BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
America’s fractured and polarized political reality found itself on the Armenian community’s doorstep on Saturday when a group of anti-impeachment protesters decided that an event dedicated to the Congressional passage of the Armenian Genocide resolutions would be the optimal place to voice their grievances with Rep. Adam Schiff, who is a key figure in President Trump’s impeachment drama unfolding in Washington.
The event was a Town Hall organized by the Armenian National Committee of America-Western Region at the Glendale Public Library celebrating passage of the Armenian Genocide resolutions and featured Schiff and Rep. Judy Chu as its guests who were representing all the lawmakers who voted in favor of the measure.
The raucous began when Schiff took the stage to address the Genocide resolution, but instead was met with chants from the protesters who labeled him a liar. The protesters argument was the Schiff was “forcibly trying to remove our president.” Their chants and disruption obviously elicited anger from the Armenians who had come to the event to join the ANCA-WR in celebrating this momentous victory. It soon turned into a scuffle.
It wasn’t until it was pointed out that the demonstrators’ outburst and misplaced protests were disrespecting the memory of 1.5 million victims of the Genocide and its survivors that they calmed down, with some leaving the auditorium and others sticking around for the remainder of the now reconfigured program, adamantly waving their anti-impeachment and pro-Trump signs and banners.
What the protesters did not realize was that there were Turks in the audience who had come to disrupt the event. They wound up joining the (louder) chorus of anti-Schiff protesters, whose comments after on social media after the event were racist and xenophobic and were mocking “accented” “foreigners” who were attending the town hall.
“No disrespect to you all, I’m glad you guys are getting recognized for your genocide, but this man is a f—–g liar!” said one of the pro-Trump protesters.
The “no disrespect” comment was one echoed by many of the protesters who approached me after the event wound down to convince me that they had high respect for our cause, with one of them even trying to assure me by saying, “by the way, I am not a white supremacist.” Another group of protesters stressed their unequivocal support for Genocide recognition, but not for Schiff, and announced that they were staunch supporters of Johnny Nalbandian, the Republican of Armenian descent who ran against Schiff in 2018.
If they firmly “respect” Genocide recognition, I wonder how many of them will urge their president to do the right thing and recognize the Genocide.
The ANCA-WR issued a statement on Saturday, calling the protests “egregious.”
“What made the act that much more egregious was that descendants of Genocide survivors happened to be in the room, many of them elderly, who had waited for the passage of such a bill their entire lives and had come to the event to express their gratitude to all those who championed this cause over a period of decades,” said the ANCA-WR statement.
While the organizers were careful to not infringe on anyone’s first amendment rights to free speech, the protesters, with their outbursts, curtail and infringed upon the Armenian community’s right to free assembly and speech by disrupting an event that in a way was a celebration of American way of political activism that had a successful outcome.
In the end, the event continued and the ANCA-WR was able to honor Schiff and Chu for their commitment to advancing Armenian concerns in Congress.
On social media, the protesters declared victory. What they actually achieved, however, was lending their voices to the well-oiled Turkish denialist machine and became pawns in the game of gagging the current—and past—White House from speaking truth to justice.