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Fresno’s Armenians Could Finally Get a School Named for Tatarian

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H. Roger Tatarian, at bottom, could be the new namesake for Forkner Elementary School, named for developer J.C. Forkner. (GV Wire Illustration/Justine Cha)
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Armenians represent about 7% of Fresno’s population, but in the city’s largest school district there are no schools bearing the name of an Armenian.

That could change at Wednesday evening’s Fresno Unified School Board meeting. The trustees are scheduled to consider renaming a northwest Fresno elementary school for H. Roger Tatarian, a Fresno native who achieved worldwide renown as the head of United Press International before returning to his hometown to instruct budding journalists at Fresno State.

The school that could bear Tatarian’s name is now named for J.C. Forkner, who developed Fresno’s Fig Garden neighborhood as well as other parts of the city but excluded people of color from buying his homes. Critics of Forkner have noted that nearly all of today’s Fresno Unified trustees would have been prevented decades ago from buying Forkner’s homes because they are people of color.

But the school likely would have continued to bear Forkner’s name except for a decision earlier this year by the School Board to name the new alternative education campus at 10th Street and Ventura Avenue in southeast Fresno after local philanthropists Francine and Murray Farber.

The board’s vote to name the school for the Farbers, who have underwritten several programs benefitting Fresno Unified students, came even after a community poll showed overwhelming support for Tatarian and members of the city’s Armenian community lobbied trustees.

The trustees then attempted to placate the Armenian community and other community members who had supported alternative names for the campus by suggesting that specific buildings be named for them. That proposal was deemed a “consolation prize” by former Trustee Michelle Asadoorian and was declined by Tatarian’s family.

Neighborhood Was Home to Armenians

The southeast campus, the site of the old Fresno County juvenile hall, was in the neighborhood where Tatarian and many other Armenians were born and raised in Fresno, providing an additional historical link.

However, the Farbers had the support of the board majority as well as Fresno City Council members who passed a resolution in support of naming the campus for them.

So members of the Armenian turned their attention to naming another facility for Tatarian. Local developer Ed Kashian wrote a letter and had a representative make a presentation to urge the trustees to honor Tatarian with a facility named for him. Kashian’s presentation did not specifically ask to have Forkner School renamed. Local attorney Marshall Moushigian this week penned a commentary in support of changing the name.

The board has heard from some people who support retaining the Forkner name. The supporters say that multiple generations of family members have attended the school and they want to maintain the tradition.

In addition to the renaming, the trustees on Wednesday will consider creating a committee of trustees to develop rules for renaming schools in the future. The board has opted not to wait for the development of those rules and to move forward with a vote on the Forkner renaming.

The School Board meeting is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. Wednesday, and the public hearing on renaming Forkner School is scheduled to begin at 6:45 p.m. The meeting will be in the downtown headquarters at the corner of M and Tulare streets.

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