By Josh Premako, 4/26/2012
Protesters from the Los Angeles Armenian community crowded the sidewalk and spilled into the street outside the Turkish Consulate for more than two hours on Tuesday, to commemorate the deaths of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians beginning in 1915 at the hands of the former Ottoman Empire.
Chants of “Fight, fight to the end” (in Armenian) echoed off the walls of the consulate building at the corner of Wilshire and Crescent Heights boulevards, as protesters waved signs with slogans calling for Turkish acknowledgment of genocide. Passing motorists, many with Armenian flags adorning their vehicles, honked their horns.
A large banner emblazoned with a gagged Statue of Liberty hung from a building across the street, proclaiming “End Turkey’s gag rule.”
Organizers said about 5,000 people showed up at the consulate protest, while Los Angeles Police Department officials said the number was closer to 1,200.
Armenians and scores of historians say the killings were genocide, though Turkey’s government rejects the term.
The march drew myriad young people, many wearing T-shirts from the Armenian Youth Federation, an organizer of the protest.
“It’s important (to be here) because it was wrong,” said Ani Klian, 11. “God gave us a privilege to live. The Turks took a lot of people’s lives.”
The Armenians’ forced deportations and deaths — estimated to be anywhere between 500,000 to 1.5 million — began April 24, 1915, as the Ottoman Empire was crumbling. Turkey became a republic in 1923. More than 20 countries and 43 states in the U.S., including California, have officially acknowledged the events as genocide. A bill officially recognizing the killings as genocide has languished in Congress for several years.
“Politicians are afraid to accept the word ‘genocide,’” said Ara Hintiryan, of Glendale. “What comes first, human rights or politics?”
Hintiryan said the sight of so many young people at the protest was encouraging.
“You know who’s powerful? Who speaks the truth,” he said. “Justice is the most sacred thing in the world.”
The protest serves a two-fold purpose, said Kevork Tutunjian, a member of the Armenian Youth Federation Western USA.
“It’s important to keep the memory alive of those who were annihilated,” he said. “But it isn’t just symbolic. We have to demand justice and recognition first and foremost from Turkey.”
As the protest drew near its close, speakers climbed on the roof of a truck, draped with an “End Turkey’s gag rule” banner, as protesters listened.
“We don’t want just recognition. We want true reparations for that which we bled,” said Greg Krikorian, a member of the Glendale Unified School District board and candidate for the 43rd Assembly district, his voice rough with emotion. “I’ll find each one of you who accepts ‘sorry’ as an answer. We want our land back.”