Armenian American activists welcome U.S. recognition of genocide but say fight isn't over (2022)

Armenian American activists welcome U.S. recognition of genocide but say fight isn't over (1)

Sophia Armen spent Friday night refreshing Twitter and Google, waiting to see when the alert would pop up announcing that President Biden had officially recognized the Armenian genocide. There was little sleep.

But Saturday morning, after three generations' worth of waiting, that moment finally arrived.

"It's washing over me right now. I cried for a minute," said Armen, 29, of Los Angeles. "I can't even believe it right now."

Sitting in her car, the jolt of excitement palpable in her voice, the community organizer said formal recognition of the genocide is "a triumph by our people."

When she first read the news, she said, the words that came to mind were "We did it."

Biden’s declaration coincided with the day of remembrance for Armenian genocide victims, which U.S. presidents have acknowledged for decades. Still, they have until now avoided using the term “genocide” so as not to anger Turkey, an important ally.

Armenian American activists welcome U.S. recognition of genocide but say fight isn't over (2)

(Video) Embassy of Armenia to the United States Holds Virtual Event For Anniversary of 1915 Genocide

The Armenian genocide of 1915 to 1918 claimed the lives of more than 1 million Armenians under the Ottoman Empire, which became the modern republic of Turkey. The Turkish government disputes that a genocide took place.

“With this recognition today, the United States has said in no uncertain terms that it will no longer allow human rights to be treated as a commodity that can be bargained over with Turkey,” said Alex Galitsky, communications director for the Armenian National Committee of America’s Western region.

Biden's statement fulfilled a campaign promise and delivered on decades of hard-fought activism by Armenians around the world. Much of that movement has been centered in Southern California, home to America’s largest Armenian diaspora community.

There were celebrations and demonstrations across Los Angeles County. Hundreds of activists gathered in Beverly Hills outside the Turkish Consulate on Wilshire Boulevard, waving Armenian flags, wearing T-shirts that said "Our wounds are still open, 1915” and chanting "Turkey must pay!"

Armenian American activists welcome U.S. recognition of genocide but say fight isn't over (3)

“I’m personally very overwhelmed,” Galitsky said. “This has been an effort that has spanned generations of tireless advocacy within our community, to see a just recognition and resolution of this atrocious crime against humanity. And in many ways, this is a long overdue recognition.”

The push for recognition of the genocide began in earnest in the 1980s, when the children of survivors established themselves in the U.S. Armenian Americans grew more politically active, contributing to political campaigns and organizing around the issue.

The diaspora has had a cautious outlook on promises made by presidents, watching for years as officials vowed to recognize the genocide, only to back away at the last minute. There was great disappointment when President Obama, after pledging to recognize the genocide, ended up not taking that step.

Armen felt like she was having an out-of-body experience when she heard Saturday's news, she said.

(Video) TURKEY | Why Does It Deny Genocide?

"We have been let down so many times before. Our families have sat through so many April 24ths where our hopes are just shattered," said Armen, the descendant of Armenian genocide survivors. "What I want people to understand is that we did this. We fought for generations, decades, in this country."

She paused for a moment, catching on tears as she remembered the family members who did not live to see this day.

"I grew up with my aunt who went through it and who told us about it," she said. "She passed away, and I just wish she was here to hear about it."

Nora Hovsepian felt as though a weight had been lifted from her shoulders.

"This is something that has been passed down for generations," she said. "My grandmother told me, 'You need to go fight for this. Fight for our family. Fight for our people.'"

Hovsepian was 10 when she learned that her grandmother had survived the genocide. She remembers attending protests as a child and reading newspapers that referred to the massacre as an "alleged genocide" — a slap in the face to survivors and their families.

Now, she said, "it's unequivocal."

"There's no mincing words anymore," said Hovsepian, chair of the Armenian National Committee of America’s Western region.

At Glendale's Verdugo Park on Saturday afternoon, a group of Armenian Americans gathered to mark the day of remembrance.

(Video) A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide

Samo Davtyan came to the U.S. with his family in 2017 after struggling to find work. Today he works at a warehouse.

“We are happy that a big nation like America is finally seeing the pain and suffering of Armenians,” said Davtyan, who attended the event with his daughter. The feeling of Biden’s acknowledgement, he said, is “indescribable.”

“The pain is in all of Armenians’ hearts, and we’ll never forget,” Davtyan said.

Tika Kendikyan, 49, said she came to the U.S. 30 years ago with her parents to escape the corruption they saw in Armenia. Her father’s uncles were killed there, and she grew up hearing stories from her grandmother about other family members who perished, she said.

Armenian American activists welcome U.S. recognition of genocide but say fight isn't over (5)

Kendikyan, who works in e-commerce, said Biden’s words give her hope that help is on the way for her beloved country. The whole world listens to the president of the United States, she said, and his acknowledgment could help prevent other atrocities.

