By Ted AYALA
Though it has been nearly a century since the Armenian Genocide began, dignitaries and ordinary people from various communities came together last week to show that the slow tread of time will not make them forget the suffering.
Known in Armenian as Medz Yeghern or The Great Crime, the genocide was a nearly decade- long pogrom instituted by the Ottoman Turks against the Armenians who mostly populated modern-day Turkey’s eastern territory. In the eight years during which the genocide took place, nearly 2 million Armenians perished, their properties confiscated, and their culture suppressed. It also triggered the first wave of the Armenian diaspora, which resulted in the flowering of their culture on foreign shores.
“They’ve affected our nation and our world in religion and in the arts,” said Assemblymember Mike Gatto. “Armenian authors and artists have beautifully chronicled life around the world and particularly in this state. The Turks stole a great deal in The Great Crime innumerable fathers, sons, mothers, daughters, and the loved ones of the Armenian nation. They stole the innocence of the 20th century. But your presence here tonight is testament to the fact that the Ottomans did not win.”
Rep. Adam Schiff delivered a speech via video to those gathered as he was unable to leave Washington, D.C. Earlier in the day, he took to the floor of the House of Representatives to exhort – speaking in Armenian – his colleagues and the White House to recognize the genocide.
“Despite Turkey’s [diplomatic] opposition, I will continue to push for recognition at every opportunity,” he said. “It is our sacred obligation to the victims of the genocide to ensure that this tragic episode in human history is never forgotten.”
One of the dignitaries who elicited the most attention was Umit Kurt, a Turkish scholar at Clark University who has made a special study of the theft of Armenian property by the Ottomans. His presence was the first time a Turk had addressed the event. In Turkey it is a crime to publicly counter the official government position of denial, something that even luminaries such as Nobel Prize winning author Orhan Pamuk has had to contend with in his own remarks about the genocide and his country’s culpability.
The event was also a moment for celebration. Dancing and singing dominated the later half of the program, with a memorable contribution of a pair of Armenian songs sung by the Chamlian School Children’s Choir.