Oakland Armenian church annual food festival to raise money for refugees fleeing bombings
on October 4, 2023
Beirut. Yerevan. Moscow. Cairo. Buenos Aires. Oakland.
These cities were among the first havens for survivors of the Armenian Genocide in the early 20th century. Today, Oakland’s St. Vartan Apostolic Church remains a meeting place for the region’s Armenian community nearly a century after its founding in 1924.
This weekend, St. Vartan will host a two-day festival featuring Armenian and Middle Eastern food prepared by members of the congregation, live Armenian music, traditional dancing, children’s activities, and vendors. Take-away food will also be available. Kim Bardakian, one of the event’s organizers, said members have been preparing for the weekend since May.
68th Annual Armenian Food Festival
When: 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday,
and noon to 11 p.m. Saturday.
Where: St. Vartan Apostolic Church, 650 Spruce Street
Last week, around 100,000 of the 120,000 Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan, fled the region after a blockade and bombings by Azerbaijan. Armenia’s prime minister has claimed the incursion constitutes ethnic cleansing.
Despite some calls to postpone the festival, the organizers have shifted its focus to raising awareness and money. A portion of the proceeds from food, drinks, raffles, and hand-made crafts will support the St. Vartan Armenian Humanitarian Aid Fund to assist refugees. Organizers will also offer information about the current situation in Nagorno-Karabakh.
“The Armenian story has never been a happy one,” said deacon Steve Donikian. Donikian’s parents emigrated to Oakland from Istanbul after violent pogroms in 1955.
As in festivals past, this year Donikian will be overseeing the kebab pit. His goal for the event is to provide a space for Armenians and non-Armenians to receive physical and spiritual nourishment.
Beth Rustigian, whose grandparents were founding members of St. Vartan, helped tweak this weekend’s plans in light of the events in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Rustigian said that the East Bay Armenian community prides itself on welcoming anyone to its events regardless of Armenian heritage. This attitude reflects an appreciation of the fact that Oakland has given generations of Armenians a safe home.
Donikian said that Oakland has been an ideal refuge for the Armenian community over the past century. The city, like Armenia, has long been overshadowed by its neighbor to the west, he said. But, he added “We’re still here. The goal now is to make sure that the situation does not become any worse.”
(Contributed photos from last year’s festival are courtesy of Kim Bardakian)
Oakland North welcomes comments from our readers, but we ask users to keep all discussion civil and on-topic. Comments post automatically without review from our staff, but we reserve the right to delete material that is libelous, a personal attack, or spam. We request that commenters consistently use the same login name. Comments from the same user posted under multiple aliases may be deleted. Oakland North assumes no liability for comments posted to the site and no endorsement is implied; commenters are solely responsible for their own content.
Oakland North is an online news service produced by students at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and covering Oakland, California. Our goals are to improve local coverage, innovate with digital media, and listen to you–about the issues that concern you and the reporting you’d like to see in your community. Please send news tips to: firstname.lastname@example.org.