LOS ANGELES — An estimated 130,000 people took to the streets of Los Angeles on Friday, April 24, calling for justice for the Armenian Genocide, as the community turned out in droves to mark the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide.
A crowd stretching across more than a mile, comprised of Armenians and non-Armenians alike, marched from Little Armenia to the Turkish Consulate on Wilshire Boulevard; a six mile march in all. The March for Justice, as it was dubbed, was the only action by the Armenian community on April 24 and was organized by the Armenian Genocide Commemoration Committee of Western US—a grouping of 19 organizations.
Before setting off, the crowd heard messages of support from community leaders and elected officials. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti spoke to the tens of thousands of people gathered, calling for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide.
“Baykar, baykar minchev verch!” said Mayor Garcetti, as he called on the gathered crowd to march for justice. ”We will continue until the truth is ours. We demand the truth, and we demand that we have recognition!”
Also speaking at the onset of the march was President Pro Tem of the California State Senate Kevin de Leon, who expressed his solidarity with the Armenian community and its demands for recognition of the Armenian Genocide and justice for the crime.
The program ahead of the march also included remarks by AGCC chairman Garo Ghazarian and Unified Young Armenians leaders Aroutin Hartounian, Milena Mayilian and Vilen Khachatryan. During the program singers Armenchik and Razmig Mansourian also performed.
Along the route, LA residents showed their support to the tens of thousands marching through. Hollywood High School students stood on the steps of their school with a message of solidarity, chanting “We remember,” while office workers all along the route displayed messages of support behind their windows, such as “Armenians United” and “#TurkeyFailed.”
The March garnered worldwide media attention as news outlets from around the world arrived to report on the historic event. The Armenian Genocide was the number one trending topic on social media outlets in Los Angeles for the day, while it took second place around the world, only trailing Apple, Inc.
Demonstrators in the March held up signs saying where their grandparents or great-grandparents came from in a symbolic gesture showing that they were all there on Friday because someone survived the Armenian Genocide. The demonstrators, clad in purple and black, also held up flags and signs thanking all those countries around the world who have recognized the Armenian Genocide.
One demonstrator, Lori Boghigian, an Armenian Youth Federation member and volunteer event monitor, held up a sign that bore the name of Musa Dagh, where her ancestors were from. “My paternal great grandparents were alive during the Musa Ler [Armenian name for Musa Dagh] resistance,” Boghigian said. “Amid deportations and murder of entire Armenian villages in the Ottoman Empire, Musa Ler became the symbol of the Armenian will to survive through uprisings and rebellion.”
Another demonstrator, 17-year-old Burbank, Calif., resident Tadeh Grigorian, a hockey player for the LA Jr. Kings, said: “I am at the march to do my best to contribute to the Armenian community. It’s been a hundred years today that the Armenian Genocide has been denied, and we will not stop until Turkey finally admits to their crimes.”
As the March came to its end in front of the Turkish Consulate on Wilshire Boulevard, singer Harout Pampoukjian took to the stage and performed renditions of patriotic Armenian songs.
When the march came to a full stop, public officials addressed the 130,000-strong “mass of humanity,” as LA City Councilman Paul Krekorian described it.
“As I look down Wilshire Boulevard, I can’t see the end of this mass of humanity,” Krekorian said, explaining how proud he was at the number of people who turned out.
Krekorian described the story of his grandmother and her brother, a professor in Turkey who was arrested, tortured, and killed by the Turkish government at the start of the Armenian Genocide.
Krekorian condemned President Obama’s decision to once again refuse to recognize the Armenian Genocide. “Presidents come and go,” he said. “Congressmen come and go. But the truth remains.”
“When Martin Luther King, Jr. and those fighting for their civil rights marched for justice, they didn’t wait for a president to make a comment; they marched.”
Another Los Angeles City Councilman, Paul Koretz, said that, as a Jewish person, he felt an especially strong connection to the Armenian people’s struggle for justice for the genocide of their people. “As a Jew, I know of many loved ones who were lost to the Holocaust, which may have happened because the Armenian Genocide was ignored,” he said.
Representative Adam Schiff, who earlier this week read out the names of one thousand Genocide victims on the House floor, called on Turkey to recognize the crimes of it predecessors and “help heal the wounds.”
Rep. Schiff also condemned President Obama for his failure to recognize the Genocide. Schiff said: “To be honest, it would have been better if the President said nothing at all.”
Armenian Youth Federation central executive member Gev Iskajyan gave an impassioned speech, asserting that Armenians will never give up on their fight for justice and their claims to their rights and property.
Iskajyan brought Paylag Titoyan to the stage, one of the last remaining Armenian Genocide survivors still alive today. Titoyan, as Iskajyan said, “as a small child, was condemned to die.”
“Paylag, because you marched, we live,” Iskajyan said in front of tens of thousands of cheering demonstrators. “Because you refused to fall, we stand. Because you lived, we march. And we will continue to march for justice!”
Armenian Revolutionary Federation – Western US Central Committee Chairman Dr. Viken Hovsepian addressed the crowd in Armenian. He thanked everyone in the Armenian community for doing their part and participating in the march. He similarly condemned Turkey’s century of denial, but asserted that the world will know the truth, citing a string of recent decisions by global powers recognizing the Armenian Genocide, including Germany, Austria, and the Pope.
Also speaking at the rally were co-chairs of the AGCC, AGBU chairwoman Talin Yacoubian and former chairman of the Armenian Bar Association Garo Ghazarian.
Local performer Payla Kevorkian debuted a new song by composer Guy Manoukian, arranged specifically for the centennial, with lyrics written by Hovsepian. At the conclusion of her performance, a hundred white doves were release into the air.