By Ted AYALA
Over 1,000 people crowded into Glendale’s Alex Theatre on Thursday night to reflect on the 99th anniversary of the Metz Yeghern – the “Great Crime.”
Nearly a century ago, the Ottoman Empire began its persecution of its Armenian minority — years of long institutionalized massacre that would come to be known as the Armenian Genocide – the first such incident of the 20th century.
Dignitaries, community leaders, and artists – Armenians and non-Armenians alike – expressed solidarity with the victims of the genocide, holding out faith that the injustice suffered will soon be righted.
Applause greeted Congressman Adam Schiff, whom Glendale City Councilman Ara Najarian, presiding as the evening’s emcee, referred to as a “fighter and leader” in the struggle to obtain recognition for the Armenian Genocide.
Schiff read aloud from an open letter he wrote to the Turkish people and its government, which he has unsuccessfully attempted to have printed in one of Turkey’s major press outlets.
After reading, he closed his remarks with the hope that Turkey and the rest of the world will finally recognize the Armenian Genocide for what it is.
“Let us hope in the days [approaching] the centennial of the genocide that Turkey will answer with reflection, repentance, restitution and with the unequivocal expression of remorse that accompanies so large a crime,” he said. “Let us hope and pray too that the greatest nation on Earth – the United States of America – stands up to its moral legacy and speaks plainly about genocide.
“Because so much time has passed, we risk that the genocide becomes an abstraction, and not the horrific story of inhumanity that it was.”
Assemblymember Mike Gatto also took the mic to offer his thoughts.
The legislator’s track record has earned him wide praise for his diligence in pursuing the recognition of the Armenian Genocide, not only at a local level but across the state as well.
When rallying for the Armenian cause, Gatto said that he chose not to use statistics or a recounting of history to persuade his fellow legislators as to the rightness of his cause.
“I simply told the story of the great-grandparents of two of my staffers,” he said. “For every rape, for every death, for every corpse we see in those old black-and-white pictures, there is a real human involved, a real family that suffered.”
The impression left on his colleagues, he recalled, was devastating.
“As I told these stories of these families, real people cast out into the desert, there was an absolute silence,” he recounted. “There were tears in some of [my colleagues’] eyes. When educating others [about the genocide], it’s important to personalize it.”
He also pointed to the recent shelling by anti-Assad forces of the Syrian town of Kasab, an Armenian enclave situated near the Turkish border, and the volatile situation between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region as a warning of the real perils many Armenians still face.
Regarding the latter, Gatto said that he is spearheading legislation to have California recognize the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic as a sovereign state. A vote on the bill, known as AJR 32, will be coming up for a vote on the legislature floor on May 5.
“I think it will pass,” he said to loud cheers.