Los Angeles: Armenians Mark Genocide

Los Angeles Times, CA
April 25 2004

Armenians Mark Genocide

Events including a protest and rally commemorate the 1915 start of
violence against the ethnic group that took 1.5 million lives.

By David Pierson, Times Staff Writer

Thousands of Armenian Americans throughout the Los Angeles area
commemorated a grim chapter in their history – the killing of 1.5
million of their countrymen and women by the Turks between 1915 and
1922 – with protests, prayers, a blood drive and even a rock concert.

The events included a solemn ceremony in Montebello, a raucous
protest along Wilshire Boulevard and a rally in east Hollywood that
some said was more a display of national pride than a somber
remembrance of the Armenian genocide.

Despite the diversity of events, Armenian American organizers across
town said they were pleased that their history is being honored and
taught to the younger generation.

Ashot Dermenjian held his daughter Alyssa’s hand as he walked up to
the plaque at a towering Montebello memorial, a cluster of pillars
reaching skyward. The cream-colored structure was surrounded by
flowers Saturday as hundreds paid their respects. Officials,
including Mayor James K. Hahn and City Councilman Antonio
Villaraigosa, addressed the crowd.

Dermenjian said a prayer and made the sign of the cross. “This is her
first time here,” Dermenjian said of his 10-year-old daughter. “I’m
going to bring her every year now. They have to know what their
ancestors went through.

“The sad thing is, I don’t know anything about my family past my
grandfather. I don’t know what they did, where they are from or what
kind of work they were in.”

The Wilshire Boulevard Turkish Consulate was fenced off and guarded
by LAPD officers Saturday as a boisterous crowd of hundreds of
teenagers and young adults outside expressed their passion by
chanting to passersby.

Urged on by members of the local chapter of the Armenian Youth
Federation, they held up placards and shouted: “1915, Never Again” to
passing cars.

“This can happen to any people if the denial keeps going on,” said
Armen Soudjian, a 19-year-old college student carrying a video camera
to make a documentary about the protest.

The Hollywood resident said he would attend a rock concert at the
Greek Theatre that night held by System of a Down, a popular Armenian
American rock group who chose the performance date for its historic

“No matter what you’re doing today,” Soudjian said, “we’re all still
here for that one cause” – official recognition by Turkey of what
Armenians call the Armenian genocide. Turkish officials deny that the
genocide occurred.

In Glendale, home to more than 40,000 Armenian Americans, the civic
auditorium displayed modern artwork reflecting the atrocities of the
genocide, old articles from the New York Times and a telegram from
1915 written by the U.S. ambassador to Turkey, Henry Morgenthau,
advising the State Department of the killings.

Alongside the paintings, the Red Cross set up a blood bank at the
event because “89 years ago, so much blood was shed for no good. Now
we can give it to anyone who needs it,” said one of the event’s
organizers, Stepan Partamian.

Partamian, who is host of an Armenian television show in Glendale,
said many Armenians suffer from an identity crisis because the
diaspora dispersed them to so many countries after they fled
persecution. He said April 24, the day historians say the killings
began, unites Armenians of different backgrounds, whether their
families fled to Lebanon, Egypt, Iran or any other country.

How to commemorate the day is another matter. In Armenia, people make
a pilgrimage to Tsitsernakaberd, a hilltop where a giant memorial

“They climb up there, they leave flowers out of respect and there are
no speeches,” said Partamian, a 42-year-old Glendale resident.

That more solemn approach is in stark contrast to the raucous
demonstrations around Los Angeles, especially in east Hollywood,
where some protesters complained that the event resembled the
atmosphere of a national soccer game.

“People honking? That’s inappropriate,” said 18-year-old Hovsep
Hajibekyan, sitting at the entrance of the Hollywood and Western
subway station. “It’s disappointing. This is a day to go to church
and be with family.”