“We don’t want this to happen again to anybody else in this world,” she said.

In a broader sense, Armen added, Biden's move marks the "complete" recognition of the genocide.

"Genocide is about racism, and the lessons of the Armenian genocide are something that are ever relevant today," she said. "This is one step on the route to justice. It's not the end; it's a beginning. What's next is the struggle for reparations and for reckoning with this history within Turkey."

Driving to pick up his girlfriend on the way to the protest outside the Turkish Consulate in Beverly Hills, Razmig Sarkissian said he "finally woke up to some good news."

(Video) Educate: Teaching about Genocide in the U.S.

"I feel energized, because in some ways there is a relief and happiness," said Sarkissian, 29. "But I'm also unable to disconnect that recognition of a crime means there's a greater need and urgency for justice."

Like many in the diaspora, the Southwestern Law School student found himself thinking of survivors in his family and those who were killed during the genocide.

Choking up, he said the day had an "extra level of resonance."

"You think of them, and you think every instance of denial is a desecration of those people's memories and their acts of survival or their murder," he said.

Bitter memories of the massacre continue to profoundly shape Armenian and Armenian American identity.

As recently as September, Armenian and Azerbaijani forces began fighting what escalated into a bloody six-week war over a border region known as Nagorno-Karabakh, referred to by Armenians as the Republic of Artsakh. Azerbaijan, supported by its close ally Turkey, recovered significant territory it ceded to Armenia in a previous war over the region that ended in 1994.

The cease-fire brokered in November lingers as a wound for many in the local Armenian community.

"It's a bittersweet time for us, reeling from catastrophic loss last fall," Hovsepian said. "This declaration by President Biden is really an uplifting thing. It gives us hope that our fight can still continue."

Armenian American activists welcome U.S. recognition of genocide but say fight isn't over (6)

Armenians around the world hold deeds to homes and other properties in Turkey that they claim were stolen from them during the genocide. U.S. recognition of the genocide, some argue, would help survivors and their families go after what they lost by pursuing legal action in courts and adding pressure to the Turkish government to pay reparations.

(Video) The Armenian Genocide: Truth, Recognition and Opportunities

"This is a historic moment," said Gev Iskajyan, a board member of the Armenian National Committee of America's Western region. "But this isn't everything. It's not justice. It's not reparations, which are the ultimate goals of our cause. But it's a fundamental step in that ladder to justice."

Times staff writer Lila Seidman contributed to this report.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

FAQs

What US city has the highest Armenian population? ›

Glendale, California has the highest concentration of Armenians in the nation and the highest outside of Armenia.

Who was the first Armenian in America? ›

Armenians have settled in North America since the first decades of the 17th century. The first Armenian to arrive in North America was, John Martin (Hovhannes Martikyan), who arrived in 1618 to grow tobacco.

Where is the biggest Armenian community? ›

Today the largest Armenian communities are in Russia (2.25 million), USA (1.5 million), France (about 450,000). Other significant communities are in Georgia, Argentina, Lebanon, Iran, Poland, Ukraine, Germany, Australia, Brazil and Canada4.

Why are so many Armenians in LA? ›

In 1988, up to 3,000 Iranian Armenians were scheduled to arrive in the Los Angeles area. From 1987 to 1989, 90% of Armenians leaving the Soviet Union settled in Los Angeles. By the 1990s political conflict in the former Soviet Union caused more Armenians in that area to move to Los Angeles.

What nationality is Armenian? ›

Armenians (Armenian: հայեր, hayer [hɑˈjɛɾ]) are an ethnic group native to the Armenian highlands of Western Asia. Armenians constitute the main population of Armenia and the de facto independent Artsakh.

What religion are most Armenians? ›

Religious demography

About 97% of citizens belong to the Armenian Apostolic Church, an Eastern Christian denomination in communion with the other Oriental Orthodox churches. The Armenian Apostolic Church has its spiritual center at the Etchmiadzin Cathedral.

Why did Armenians immigrate to US? ›

History of the Armenian Community

Armenians began immigrating to the United States in significant numbers starting in the 1890s. Much of this immigration was caused by the widespread massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, when an estimated 200,000 Armenians were killed.

Are the Kardashians half Armenian? ›

The Kardashians are half Armenian

Whilst their mother Kris Jenner is reportedly of English, Irish, Dutch, German, and Scottish descent, the Kardashian siblings get their Armenian blood from their late father Robert Kardashian Sr.

Is Armenia in the Bible? ›

The word Bel is named in the bible at Isaiah 46:1 and Jeremiah 50:20 and 51:44. The name Armenia was given to the country by the surrounding states and it comes from the name Armenak or Aram, a great leader and ancestor of all Armenians, known as the great-grandson of Mesopotamian God Haya (Hayk).

Who are Armenians genetically closest to? ›

More specifically, Armenians are close to (1) Spaniards, Italians, and Romanians from Europe; (2) Lebanese, Jews, Druze, and Cypriots from the Near East; and (3) Georgians and Abkhazians from the Caucasus (Figure 2b).

