April 24 is a day like any other for most LA locals, but for tens of thousands of Armenians currently living in Los Angeles, it is the day they come together to march in solidarity from Pan Pacific Park all the way to the Turkish Consulate to demand justice and recognition for the atrocious crimes committed against their ancestors during the Armenian Genocide of 1915.
The Armenian Genocide is characterized by Armenians as a mass murder of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1923. Turkey killed, raped and religiously converted Armenians in attempts to annihilate the culture from the face of the Earth to further their efforts of establishing Pan-Turkism.
Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti, California State Senator Kevin de León, Congressman Adam Schiff and Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, along with many other government officials, were present at the march to show their support and mourn the pain felt by the largest Armenian community residing outside of Armenia.
“Give yourselves a round of applause for standing up for the truth, the truth, the truth,” said Mayor Garcetti. “We are here today as one city, as one nation, as one world, to remember first and foremost 1.5 million souls whose children would have been here standing with us. Whose children’s children should be here standing with us. But as babies, as children, as pregnant mothers, their lives were ended in the first genocide of modern history. It was Hitler who said, ‘After all, who remembers the Armenians?’ before he started killing the Jews.”
The march was led by members of the Armenian Apostolic Church, who prayed with the crowd preceding the march. Armenians are the oldest group of people to adopt Christianity and had thousands of churches in the early 20th century, most of which were burned and demolished during the Genocide, along with hundreds of schools and monasteries.
Turkey has repeatedly denied committing the Genocide, stating that it happened during the early years of World War I, therefore it is possible that Armenians were killed during that time and they should not be responsible for those 1.5 million deaths.
For the sea of Armenians marching down Fairfax Boulevard, however, the Turkish government is to blame, and they will continue to persist until they take responsibility for their crime.
“It has been 103 years and the Turkish government continues to deny the truth. The Turkish government refuses to recognize the Genocide,” said PCC student Sevana Manoukian. “However, we are not demanding only for recognition. We want reparations! We want Turkey to return our lands back, but also protect the rights of minorities living there.”
Manoukian is a freshman at PCC and has been attending the annual marches since before she could remember. This year, Manoukian was a monitor for the march. As a monitor, she, along with other members of the Armenian Youth Federation, were in charge of leading the crowd from their starting point to the front of the Turkish Consulate.
This year, the march was especially important to the Armenians living in the diaspora. Just one day earlier, it was announced that former President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan quit his new role as Prime Minister after 10 days of peaceful protests within the country.
This change in government, referred to by Armenians as “The Velvet Revolution,” has shed a new light on Armenians and instilled in them the notion that, through persistence, justice is most certainly attainable.
Many non-Armenians were also present at the march to show their respect and recognition of the crime. Amongst all the red, blue and orange flags (the colors of the Armenian flag said to represent bloodshed, blue skies and harvest), the sky was also filled with flags from Greece, Lebanon, Assyria, Brazil, Africa, Israel, Syria, Russia and America.
The end point of the march was in front of the Turkish Consulate, where a stage was set up for speakers, as well as Armenian singers. The crowd sung and danced with performers to celebrate the fact that Turkey was unable to succeed in eliminating the Armenians. Many take great pride in the fact that their culture is alive and thriving due to their ancestors’ miraculous survival of the Genocide.
Amidst the crowd, the younger generation of Armenians were especially evident. Toddlers and teens from Armenian schools, as well as Armenians in college, all walked alongside each other chanting “Paykar, paykar minchev verch (‘Persist, persist until the end’).”
The youth are the most important part of getting Genocide recognition, according to 19-year-old California State University, Northridge student Rita Kelechian.
“I believe it is my obligation as an Armenian living in America outside of my homeland to spread my culture’s history and to let people know what actually happened in 1915,” she said.
Manoukian nodded in agreement. “As a diasporan youth, it is crucial to understand the importance of my people,” she stated. “Even though we march 16,000 miles away from my homeland, their youth and our youth stand in unity and demand justice.”
Even the scorching hot LA sun couldn’t stop the over 25,000 American-Armenians from walking those few miles.
“The least we can do is march and pay our respects to our ancestors,” said Los Angeles City College student Arax Joulfayan, fighting back tears. “The hotter it is, the happier I get because it brings us closer to what they had to go through: marching through Der Zor in that heat without food and water, having just witnessed their families killed in front of them.”
The march is neither violent, nor is it meant to scorn the people of Turkey. Despite contrary belief, the Armenians do not hate Turkish people. They are simply looking for Turkey’s government to provide the Armenians with the reparations they deserve.
“My mom’s side was actually secretly saved by a Turk [during the Genocide] and it’s the only reason why her family made it out alive,” said Kelechian. “So I know that not all Turks are bad and our problem isn’t with their people, it’s with their government’s negligence and that’s something people need to know.”
Many people don’t understand why the Armenian community still attempts to bring attention to the Genocide, considering it’s been over a century since it happened and nearly all of the survivors are no longer alive. For Armenians, the Genocide is a scar that runs deep and is something they must carry with them throughout the entirety of their life. Nearly every Armenian marching has a story to tell about their “metz-mayr (grandma)” and “metz-hayr (grandpa)” crying as they recall memories of their family’s past. For them, it is a personal fight and not just a legal battle.
“As a great-granddaughter of a survivor who was forced to leave her home and walk across the Syrian deserts from Sassoon, it is my duty to continue to fight for justice. Not just for my great-grandma, but for the future of my people,” said Manoukian.
Manoukian, Kelechian and Joulfayan are all freshmen in college. One majoring in Biology with a minor in Armenian, the other pursuing a career in film and the other studying to be a civil rights lawyer. All three hope to use their career as a platform to not only bring awareness to the tragic past of the Armenian Genocide, but also draw attention to the beauty of Armenian culture and help add to its flourishing future.
Currently 48 states in America recognize the Armenian Genocide, but the United States federal government has yet to do so. In the past, many presidential candidates have promised Armenians that they will recognize the Genocide and have failed to do so once they step into office due to fear of losing an ally. Armenians hope that America will stop fearing Turkey’s gag orders and empty threats in order to stand for morality and prove right from wrong, like they have done time and time again.
“This is a day of mourning and celebrating the fact that we had ancestors so strong that they fought until the end. They persisted so that we would not be forgotten people. April 24th is us coming together to remind Turkey that we’re as stubborn as our ancestors and we will continue to fight to win, to get our lands back, to get the reparations that we deserve,” said Joulfayan. “It’s not just one day that we remember. We spend 364 days remembering and fighting, and this is the one day that we come together collectively and have our voices heard to remind Turkey that they will not win…ever.”
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