Marie Madeleine Salibian was just a baby when, in 1915, her father’s Turkish friend pounded on the family’s front door in Aintab, Armenia to warn them of advancing Turkish soldiers.
“He hid us,” Salibian said. “In the morning, he puts us on some donkeys and sent us in the opposite direction.”
The family eventually made their way to Syria where they lived first in a rural village and then in the city of Aleppo. Salibian later studied nursing at the American University of Beirut, and went on to a nursing career in Beirut and in southern California.
The Armenian genocide survivor, now 96-years-old and a resident of Glendale, was among the featured guests Wednesday at a commemorative event at Glendale High school that marked the mass killings.
“It is very important to remember, my aunties and uncles were all gone,” Salibian said. “We were the only ones [who survived].”
It was one of several similar gatherings that are taking place this week in Glendale and Burbank. On Tuesday, members of the local Armenian community gathered on the steps of Burbank City Hall where they called on President Barack Obama to formally recognize the 1915 mass killings as genocide.
At 12:20 p.m. today, the Glendale Community College Armenian Student Association will host its own commemorative event on the college’s main plaza.
From 1915 to 1923, some 1.5 million Armenians died at the hands of Turkish soldiers. Hundreds of thousands more were deported or fled. The Turkish government refuses to formally recognize the events as genocide, as does the United States government.
Armenians formally mark the genocide on April 24, which this year coincides with Easter Sunday.
The Glendale Unified commemorative event, put on by the members of the Armenian clubs at the district’s four high schools, included music, poetry, video and several speakers.
Clark Magnet High School student Ani Nazaryan, 17, who helped organize the program, said the anniversary is first and foremost an opportunity to mourn the loss of life.
“They haven’t really be resting in peace because of the denial,” Ani said.
Failing to recognize the mass killings of Armenians in the early 20th Century encourages racism, said Crescenta Valley High School student Tamara Talverdian, 17.
“It is not just crimes against Armenians, it is crimes against humanity in general,” Tamara said.
It is unjust that the Armenian genocide goes unrecognized by President Barack Obama because of politics, other said.
“It just upsets me that there is this event and for some reason out of all other events in the world people chose not to recognize it, not just the Turkish government, but the American government as well because of political ties,” said Glendale High School student Mary Manukyan, 17.
No matter how many laws the Turkish government passes to diminish the legacy of the Armenian people, they will never abandon their pursuit for recognition, said Clark Magnet High School student Nare Nazaryan, 17.
“I don’t agree with Obama at all,” Mare said. “He might be president, but what he promised he should be able to provide. He hasn’t. I don’t think it is right to make a promise if you are not going to live up to it.”