What city in California has the most Armenians? ›

While Armenians live throughout Southern California, the greatest concentration exists in Glendale, where Armenians make up a demographic majority (approximately 40 percent of the population) and have done much to reconfigure this homogenous, sleepy, sundown town of the 1950s into an ethnically diverse and economically ...

What kind of food do Armenians eat? ›

Lamb, eggplant, and bread (lavash) are basic features of Armenian cuisine. Armenians traditionally prefer cracked wheat (bulgur) to maize and rice. The flavor of the food often relies on the quality and freshness of the ingredients rather than on excessive use of spices.

How many Armenians are in America? ›

Total U.S. Armenian Population
PopulationYear
303,9512019
309,6412018
313,5522017
318,4922016
2 more rows

Which cities have the most Armenians? ›

Out of all the cities in the United States, Los Angeles has the largest population of Armenians. In 2016, there were more than 200,000 Armenians living in the L.A.

How many Armenians live in Las Vegas? ›

Today, 15 to 20,000 Armenians live in Las Vegas. One of the first Armenian organizations to exist in the area was the Armenian American Cultural Society of Las Vegas, which was founded in 1978.

How many Armenians are in Chicago? ›

Today, the states of Wisconsin and Illinois combined are home to some 10,000 Armenians, with 5,000 in the Greater Chicago area of Northern Illinois. Most Armenians reside in a 100-mile strip along Lake Michigan, spanning Northwest Indiana to the south side suburbs of Chicago.

How many Armenians live in Florida? ›

Taniel Koushakjian, Florida Armenians website's managing editor, estimated 15,000 to 20,000 Armenians live from Palm Beach to Miami, about 30,000 statewide. The only other Armenian church in South Florida is St.

What kind of food do Armenians eat? ›

Lamb, eggplant, and bread (lavash) are basic features of Armenian cuisine. Armenians traditionally prefer cracked wheat (bulgur) to maize and rice. The flavor of the food often relies on the quality and freshness of the ingredients rather than on excessive use of spices.

Why did Armenians reach America? ›

Armenians in New England

Many genocide survivors came to the United States, lured by their Armenian relatives who already lived here. By the end of World War I, about 78,000 Armenians lived in the United States. Another 10,000 arrived in 1920, and more than 20,000 from 1921 through 1924.

How many Armenians are in Texas? ›

The American Community Survey suggests that half a million Americans are of Armenian ancestry, but several organizations have criticized that figure and claim the population is between 1.5 and 2 million.
...
States with the Largest Populations of Armenian Americans.
RankStatePopulation of Armenian Americans
8Illinois7,958
9Rhode Island6,677
10Texas4,941
7 more rows
23 Sept 2019

How many Armenians live in Paris? ›

The estimated 100,000 Armenians who live in Paris perpetuate their heritage with pride and protect their history with vigor, flourishing particularly in the artistic, academic, journalistic and cultural sectors, despite the deadlock caused by the pandemic.

What percent of Glendale is Armenian? ›

While Armenians live throughout Southern California, the greatest concentration exists in Glendale, where Armenians make up a demographic majority (approximately 40 percent of the population) and have done much to reconfigure this homogenous, sleepy, sundown town of the 1950s into an ethnically diverse and economically ...

How many Armenians are in Arizona? ›

Total U.S. Armenian Population By State
State20152020
Arizona2,5623,252
Arkansas254188
California212,193199,886
Colorado1,7332,114
48 more rows

Are there more Italians or Polish in Chicago? ›

Polish: (179,868) Italian: (96,599)

Where do most Asians live in Chicago? ›

Chicago's Chinatown

This historic neighborhood is a thriving hub for Chinese culture and community in Chicago. The area, centered around Cermak and Wentworth Avenues, was developed more than a century ago and has grown into one of the largest Chinatowns in the country.

Is there a Filipino neighborhood in Chicago? ›

The majority of Filipinos in the City of Chicago live in the North Side and in the Northwest Side. The neighborhoods with especially significant amounts include Edgewater, and Uptown to the north and Albany Park, Irving Park, Lincoln Square, and West Ridge to the northwest.

How many Armenians are in the world? ›

Armenia has a large diaspora, with about 8 million Armenians living throughout the world. This is much larger than the current 3 million population of Armenia itself. The largest communities outside of Armenia are in Russia, Iran, France, the U.S., Canada, Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere.

How many Armenians live in Syria? ›

Today, there are about 30.000 Armenians in Syria, and most of them live in Aleppo. Since the beginning of the Syrian war, Armenia has received about 25.000 Syrian-Armenians. Among the Syrian authorities and society, Armenians have always held a high reputation, as diligent and honest people.

Is there an Armenian community in Florida? ›

The establishment of the Armenian community in South Florida dates to the early 20th century.

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