LOS ANGELES–Armenian and American flags waved with determination on the steps of the Turkish Consulate in Los Angeles Thursday as thousands of Armenian-Americans came out to demand justice and recognition in protest of 93 years of Turkey’s denial of the Armenian Genocide.
"93 years, no more tears," was shouted by an estimated 15,000 people as they marched united along the perimeter of the consulate, located on the corner of Wilshire blvd and Crescent Heights on Los Angeles’s historic miracle mile.
One of the demonstrators, a regular at community demonstrations against genocide denial, was 101-year-old Genocide survivor Ghazaros Kademian who hand delivered his own personal letter of protest, which was read aloud by the organizers during the final remarks of the evening.
The protest, which is organized annually by the Armenian Youth Federation, featured speeches in both Armenian and English. After Kademian’s letter was read to the crowd, California Assembly member Paul Krekorian took the podium to speak about the relevance of genocide recognition for America, while AYF Educational Committee Chairman Saro Haroun and AYF Chairman Caspar Jivalagian followed with inspiring speeches about the youth’s steadfast commitment to continue the struggle for recognition.
"93 years ago, the perpetrators of the Genocide tried to wipe the Armenian race off the face of the planet," Jivalagian exclaimed. "All of us standing here today are living proof, that the goals and desires of the Turks failed."
"I was born in Zeitun…my father died there defending his homeland. My mother died freezing, protecting my sister and I from the bitter cold of winter in northern Iraq, where we were exiled," Kademian’s letter said.
"The survivors of the genocide are with us today, and not just one or one hundred, but thousands of them, standing before me, demanding justice for the Armenian nation," Haroun exclaimed. "Where is that one last Armenian who they said would be displayed in a Turkish museum?"
Krekorian, who represents the largest Armenian community outside of Armenia, told the thousands gathered of his own personal connection with the Genocide, and about his ancestor who was brutally murdered in Kharpert on June 1915.
"But it is important–not just for our community, but for all Americans–to commemorate the anniversary of one of the greatest crimes in human history," exclaimed Krekorian. "Only when Turkey confesses to their crimes will our people have peace, and Turkey’s soul be saved, and only then can the world community have any hope of preventing atrocities like the Genocide from happening now and in the future."
This year’s protests were held against the backdrop of intensified activity by the Turkish government to prevent the United States House of Representatives from finally recognizing the Genocide.
"We have seen an attempt by the Turkish Government to enforce a gag rule on the United States Congress," stated Armenian National Committee of America Western Region Executive Director Andrew Kzirian. "The activists here today are a testament to the idea that this is unacceptable. We must end the cycle of genocide by remembering and acknowledging so that current perpetrators like the Sudanese Government, and culpable parties, like Turkey, remain on notice that the world is watching."
Two such activists, 16 year-old Gary Piloian and 17 year-old Garbis Topakian said they have been coming to the protest for 5 years now in order to help the community raise awareness of the genocide.
"If we stop protesting, and forget those killed by the Turks in the genocide, who will remember them?" asked 20 year-old Allen Gharakhani.
"The only way we will get Turkey to accept its crime is if we continue to struggle and take action," exclaimed 17 Talar Markerian.
The annual April 24 protest in front of the consulate has become a uniting force over the past decade for the community’s youth, which having grown up in America, identify the event as one that helps connect them to their people’s history.
"The elders of the Armenian community should be very proud of their youth," Captain Eric Davis of the Los Angeles Police Department said. "Any time you see the youth caring about their future in a responsible way, you have to respect that."
Davis, who has been working the protest on and off for over a decade said he appreciates the cooperation and respect of the AYF when they demonstrate. Their understanding of the various concerns and issues of the LAPD maintains the integrity of the community, he said
"These kids are just trying to be heard, they are exercising their First Amendment rights to free speech," said Sergeant Briget Pickett, who has been working the event for three years. "I didn’t know about the genocide before, it inspired me to research it. It was very educational, she added."
"American’s are for humanitarian issues," she said, "and this is a human issue across the board."
"Recognizing the Armenian Genocide will put America back on the right side of a vital moral issue, reaffirming our unique role in promoting human rights," said ANCA-WR Press Secretary Ani Garabedian. "What’s at stake here is our right, as Americans, to uphold our nation’s highest ideals, free from the foreign threats and intimidation of the Turkish Government."
American ideals were something highlighted extensively in Kademian’s letter, which thanked the American Government for opening its doors to embrace the Armenia’s after the Genocide.
"Hopefully I will not wait long, for the day that [the Turkish] government accepts its unjust actions and proceeds to remedy its mistakes," Kademian’s letter read.