Armenians join together again to remember genocide of 1915

There will come a day, some said, when Armenians won’t need to take to the streets in protest, and they will simply honor slain ancestors with peaceful lament.

But that day didn’t appear any closer Saturday, as Armenians gathered worldwide to commemorate the Armenian genocide of 1915, which claimed the lives of about 1.2 million Armenians under Ottoman-ruled Turkey.

In Yerevan, Armenia’s capital, hundreds of thousands laid flowers at a monument to the victims, while across Southern California, Armenian families marched, prayed and paused to remember lost great-grandparents, great-grand-uncles and great-grand-aunts —loved ones who were deported, starved, arrested and executed almost 100 years ago.

The Turkish government does not recognize the genocide, and a long-debated resolution that would call for the United States to officially acknowledge the killings faces opposition in Congress.

But the battle did not dissuade Armenians from pushing for recognition Saturday.

In the desert outside Lancaster, a group of Armenian youths braved the afternoon heat and walked 15 miles to pay tribute to ancestors who died in the Syrian desert.

In Glendale, youths organized a 30-hour fast, while in the San Fernando Valley, a bike-a-thon was planned. An annual march in Little Armenia also took place, along with a protest outside the Turkish Consulate in Los Angeles.

Caravans of cars draped in Armenia’s red, blue and orange flag could been seen outside the Armenian Martyrs Memorial Monument in Montebello, where several thousand people lined up to place red and white carnations at the foot of the stone tower.

Ara Kassabian, 44, of Glendale walked alone with a mix of sadness and anger as he placed his bouquet on the bed of flowers. He lost a number of great-aunts and great-uncles in the massacre.

“I come to show my presence,” Kassabian said. “To show that this will never be forgotten or swept under the rug.”

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, along with a host of other politicians, took turns on the microphone to show their support for Armenians.

“Yes, it’s true that Turkey should acknowledge the genocide,” Villaraigosa said to those gathered in Montebello.

“But so should the United States of America.”

Many Armenians were once again disappointed with President Obama for refusing for the second year in a row to declare the mass killings a genocide in his annual statement. He called the event “a devastating chapter” and “one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century.”

But the U.S. administration depends on its connection to Turkey. Straining those relations could put U.S. supply routes to Iraq and Afghanistan at risk and complicate other issues, such as Middle East peace initiatives and relations with Iran.

Among a group of young Armenian boys gathered at the memorial, what mattered most was not politics, but holding on to their sense of identity.

“We will learn our history, we will speak our language, we will be Armenian,” said Eddie Hovannisian, 14. “Our generation will be here to tell others.”