Tuesday, December 23, 2014

In a live interview broadcast Wednesday morning on KAST AM 1370 Astoria city councilor Karen Mellin characterized the town as an "international" city with a history that has influenced world events.  Mellin was guest on Coastwatch In The Morning with Tom Freel sharing information about a commemoration taking place at the end of this week when people from around the world will be coming to Astoria to recognize the founding of a South Asian political party that influenced India's independence from British rule.  The Ghadar Party had it's founding at a meeting held one hundred years ago in Astoria's Finnish Socialist Hall between Punjabi Indians who, at the time, had found a home here working at a lumber mill and forming a community in the area now known as Alderbook.

Until just last summer it was widely held that the founding of that revolutionary party occured in San Francisco and spread amongst south asian indians living on the west coast of North America.  Astoria's involvement was largely unknown  until an article written by Johanna Ogden appeared in Oregon Historical Quarterly in the summer of 2012.

 An exerpt of Oden's research paper reads : "The revolutionary nationalist Ghadar Party was "an uncompromising and radical new direction in Indian nationalist politics," writes Ogden. "Created by the Asian Indians of the U.S. West Coast, Ghadar's aim was nothing less than the armed overthrow of British rule in India. The group included intellectuals such as (Har) Dyal as well as students, but its ranks were the laboring Punjabi men who worked the (Columbia River) region's mills and farms. Men from the length of the Columbia River and beyond filled the hall that May in Astoria. Within a year of the meeting, hundreds of Punjabis, overwhelmingly laborers from the West Coast led by Sohan Singh Bhakna from Portland, returned to India with the hope of sparking an insurrection against British rule. Most were promptly captured, detained, tried or executed." 


The idea of commemorating that century old meeting appealed to Karen Mellin who brought the idea forward to the city council and became the point person for the city in the planning that she says quickly involved the Clatsop County Historical Society.  Mellin told Freel that the Astoria Warrenton Chamber of Commerce became an important partner as well, tapping into their organizational skills.

Mellin said that the weekend events are free to the public and will include a number of experts traveling to Astoria to be part of a panel discussion. She mentioned that several films will be screened including a film "Turban" that was shot in Astoria.  The old Finnish Socialist Hall is long gone but Mellin says that a monument to the Ghadar party will be raised in the vicinity of the old hall on the Riverwalk behind the Dunes Motel which was once the site of the old hall.

Mellin stated that Astoria is truely an International city when one considers the populations of Chinese who lived here, which spurred development of the Garden of Surging waves, and the large population of Scandinavian people who lived here and whose decendents mark that culture's influence with the annual Scandanavian Midsummer festival.   

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