BY GAIANEH AVANESSIAN
LOS ANGELES — For the first time in recent history, the anniversary of the Armenian Genocide coincided with Easter, but this did not deter community members from participating in the annual April 24 protest in front of the Turkish Consulate. An estimated 5,000 people poured onto the streets to march and voice their ancestral anguish for the 1.5 million Armenians slaughtered at the hands of Ottoman Turks, as well as demand just reparations and recognition owed to the Armenian people.
“As a community and as citizens who care for human rights, we must stay unrelenting against the perpetration of genocide in all of its forms,” said Serouj Aprahamian, Executive Director of the Armenian Youth Federation. “That is why we’re here today. We are making a clear statement that we will ramp up our activism until justice is achieved for the unpunished crime of genocide committed by the Turkish government.”
As the crowd swelled, the Los Angeles Police Department was forced to close down a portion of Wilshire Blvd. in order to allow the masses of protestors to move into the street. Armenians and non-Armenians alike, of all age groups representing generations of history, marched and chanted in unison.
Javier Hernandez, a Mexican-American born and raised in Glendale, was protesting alongside his Armenian friends. “I’m here to support my Armenian friends because genocide is not just an Armenian issue, it’s a human rights issue and everyone deserves justice,” said Hernandez.
AYF member Tro Krikorian echoed the same sentiments in his speech given in Armenian, as he addressed the sea of people gathered directly in front of the entrance to the building housing the Turkish Consulate. Krikorian noted that the denial of the Armenian Genocide creates a perpetual cycle of genocide around the world that must be stopped.
Days earlier, more than 1,200 Armenian-Americans gathered in Culver City to demand that President Obama honor his promise and recognize the Genocide. The community had also urged Obama to visit the Montebello Armenian Genocide Martyrs’ Monument during his visit.
Instead, the president responded with a statement on April 23, referring to the events of 1915 as “Medz Yeghern,” once again falling short of honoring his promise to properly recognize the Armenian Genocide.
Razmig Sarkissian, an AYF member from Montebello, passionately voiced the frustration many Armenians share as a result of Obama’s unwillingness to properly refer to the crime as genocide. “We voted for change, not your indifference. Stand up and honor your pledge. Stand up and recognize genocide,” shouted Sarkissian.
Among the crowd, there was an unprecedented number of youth, ranging from 5 to 17 years old, holding up signs and exercising their right to speak, and be heard. Sarkissian addressed this crowd, specifically, as he exclaimed, “We must [keep pushing this movement forward] because we hold the pen that writes history, and the ink that floods that pen is our collective strength, our perseverance, and our relentless refusal to back down”.
The protest concluded with the Western Prelacy’s Father Bartev Gulumian leading a requiem service, addressing the uniqueness of Easter falling on April 24 and motivating the youth to continue to fight towards justice for the Armenian people.
Founded in 1933, the Armenian Youth Federation is the largest and most influential Armenian American youth organization in the United States, working to advance the social, political, educational and cultural awareness of Armenian-American youth.
Below is the complete text of Sarkissian’s speech at the demonstration:
April 24, 1915. One and a half million condemned to death with the stroke of a pen. The lives of one and a half million men, women, and children extinguished.
We’re gathered here today because these numbers, these facts, this history – shakes us to our very core. We’re gathered here today because for 96 years the ghosts of our past have haunted us.
Our ancestors were persecuted beyond comprehension. They were persecuted for being Christian, and they were persecuted for being Armenian.
Tortured and thrown out of their homes. Marches like cattle through the scorching deserts of Der Zor. Our ancestors were witness the murder of their family members, the rape of their mothers and sisters, and the abduction of their children and siblings. Through deportation, massacre, disease, starvation, mutilation, and other horrors, they were the victims of genocide.
96 years ago, Talaat Pasha, Enver Pasha, and Jemal Pasha, the triumvirate of criminals, were the orchestrators. The governors and mayors from Istanbul to Anatolia willfully complied, as they tallied up the innocent, and dehumanized each life they consciously condemned to death.
96 years later, the propagators have passed the torch onto a new breed of criminal: cowards who hide from the shameful truth and dastardly liars who attempt to eradicate 1915 from world history. From President Gul, to Prime Minister Erdogan, from Foreign Minister Davutoglu, to any representative of the Republic of Turkey, they all carry the blame, and as long as they continue to deny they all have blood on their hands.
Today, we are recovered from the brink of annihilation. Strong, grounded, and indestructible.
Erdogan can try to knock us down, and threaten us at will, but he will feel the power our people. He will feel the power of a new generation of education, resilient, united Armenians.
Davutoglu can attempt to bribe historians, and mute intellectuals, but the roar of truth can never be silenced.
Increasingly, scholars are speaking out. Even a minority of Turkish citizens have begun to reject the government’s lies, and apologize for Turkey’s crimes against humanity.
But apologies are not enough. Repentance is nothing without retribution. Anatolia’s battered monuments bear our names, and our memories. Those are our churches now lying in ruins. Those are our towns, our cities, our homes, and those are our mountains. Apologies are nothing without justice.
Today, we are more politically engaged than we have ever been. Day in and day out, we walk through the halls of Congress – past the corrupt lobbyists and bribed politicians – and we hold our heads high, because truth is on our side. Year in and year out, we put faith in our leadership, we invest in their promises, and we give them our votes. In return they promise us change.
But President Obama, what change can we hope for when you choose to be silenced? You’ve seen the wave of democracy spread across the middle east. You’ve seen the dictators America once supported thrown out by their own people.
It’s time to change your mistakes, and become proactive in our efforts to spread true democracy. To this day, the Republic of Turkey, your false ally, continuously jails journalists, curtails free speech, stifles democracy, and yet receives your unfaltering support.
From Mubarak, to Erdogan, how many more despots will you support? How many more tyrants will you allow to dictate our foreign policy. How many more false allies will you bow to at the expense of this nation’s moral dignity?
Take a stand, Obama! Take a stand, like we here today have taken a stand. We voted for change, not your indifference. Stand up, and honor your pledge. Stand up, and recognize genocide!
Don’t underestimate the power we hold as a collective youth. The future is not determined, we determine our future.
The demonstrations we’ve seen sweep through countries like Egypt weren’t led by politicians in suits, or aged diplomats. They began with the youth, the same age as us: 18 year olds on the internet, instead of on tanks; activists with flyers, instead of guns; 24 year olds with diplomas, instead of rifles. They all came to the streets and proved what heights a unified youth are capable of reaching.
The tools that allow us to connect with all four corners of the world, and the tools that help us spread information faster than we could ever imagine, are all at our fingertips.
Our work is endless, but our confidence is unwavering. Our future is never determined, we determine our future.
All Armenians, of all ages, of all generations – especially those of us who live in the United States – it is up to us to keep working, and pushing this movement forward.
We must continue to empower our minds and ourselves with education. We must remain engaged within our communities, and enrich them with our resources. We must assist our homeland and make it a stronger democracy.
We must, because we hold the Pen that writes History. And the Ink that floods that Pen is our collective strength, our perseverance, and our relentless refusal to back down!
April 24, 2011.
Over 7 million Armenians living in the Diaspora. Over 3 million Armenians living in Armenia. Over 1 million Armenians living in America.
These numbers. These facts. This reality.
Our future is never determined. We, and only we, determine our future!