Local Group Unveils Armenian-Themed Mural

Photo by Christian Leonard / Burbank Leader
A crowd of city and state officials, school district representatives and members of the local Armenian community stand with artist Pauline Hacopian as she cuts a ribbon at a ceremony introducing her newly created mural.

Burbank for Armenia presented this week what the organization believes is the city’s first public mural depicting Armenian culture.

The group unveiled the mural, created by local resident Pauline Hacopian, during an event on Monday. Displayed on an exterior wall of the Nexus Auto Group and facing North Edison Boulevard, the piece incorporates several aspects of both Armenia and the Los Angeles area.

Mount Ararat, which the Bible suggests is the resting place of Noah’s ark after the flood and is a national symbol of Armenia, serves as a centerpiece of the mural. Pomegranates, also emblematic of the country, hang over the design that includes the L.A. skyline and the Armenian Genocide Memorial in Armenia.

“I wasn’t born in Armenia, I was born here, so [in the artwork] L.A. meets my roots,” Hacopian explained in an interview. “It’s … a bunch of different monuments that kind of make me who I am.”

In February, Burbank for Armenia invited young local artists to submit applications to design the mural. The organization announced Hacopian’s selection in early June, pairing her with Nexus Auto Group, whose owner volunteered an exterior wall of his building to the project.

“I heard about this great thing, and I really wanted to have it on our wall because being Armenian and seeing this mural was such a beautiful thing,” Nexus owner Vahe Hamzoian said in an interview.

The mural is Hacopian’s first, she said. Being able to create one that represents her Armenian roots, she added, is a “dream come true.

Photo by Christian Leonard / Burbank Leader
Local artist Pauline Hacopian said her mural reflects both her connection to the Los Angeles area and her Armenian heritage. Burbank for Armenia selected her design for the artwork in a contest held earlier this year.

Romik Hacobian, who spearheaded the creation of Burbank for Armenia, explained that the group was founded in October, when Armenians were fighting Azerbaijan — backed by Turkey — in a war over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. He said his girlfriend, Lusine Simonyan, worried every day about her youngest brother, who risked being drafted into the Armenian armed forces.

An Armenian area of Nagorno-Karabakh that called itself the Republic of Artsakh sought to unify with Armenia after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, despite international recognition of the area as Azeri territory. Last year’s war echoed for many Armenians the genocide carried out by the Ottoman Empire starting in 1915. The 2020 conflict ended with a ceasefire that gave Azerbaijan control over much of the disputed territory.

In the months after its formation, Burbank for Armenia promoted fundraisers that supported Armenia’s armed forces. The group has also held a book drive for local schools and, along with the Burbank chapter of the Armenian National Committee of America, successfully lobbied municipal officials to light City Hall with the colors of the Armenian flag in remembrance of the Armenian genocide.

Hacobian and other members of the local Armenian community, he said, “always discussed about bringing Armenians together and how that would work.

“And then eventually because of this crisis,” he added, “it kind of just … came together.”

Looking over the mural she created, Hacopian said she hopes it will prompt passersby to ask questions about Armenia and the issues it is facing. Not many non-Armenians knew about the war with Azerbaijan last year, she explained, but she hopes art will encourage community members to learn about the events.

Burbank for Armenia hopes the mural will be the first of many throughout the city, Hacobian said. He added that the organization is considering making the commission an annual initiative, as several businesses expressed interest in hosting an art piece.

The inaugural work has already attracted some attention from local officials. Burbank Mayor Bob Frutos and state Sen. Anthony Portantino addressed the crowd on Monday, and other attendees included members of the City Council and Burbank Unified School District Board of Education. Board member Armond Aghakhanian also spoke during the event as a Burbank for Armenia member. Agkakhanian, who helped launch the BUSD’s diversity, equity and inclusion committee about two years ago, reiterated the importance of DEI during his speech.

Photo by Christian Leonard / Burbank Leader
Burbank Mayor Bob Frutos addresses community members during an event this week presenting what is believed to be the city’s first Armenian-themed mural. Behind him are Burbank Unified School District board member Armond Aghakhanian, state Sen. Anthony Portantino, Nexus Auto Group owner Vahe Hamzoian, local artist Pauline Hacopian and Burbank for Armenia founder Romik Hacobian.

“As we look at this mural, we must not forget that the foundation for a thriving, healthy society and a city is diversity, equity and inclusion,” he told attendees. “Here at Burbank for Armenia, we are committed to creating a community that supports and values each of its members equally as we celebrate our differences.”

His next words, however, were interrupted by a screech from a Smart and Final truck; the grocery chain has a location across the street from Nexus.

But the disturbance soon led to a moment of connection. As Aghakhanian made his way through the crowd after his speech, he spotted the driver of the truck, who was apparently waving at the group. A smile spread across his face.

“He’s Armenian!” Aghakhanian shouted.