LOS ANGELES (CNS) — Two rallies marking the 108th anniversary of the start of events widely viewed by scholars as the first genocide of the 20th century took place in the Los Angeles area Monday.
The “Armenian Genocide Commemorative Rally for Justice” began at 10 a.m. at the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Western Avenue in Little Armenia. Hundreds of people crowded into the street to hear speeches and musical performances. Many attendees held Armenian flags.
The rally was organized by Unified Young Armenians, which also organized a rally Sunday outside the Azerbaijan Consulate in Brentwood, seeking an immediate end to Azerbaijan’s blockade of the Lachin Corridor.
At noon, the Armenian Youth Federation held a “Rally for Humanity” outside the Turkish Consulate at 8500 Wilshire Blvd., near La Cienega Boulevard in Beverly Hills, themed “Remember the past, defend the future.”
Hundreds of people attended that rally, some holding signs reading “Sanction Turkey,” “Shame on Turkey” and “Turkish Denial Must End.”
Schools were closed Monday in the Los Angeles and Glendale unified school districts to commemorate Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day.
The Los Angeles area is home to the largest population of Armenians in the world outside of Armenia itself.
The LAUSD Board of Education adopted a policy in 2020 to close schools on Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day. Students and teachers in the Glendale Unified School District have been given the day off on April 24 for Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day since the 2013-14 school year.
A bill establishing Genocide Remembrance Day as a state holiday to be observed on April 24 and permitting public schools and community colleges to close in observance of the holiday was signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sept. 29.
“Genocide commemoration is more than a history lesson. It is a powerful tool to engage people across generations in the sanctity of human rights, the enormity of crimes, and how to prevent future atrocities,” Newsom wrote in his signing message for AB 1801 by then-Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian, D-North Hollywood.
Glendale conducted its 22nd annual Armenian Genocide Commemorative Event at the Alex Theatre, with the theme, “The Armenian Experience Through the Lens,” celebrating the 100th anniversary of Armenian cinema.
The program began with a tribute to the atrocities in the Nagorno Karabakh region in an attempt to raise awareness of humanitarian crises.
The event also included a preview of Armenia’s submission for the 2024 Oscars best international film category, “Aurora’s Sunrise,” an animated documentary based on the life of Aurora Mardiganian, an Armenian Genocide survivor who after her escape became an actress in the United States.
The keynote address was delivered by actor Joe Manganiello, who discussed intergenerational trauma, drawing from his familial history and the story of his maternal great-grandmother, Terviz “Rose” Darakijan, who survived the Armenian Genocide, organizers said.
On April 24, 1915, Ottoman authorities arrested Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople, leading to an estimated 1.5 million people being killed.
Turkey denies the deaths constituted genocide, saying the toll has been inflated and that those killed were victims of civil war and unrest.
Rep. Adam Schiff, whose district includes Glendale, with a large population of Armenian Americans, strongly disputed that in a statement issued Monday.
“One hundred and eight years ago, the Ottoman Empire began a systematic effort to destroy the Armenian people,” Schiff said. “Despite the overwhelming evidence of this methodical mass killing, Turkey has long engaged in a campaign to deny the genocide and to silence those who would speak the truth.
“But the United States will no longer be silenced. In 2019, for the first time in history, the U.S. House passed my resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide by a near unanimous and bipartisan margin. The Senate too passed a resolution affirming the facts of the Armenian Genocide. And in 2021, President Joe Biden finally cast aside decades of shameful silence by our nation to become the first sitting U.S. president to officially recognize the Armenian Genocide.
“... On this solemn anniversary, as we pause to remember the innocent victims of the Armenian Genocide, we also reflect on the resilience of those who survived, and the perseverance of their children and grandchildren.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued a message to the Turkish people Monday, saying in part, “I remember with respect the Ottoman Armenians who lost their lives under the harsh conditions of the First World War and offer my condolences to their grandchildren. On this occasion, I wish Allah’s mercy upon all the Ottoman citizens who passed away due to the clashes, insurgencies as well as gang violence, and terrorist acts that occurred during the First World War.”
Erdogan added that “events of the past” should not “overshadow our present and future.”
“We strive to establish an inclusive and embracing environment in (Turkey) where no one is marginalized and excluded because of their identity, faith and ethnicity,” Erdogan wrote. “Recognizing our differences as a source of richness, we will continue to work with the aim of friendship and peace in the coming period, despite those who attempt to politicize history.”
Biden also issued a statement Monday to mark what the White House billed as Armenian Remembrance Day.
“As we join nations around the world in remembering this painful history, we also reflect on the resilience and resolve of the Armenian people,” Biden said. “So many of those who survived were forced to begin new lives in new lands — including the United States.
“Here and around the world, the Armenian people have met the evil of hate with hope. They rebuilt their communities. They nurtured their families and preserved their culture. They strengthened our nation. They also told their stories — and those of their ancestors — to remember and to ensure that genocide like the one that happened 108 years ago is never again repeated.”