By Ted AYALA
“The Ottoman Empire tried to wipe out an entire race of people – and they almost succeeded,” said Congressman Adam Schiff Monday night to the audience assembled in the auditorium of Glendale High School. “But they didn’t. Today the Armenian people enrich culture and society in every part of our country.”
Schiff was one of the many dignitaries speaking at the Glendale Unified School District’s 12th Annual Genocide Commemoration. Other dignitaries included Councilmember Zareh Sinanyan, City Clerk Ardashes Kassakhian, GUSD boardmembers Greg Krikorian, Christine Walters and Armine Gharpetian, and GUSD Superintendent Dr. Richard Sheehan.
Youth from across Glendale, Armenians and non-Armenians alike, gathered to pay tribute to the fallen, to seek recognition for the genocide and to ensure that future generations never forget.
Between 1915 and 1923, nearly 2,000,000 Armenians perished in a state-condoned onslaught of looting, raping and slaughter. The genocide triggered the first wave of diaspora communities and resulted in the loss of their historic homeland in current western Turkey.
Though the genocide was witnessed and confirmed by a number of international observers, including Henry Morgenthau, Jr., who was serving as the U.S. ambassador to the Ottoman Empire during this period, the modern-day Republic of Turkey refuses to recognize its occurrence. Schiff himself, along with other politicians, has continually sought to have the White House recognize the genocide. President Barack Obama has refused to do so, though he had in the past lent support to the cause.
The refusal by many nations, Turkey first and foremost, to acknowledge the genocide has been a source of intense bitterness for Armenian communities the world over. Other countries whose governments have acknowledged the genocide and have demanded that Turkey atone for the act include France, Russia, Chile, Argentina, Germany and Canada.
“I’m quite comfortable speaking about many topics,” said GUSD board President Nayiri Nahabedian, “but I’m very uncomfortable speaking about the Armenian genocide. When I would hear my grandfather’s stories, I became tense and unsettled. How can we heal given the present circumstances?”
Monday’s program, which was titled “Our Traditions Keep Us Alive,” was as much a moment for reflection on the atrocities suffered by Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Turks as it was a testament to the continued thriving and renewal of the people and culture.
Students from Glendale, Hoover, Clark Magnet and Crescenta Valley high schools contributed poetry, dance, and music.
Though the event was a somber one, a steely optimism and a determination to seek justice, however long it should take, animated the proceedings.
“We need you to ensure that America speaks with a loud voice,” Schiff said, “and that it calls a genocide a genocide.”