For the first time, a Turkish scholar addressed a crowd of more than 1,400 people at the city’s annual event to commemorate the genocide of about 1.5 million people in 1915 by Ottoman Turks, a tragedy still denied by modern-day Turkey 98 years later.
“The principle was not giving the Armenians not even a single inch,” said Umit Kurt, a Turkish scholar at Clark University, as he discussed how the Ottoman Empire deported Armenians before the genocide began and sold their property.
Although initial laws regarding the abandoned property seem to require Armenians be reimbursed at a later date, that never came to fruition, Kurt said before the sold-out crowd at the Alex Theatre Wednesday evening.
The committee that organizes the annual Armenian Genocide Commemoration typically invites prominent Armenian figures and scholars to speak at the popular event, but this year, a Turkish scholar was invited “to showcase a trend towards enlightenment by Turkish academics,” said Councilman Ara Najarian.
“It’s a slow trend, but a trend nonetheless,” he said before the event began, adding that the few Turkish scholars that give credence to the genocide face challenges when they return to Turkey.
While the United States--including President Obama-- continues to avoid labeling the slaughter of Armenians a genocide, local lawmakers called on the country’s leadership to change course, despite the political consequences of upsetting Turkey, an ally.
“Your presence is a testament to the fact that the Ottomans did not win,” said Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Silverlake), asking officials in Washington, D.C. to “once and for all recognize the Armenian genocide.”
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) agreed in a prepared video. Earlier Wednesday, Schiff addressed his colleagues in the House of Representatives in Armenian, calling on them to remember the lives lost during the genocide.
“Our government must not continue to maintain this shameful silence,” Schiff said.
Councilman Zareh Sinanyan said the event commemorates a historic tragedy, but also a living memory.
“It’s just something that lives with us,” Sinanyan said.