Exactly one year ago on April 24, 2015, I walked with tens of thousands of marchers down Sunset Boulevard and a little later on, met them six miles away in front of the Turkish consulate. Their message was loud and clear: We want justice. For the 1.2 Armenians who were killed. For hundreds of thousands Assyrians and Greeks who also perished. And for the lands taken. It was the largest march of its kind in local history and it was amazing. Here are the photos taken by Andy Holzman, which were incredible, and below is my story and photos (Daily News, April 24, 2015):
One hundred years after Ottoman Turks killed and deported Armenians and other Christian minorities from their lands, as many as 100,000 people marched through the streets of Los Angeles on Friday to remember the lives lost and to demand that the Turkish government acknowledge the deaths as a genocide.
Called a March for Justice, Armenian-Americans and their supporters packed Sunset Boulevard and Western Avenue shoulder-to-shoulder for a rally before walking for six miles down Sunset Boulevard toward La Brea and on to the Turkish Consulate office on Wilshire Boulevard.
An ocean of red, blue and orange Armenian flags, along with those from many lands worldwide were waved on Sunset Boulevard while others carried signs that thanked countries that had recognized the genocide. Images of the purple Forget-Me-Not flower also could be seen on shirts and billboards along the streets of East Hollywood, once the heart of the largest Armenian-American community outside of Armenia.
The message was both massive and clear: We will never forget. We demand justice.
From high above in helicopters to down below on the streets, marchers filled the boulevards as they walked passed businesses that had closed for the day. With major streets shut down in most directions, Los Angeles traffic was left at a standstill for hours. Organizers had expected 50,000 people to participate, but later in the day, some estimated the figure at closer to 100,000.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and other city council members addressed the crowds in the Armenian language amid loud cheers. Garcetti acknowledged the traffic gridlock, but he said it was important to stop and remember those who were killed, and he called Turkey’s denial dehumanizing. He said all humans must remember the death of others.
“From Mount Hollywood to Mount Ararat, today we cry and we cry out for those who were lost and those who are living,” he said. “One hundred years later, we shouldn’t have to take to the streets.”
April 24, 1915, marks a century since the start of what has become known as the Armenian Genocide, a time when Armenian intellectuals and others were rounded up, arrested and later executed by Ottoman Turkish soldiers as part of a movement to “Turkify” the region.
As a result, 1.5 million Armenians are said to have perished and there were mass deportations of Armenians, Assyrians and Pontic Greeks from lands they had lived in for centuries.
Armenians around the nation and world held similar marches, hoping the centennial of the event would bring a formal recognition by the U.S., which in turn would persuade Turkey to acknowledge the killings and deportations as genocide. Indeed, there was some validation when Pope Francis earlier this month called it such. But Armenians were left disappointed when President Barack Obama backed out of using the term, even after he promised to do so during elections.
Even U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, who has pushed for recognition for years, was disappointed by the omission.
“The horrors of the genocide have been compounded by decades of denial by the Turkish government, which continues to fight the truth to this day,” he said in a statement. “The United States has become complicit in this denial by failing to recognize the genocide for decades — and I was deeply disappointed by President Obama’s refusal to use the word ‘genocide’ in his statement today. If not this president, who spoke so eloquently and passionately about recognition in the past, whom? If not after one hundred years, when?”
The Turkish government continues to say the deaths were a consequence of betrayal and civil unrest in what was then a collapsing Ottoman Empire.
In a statement released this week, Raife Gulru Gezer, the Turkish consul general of Los Angeles, said that there were deaths in Turkish and Kurdish villages and towns at that time that have been overlooked.
“The term ‘genocide’ is a legally binding, morally obstructing, historically wrong and politically misused concept that prevents the discussion of the events,” according to the statement. “We commemorate with deep respect the Ottoman Armenians who lost their lives during the relocation in 1915 and we share in the grief of their children and grandchildren. But we are against exploiting history and the sufferings for political purposes.”
Scholars and historians, however, say the killings involved the systematic cleansing of the Armenian existence from eastern Turkey. Priests and intellectuals were beheaded. Women and children were terrorized as they were marched out of their homeland and into the Middle East.
For those who marched Friday in Los Angeles, the wounds of that era were still very much open. Many said they were descendents of those who survived, but who had lost relatives who were either killed by the sword or on the death marches toward the deserts of Syria.
“My grandmother was 3 years old when her mother was pregnant and the Turks took a sword and cut her mother’s belly, killing her and the baby,” said Kohar Sorfazian, a Northridge resident. “It is because of her, we remember.”
Others had similar stories of parents who had watched their parents die and grew up as orphans.
Harry Jabagchourian of West Hills wept as he recounted the story of his father, who was a 6-year-old boy who saw his father, Hovannes Jabagchourian, taken away and killed.
“We do this because we are hoping the world will learn about the Armenian Genocide,” Jabagchourian said of the march. “We hope people will have the courage to recognize it because we don’t want this to happen again to anyone.”
Richard Kolostian Jr. said he joined the march with his 6-year-old daughter Eva, “because our ancestors walked for miles,” referring to those who marched to the Der Zor desert.
But he also said he felt lucky to be born and raised in the United States.
“We’re so fortunate to live in America, where people are not persecuted for their religion, their ethnicity or their lifestyle,” he said. “It was Ronald Reagan who said freedom is never more than just one generation away from extinction.”
Though most of the event was peaceful, some marchers who had gathered early in front of the Turkish consulate, where police presence was at its heaviest, were angered by a group of about 40 Turkish supporters carrying their country’s flags. The Turks blew whistles while the marchers shouted “Shame on Turkey!” Members of the LAPD in riot gear moved in as some youths from the crowd threw water bottles, but the confrontation was brief.
Standing nearby was Larry Wood, past president of the Orange County chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution. Wood wore a period custom from that time. He said he was there to support the Armenians and understands why they keep pushing for recognition.
“If I lost 1.5 million of my brothers and sisters, I would be angry too,” he said.