On April 24th, 1915, the Armenian genocide officially began with the arrests, deportations, and assassinations of hundreds of Armenian community leaders, politicians, journalists, priests, prominent figures, and intellectuals by the Ottoman Empire. By 1923 1.5 million Armenian men, women, and children were systematically torn from their homes and historic Armenian lands, and forced to march into the desert with no food or water, where those who survived were massacred and buried in mass graves.
This year marks the 106th anniversary of the beginning of the Armenian genocide.
Those who survived the genocide ended up all across the globe creating new lives for themselves. Today they and their descendants make up approximately 11 million Armenians worldwide. Today Los Angeles is home to the largest community of Armenians outside Armenia, most of whom live in and around Burbank.
Today in a statement, President Joseph Biden officially recognized the Armenian genocide:
“Each year on this day, we remember the lives of all those who died in the Ottoman-era Armenian genocide and recommit ourselves to preventing such an atrocity from ever again occurring. Beginning on April 24, 1915, with the arrest of Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople by Ottoman authorities, one and a half million Armenians were deported, massacred, or marched to their deaths in a campaign of extermination. We honor the victims of the Meds Yeghern so that the horrors of what happened are never lost to history. And we remember so that we remain ever-vigilant against the corrosive influence of hate in all its forms.
Of those who survived, most were forced to find new homes and new lives around the world, including in the United States. With strength and resilience, the Armenian people survived and rebuilt their community. Over the decade’s Armenian immigrants have enriched the United States in countless ways, but they have never forgotten the tragic history that brought so many of their ancestors to our shores. We honor their story. We see that pain. We affirm the history. We do this not to cast blame but to ensure that what happened is never repeated.
Today, as we mourn what was lost, let us also turn our eyes to the future—toward the world that we wish to build for our children. A world unstained by the daily evils of bigotry and intolerance, where human rights are respected, and where all people are able to pursue their lives in dignity and security. Let us renew our shared resolve to prevent future atrocities from occurring anywhere in the world. And let us pursue healing and reconciliation for all the people of the world.
The American people honor all those Armenians who perished in the genocide that began 106 years ago today.”
A commemorative lighting event was held on the morning of April 24, at Burbank City Hall attended by representatives from the federal state and local levels. The event consisted of speeches, the colors of the Armenian flag being shined upon Burbank City Hall, and community members were invited to place flowers in memory of those lost.
Congressman Adam Schiff who has been fighting for genocide recognition for 25 years and who led a bipartisan effort for recognition, said in his speech:
“The truth at long last, at long last the truth, thank God, thank God!”
Schiff continued to say “this recognition comes 106 years after the genocide began. That is a long time to wait for an acknowledgment of the horror of the first genocide of the last century, but it also comes at a very important time. A time when Azerbaijan and Turkey once again made war against the Armenian people. A time when there are fears of another genocide in the making in Artsakh and in Armenia.
The President’s willingness to speak truth to power is a firm indication that the United States will stand beside its democratic allies, will be willing to stand up to autocrats and dictators and those that would murder their neighbors. So this comes at a very important time.
The truth my friends, my wonderful friends in the Armenian Community, the truth at long last, thank God.”
Schiff also later said ” I think a number of things changed. This president came into office with a Congress that was united behind recognition. For 19 years I carried a bill to recognize the Armenian genocide with the strong support of my collogue representative Chu. That bill passed the last session with 405 votes. That was the first time that bill was taken up on the house floor in decades. A similar measure in the Senate passed under unanimous voice votes. So the President understood that should he take the step of recognizing the genocide that he would have a united congress behind him. What’s more, I think Joe Biden has reached a point of his life and career where he is more than ready to speak the plain facts of history and damn the consequences. He comes to office with a lifetime record of being a champion for human rights. Someone who understood deeply the facts and the history of the Armenian people and of the genocide. So that is what has changed. I also think the backdrop of this terrible war and the threat of future genocides in the region prompted him to act as he did.”
