A quest cuts across the generations

Los Angeles Times, CA
Oct 13 2007

A quest cuts across the generations

Robert Gauthier/ Los Angeles Times

HRANT ZEITOUNTZIAN: A survivor of the Armenian genocide in Turkey,
the 97-year-old now lives in Pasadena.

Local Armenians are optimistic as U.S. inches closer to recognition
of genocide, despite pressure by Turkey.

By Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
October 13, 2007

Hrant Zeitountzian, 97, of Pasadena still remembers being forced from
his village into Syria by Turkish soldiers in 1915. He was 6 years
old.

His father, a mule driver, had already been taken from the family
farm by Turkish soldiers. As Zeitountzian marched to Syria, he
watched his brother and sister, both toddlers, fall ill and die,
bodies in the mud, two of an estimated 1.5 million who would die
during the relocations.

It was stories like his, told by Armenian survivors in the decades
following the mass deaths, that fueled a growing movement seeking
official recognition of the killings. This week, Zeitountzian and
others feel that they are closer than ever to winning official
recognition in Washington of the genocide.

Until now, their quest has been blocked for geopolitical reasons: The
U.S. is a close ally of Turkey, which strongly opposes any official
recognition of the genocide.

Many in Washington have argued that it is more important to respect
the Turkish government than to address past wrongs. Congress failed
to pass legislation recognizing the genocide in 1975 and 1984, due in
part to intense lobbying by Turkish groups.

But the latest resolution, sponsored by Rep. Adam B. Schiff
(D-Burbank), passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee this week and
has the support of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and Senate
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

"We’ve been through this game," said professor Richard Dekmejian,
director of the USC Institute of Armenian Studies.

But this time, "There seems to be a moral tipping point in favor of
the Armenian genocide precisely because it has happened in other
places, in Rwanda and Darfur, the feeling that if we don’t come
clean, they are going to happen in other places," he said.

For Armenian Americans in Southern California, which has the largest
Armenian community in the United States, the campaign had become a
multi-generational obsession. The movement included outreach to
non-Armenians and the Bush administration, which is fighting the
measure, saying that it would hurt relations with Turkey.

Many first-generation Armenian immigrants pushed the painful history
aside to assimilate in America, settling where they found work in the
Rust Belt, the mill towns of New England, in Glendale and Fresno.

A second wave of immigrants arrived in the 1960s, fleeing wars in
Lebanon, Iran and other Middle Eastern countries, and settled
primarily in Burbank, Glendale, Pasadena and an area that became
known as "Little Armenia" in east Hollywood. They opened businesses,
built ornate churches and schools, and sought elected office. After
the fall of the Soviet Union, a third wave of Armenians flocked to
hubs in Glendale and Hollywood, boosting the community’s political
clout.

Together they would become the country’s largest Armenian enclave,
with more than 60,000 in the city of Los Angeles and more than
300,000 in Southern California, a large chunk of the 800,000
Armenians in the U.S., Dekmejian said.

"Everybody has relatives who were lost," Aram Hamparian, executive
director of the Armenian National Committee of America, said of
Armenians in Southern California. "People are very motivated."

Each year, thousands of Armenians gather to commemorate the genocide
on April 24, and as their numbers have grown, so have the ceremonies.
Eventually, winning a national acknowledgment of the tragedy became a
civil rights struggle. In 1965, on the 50th anniversary of the
genocide, local Armenians unveiled the country’s first memorial on
public land in Montebello.

Former Gov. George Deukmejian, who recently recorded two promotional
video messages in favor of passing the resolution, remembers standing
with thousands of fellow Armenian Americans, watching then-Gov.
Ronald Reagan dedicate the white concrete monument in Montebello’s
Bicknell Park, with its plaque commemorating the "Armenian victims of
genocide" and "Men of all nations who have fallen victim to crimes
against humanity."

Deukmejian said having Reagan attend the event was a huge moment for
many Armenian Americans, giving them hope that they could also win
recognition in Washington.

Father Vazken Movsesian, an Armenian American priest in Glendale,
agreed.

"We realized at that moment that it wasn’t just a family story, it
was a community story," Movsesian said. "There is a struggle that has
to be answered."

In recent years, the cause has been taken up by a younger generation
of Armenians in their 20s and 30s who learned about the genocide from
their elders.

Young people as well as survivors have traveled to Washington to
share their stories. Armenian youth fasted outside the Turkish
Consulate on Wilshire Boulevard, marched from Fresno to Sacramento
and last week protested outside the office of Rep. Jane Harman
(D-Venice).

Harman, a former sponsor of the genocide resolution, recently changed
her mind and sent a letter to Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Burlingame) urging
him to withdraw the bill. Harman did not return calls to her office
late this week seeking comment.

But in a Times Op-Ed piece Friday, she said that although she
recognizes that the Armenians were victims of genocide, she realized
after visiting Turkey earlier this year that passing the genocide
resolution "would isolate and embarrass a courageous and moderate
Islamic government in perhaps the most volatile region in the world."

The Turkish government acknowledges that hundreds of thousands of
Armenians died as a result of the forced relocations from eastern
Turkey in 1915, but argues that it was not a systematic Ottoman
government effort, but the result of World War I, famine and disease
that killed Turks, too.

In response to the House’s action, the Turkish government recalled
their U.S. ambassador. The conflict could jeopardize transportation
of U.S. military supplies to Iraq that pass through a key air base
near the southern Turkish city of Adana.

A showdown on the resolution is expected on Capitol Hill in coming
weeks.

Carla Garapedian, the granddaughter of survivors and a Los Angeles
native, is scheduled to travel to Washington next week to screen her
new documentary about the genocide, "Screamers," for members of
Congress. Earlier this year she was summoned for a private screening
of the film, which features Armenian Los Angeles rockers System of a
Down, with David and Victoria Beckham in Beverly Hills.

"We’re angry. It is our generation that is making people listen,"
Garapedian said.

The Armenians of Southern California intend to keep lobbying in
coming weeks, the old and the young.

"A lot of people ask me why we care so much, especially the youth
because we are a few generations out from the genocide," said Caspar
Jivalagian, 20, of Pasadena, a senior psychology major at Cal Poly
Pomona who has fasted and marched for the cause, most recently
outside of Harman’s El Segundo office Friday afternoon. "Every
Armenian we have it in us, under our skin."

Zeitountzian, the survivor, said he was cheered by this week’s
progress.

"I am glad for the victory we have started," he said, but his real
goal is to live long enough to see Congress finally pass the genocide
resolution.

"That will make me very happy if I live," he said, blue eyes shining.
"I am optimist."

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress

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Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS