California Governor Gavin Newsom on Friday signed a bill declaring April 24 a state holiday in remembrance of the Armenian Genocide.
The legislation (AB 1801), introduced by Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian, mandates that every year on April 24 all community colleges and public schools throughout California will close. State employees will be given time off with pay.
“The Legislature finds and declares that Genocide Remembrance Day would be a day for all to reflect on past and present genocides, but especially those that have felt the impact of these atrocities and groups that have found refuge in California, including, but not limited to, the Holocaust, Holodomor, and the Genocides of the Armenian, Assyrian, Greek, Cambodian, and Rwandan communities. Genocide Remembrance Day would be observed annually on April 24, also known as Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, during the week the state of California traditionally recognizes Genocide Awareness Week,” the text of the legislation said.
The text further states that on April 24 or on an alternate date “public schools and educational institutions throughout this state may include exercises, funded through existing resources, remembering and honoring the many contributions that survivors of genocide have made to this country. The State Board of Education may adopt a model curriculum guide to be available for use by public schools for exercises related to Genocide Remembrance Day.”
“I am signing Assembly Bill 1801 , which establishes Genocide Remembrance Day as a state holiday to be observed on April 24, and permits public schools and community colleges to close in observance of this holiday. This bill also permits state employees to utilize eight hours of vacation, annual leave, or compensating time off in lieu of receiving eight hours of personal holiday credit to observe Genocide Remembrance Day,” said Newsom in a signing statement.
“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. Establishing a state holiday that commemorates genocides – both past and present – provides space for groups to heal and sends a powerful signal about our California values. Importantly, California continues to lead by example, with a strong record of providing refuge to countless groups suffering through the atrocity of genocide,” Newsom added.
“I am immensely proud of the richness of diversity and backgrounds represented in our state and understand the importance of wanting to see one’s own experience reflected in state holidays. While I am signing this bill and two other bills that also mark two significant days, before increasing the number of state holidays beyond the more than a dozen already recognized, I encourage the Legislature to identify criteria to help evaluate and inform future establishment of additional state holidays,” concluded Newsom.
Nazarian introduced the legislation in the State Assembly in February, receiving unanimous approval by various legislative committees and on May 26 passed the entire Assembly by a vote of 75 to 0. After its passage in the Assembly, the bill went to the State Senate where it also received unanimous support. The final, reconciled, version was approved by the State Assembly in August and was sent to Newsom for his signature.
The passage of AB 1801 was hard-fought, with significant effort by the ANCA-WR to address amendments which tethered its enforcement with the passage of two other holiday bills, AB 1655, Juneteenth (Assemblymember Jones-Sawyer) and AB 2596, Lunar New Year (Assemblymember Low). Despite the challenges this created, the ANCA-WR saw this as an opportunity to engage with coalition partners, working closely especially with the Asian-American National Committee to bring much-needed awareness and exposure to the experiences and histories of the Armenian-American, Asian-American, and African-American communities. Through effective collaborative efforts with other communities and effective coordination with Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian, the ANCA-WR and friends were able to secure bipartisan support from legislators in both the California State Assembly and Senate, resulting in the passage of all three bills.
“This marks a significant milestone for the Armenian-American community’s path to justice,” commented Nora Hovsepian, Chair of the ANCA-WR Board of Directors. “Having fought for generations for formal recognition of the Armenian Genocide, the institutionalization of its recognition and commemoration in all public institutions, permanent designation of April 24 as a State holiday demonstrates that the community has made great strides, and will continue to fight tirelessly for the Armenian Cause. We are exceedingly grateful to Governor Gavin Newsom for his steadfast support of issues important to our community and to Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian for his vision and tireless efforts to secure passage of this important bill.”
“The Armenian-American community will undoubtedly lead all communities as we have for generations in advocating for justice for the crimes of genocide,” said Edward Barsoumian, Government Affairs Coordinator with the ANCA-WR, “and after federal recognition of the Armenian Genocide, this state holiday on April 24th will ensure that the Armenian-American community is at the center of the conversation to address atrocity prevention and the preservation of human rights.”
The ANCA-WR said that it is proud to stand firmly alongside the Asian-American and African-American communities to ensure that all communities receive well-deserved representation in public institutions, especially in light of the many contributions that our communities have made toward the growth and success of the United States. Now and forever, April 24th, Juneteenth, and Lunar New Year will be honored by the entirety of the State of California and its institutions, paving a bright future for Armenian-American advocacy and inter-community dialogue.