Burbank Mayor Bob Frutos also attended the event with others from the Burbank City Council. Frutos told myBurbank “What they have been fighting for 106 years is the acknowledgment that the genocide in fact happened and not deny it.” Mayor Frutos hopes that this recognition brings inclusivity in the future. He added ” People matter, their voices, and the Armenian people are part of the structure of the United States of America. Frutos added ” we will never forget the loss of their families, their loved ones, and we will continue to represent them, to make sure their voice is at the table.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Katherine Barger was present at the event to show her support and said “this has been a long hard-fought battle. Each year we think we’re gonna get close. Each year I stand in solidarity with my Armenian brothers and sisters, and each year I get a letter from Turkey threatening me. I will not be bullied. I stand tall with you. Barger finished by saying ” God bless Armenia. We have a lot more work to do and were all ready to do it together. Let history not repeat itself.”
Nora Hovsepian Chair of the ANCA Western Region gave a very heartfelt speech speaking about the fight for recognition here in the United States. Hovsepian said “after 106 years of persistent struggle, the Armenian American Community has finally reached a tremendous milestone on the road to justice. Today as we honor the victims of the Armenian genocide we also give thanks to all those who helped us reach this point.” Hovsepian continued to say ” I think I can speak for virtually every Armenian when I say that today it feels like a huge weight has been finally lifted from our shoulders. A heavy burden we have all borne our entire lives which were passed down for generations by our grandparents who came to these shores as orphans, having lost their entire families while the perpetrators walked away with impunity.
For too long we were silenced by government officials who for political expediency ignored their own history. For too long we have had to deal with grief, despair, anger, and trauma. But there have been glimmers of hope along the way. In 1981 President Ronald Reagan uttered the words Armenian Genocide during a holocaust remembrance day event, alas it did not become official U.S. policy. Next came recognition 49 of the 50 U.S. states, all of them calling on the federal government to do the same. Still, it did not happen. In 2019 the near-unanimous congressional recognition of the Armenian genocide in both the house and the senate finally altered the course of U.S. policy at least in the legislative branch for which we were so grateful. Our most vocal proponents of truth and justice led by Congressman Adam Schiff for decades kept the issue alive year after year confronting Turkish apologists and calling out each administration Republican and Democrat for allowing Turkey to have a veto over American foreign policy and for their weakness in letting the Turkish dictator Erdogan and his predecessors bully them into using euphemisms to describe what they always knew to be genocide. That is until now, until today.
President Joe Biden who for decades in the senate was a strong proponent of Armenian genocide recognition, who as Vice President attended the memorial service for the 1.5 million martyrs at the national cathedral on the occasion of the genocide centennial, and who pledged last year to support Armenian genocide recognition like many candidates before him, actually took the bold step of doing the right thing by rejecting Turkeys gag rule, disengaging the United States from Turkey ongoing Campagna of denial, and delivering to us such a hard-fought and long-awaited victory on the road to justice as now government-wide U.S. recognition has become complete and unequivocal.”
Hovsepian finished by saying ” The President’s announcement is even more poignant now in the wake of the 44-day war unleashed jointly by Turkey and its ally Azerbaijan against Armenia and Artsakh, and it puts the historical record of 1915 into present-day context. You see, Turkey’s genocidal intent has never ended. We hear it in Erdogan’s promise to finish what his grandfather started. We hear it in Aliev’s threats to take all Armenian lands by force. We witness it in their intentional destruction of Armenian ancient Churches Monasteries cemeteries and monuments. They try even now to rid the area of Armenians and to erase any trace of thousands of years of Armenian heritage. They commit war crimes. They torture prisoners of war. They capture civilians, destroy Armenian towns and villages, teach their children to hate. They build dehumanizing trophy parks, all with impunity, emboldened by the silence of western leaders, and fueled by their viscous ultra-nationalist pan-Turkic aspirations. So it was in 1915 and so it is today. So beyond the immense symbolic value of U.S. recognition of the Armenian genocide to set the historical record straight, this recognition finally ends the era of U.S. complicity in Turkey’s denial once and for all. It safeguards the Armenian’s right to exist against ongoing threats of annihilation. It promotes the right of Armenia and Artsakh to exist in peace without the threat of invasion, and it sends a message to dictators of the world that their aggression will no longer be met with silence and trepidation, and finally opens the door to truth, accountability, and most of all justice.”