinian said. The AARFA board is determined to have an Armenian American float in the parade every year. “I’m so proud of our board. (Their) giving, believing. So proud of them.”

In a burst of enthusiasm, he cheered, “I’m looking forward to January 1. Yes, we can!”

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