Armenian Foundation Gets the Final Go-ahead for Greenway Park Project

BOSTON (Boston Globe) — After eight years of debate, the Armenian Heritage Foundation has cleared the final major hurdle in its effort to transform a prime space on the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway into a park that commemorates the victims of the Armenian Genocide.

To win over detractors, who opposed using the Greenway for memorials, the designers have planned a subtle and universal sculpture that pays homage to the general immigrant experience while recognizing the 1.5 million Armenians who died between 1915 and 1923 in the Genocide. A plaque on the central sculpture praises Boston and Massachusetts for offering “hope and refuge for immigrants seeking to begin new lives”
and offers the park as a gift from the Armenian-American community.

The Massachusetts Turnpike Authority granted final approval last week, meaning that construction can begin this year, near Faneuil Hall, and the park could open next summer, though no timeline has been set. The Armenian Heritage Foundation is raising all the money for construction and upkeep, as well as for a related humanrights lecture series, estimated to cost a total of $4.5 to $5 million. The park will be four-tenths of an acre.

“To have a place in such a prominent area is so moving to our people,” said state Rep. Peter Koutoujian, an Armenian-American whose grandparents fled the genocide. Koutoujian has advocated a memorial since 2000.

The Greenway has been more than 15 years in the making, with extensive planning meetings progressing while the city of Boston was torn up during the Big Dig. Many planners and community members have long held that the strip of parks above the highway tunnels should be free of memorials, to avoid becoming a collection of monuments like those dotting the National Mall in Washington, DC.

In 2006, Mayor Thomas M. Menino called the Armenian proposal, which was supported by the Turnpike Authority, “a dangerous precedent.”

“We could have 44 out there,” Menino said at the time.

Others supported a five-year moratorium on monuments to give planners time to create a vetting process.

Menino declined several interview requests for this article. His spokeswoman, Dorothy Joyce, said Menino has always supported an Armenian memorial somewhere in the city and now backs the Greenway location because the foundation has demonstrated community support through a public process.

State and Turnpike Authority officials have long supported the Armenian proposal, in large part because the foundation had agreed to pay for it. “At a time that we’re looking for private resources to share public obligations, it’s hard for us to say no to a gift,” said Jeff Mullan, undersecretary for transportation. Mullan said support from local residents was also important in gaining Gov. Deval Patrick’s support.

Under the deal approved last week, the Turnpike Authority will oversee the construction, using a public bidding process, and the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway Conservancy will monitor maintenance. The Armenian Heritage Foundation will reimburse the authority for construction costs and establish a $500,000
endowment for upkeep. The foundation will also set aside $500,000 to endow the lecture series on human rights.

James K. Kalustian, the foundation’s president, said his group has raised enough money to build and maintain the park, but is seeking more in hopes of building a larger endowment.

The park’s central sculpture is a 12-sided geometrical shape. The dodecagon will be built so that it can be reconfigured every year, a symbol of how immigrant communities are reshaped once they establish themselves in America, Kalustian said.

“It’s very subtle,” he said. “It’s not kind of in your face.”

Kalustian said the design committee wanted a space that could be appreciated on different levels: a calming, lush park with a reflecting pool; an interesting piece of sculpture; and a memorial to remember victims of genocide.

“This is our community’s way of saying thank you to the state,” Kalustian said.

The conservancy that will eventually maintain the Greenway, though initially opposed to the park, is no longer resisting.

“This is going to happen,” said Peter Meade, chairman of the conservancy’s board. “It’s clearly coming. The Turnpike Authority has approved it, so we’d be foolish not to welcome the Armenian community and congratulate them on the work they’ve done. And clearly, the Armenian Genocide has very important lessons
for everybody on this earth.”

Rob Tuchmann, cochairman of the mayor’s completion task force on the Greenway, said he would like to see more details from the Armenian Heritage Foundation. “We just haven’t seen anything or heard from them in months,” Tuchmann said. Still, his group is no longer resisting the park.

Meade said the conservancy has received dozens of other proposals to recognize historical events on the Greenway, but will not have time to evaluate them in the near term. “Frankly, it’s something at some point we’ll have to look at,” he said.