Armenian Americans celebrated the news Saturday that President Joe Biden formally declared the systematic killing and deportation of hundreds of thousands of their ancestors by Ottoman Empire forces in the early 1900s to be “genocide,” saying the recognition was long overdue. His action came after decades of activism, most of which was centered in California, home of the largest Armenian community in the nation.
“He's the first American president to have the guts to talk about it. I never understood why the U.S. waited this long when they knew the truth about what happened. It's amazing and I'm very happy he did what he did,” said Varoujan Kioudjian, 74. He was among hundreds of people who streamed to a hilltop monument in Montebello, about 10 miles (16 kilometers) east of downtown Los Angeles, to mark Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day.
The White House had avoided using using the term genocide for decades for fear of alienating Turkey, a NATO ally and important power in the Middle East. Biden followed through on a campaign promise to make human rights a central guidepost of his foreign policy. He argued last year that failing to call the atrocities against the Armenian people a genocide would pave the way for future mass atrocities.
Rep. Adam Schiff, a Democrat from Los Angeles, praised Biden for following through on his pledge.
“This is a momentous day for thousands upon thousands of my Armenian American constituents who have been working, advocating, and praying for recognition for their entire lives – and I am heartened that this announcement comes at a time when there are still some genocide survivors alive to witness it, though their numbers are very small," he said in a statement. The survivors, many of them orphans who were brought to the United States, were recognized by California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who proclaimed Saturday a “day of remembrance of the Armenian genocide."
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With files from the Associated Press
We received this statement from Consul General Of the Republic of Turkey in Los Angeles: “Turkey rejects statement by the President of the U.S. “Genocide” is a specific crime, not a generic term, defined by international law. None of the conditions defined by the international law have been met that would warrant the use of “genocide” concerning the events of 1915. Furthermore, there is no judgment of a competent international court, which classifies the events of 1915 as “genocide”. To the contrary, two judgements of the European Court of Human Rights (2015 and 2017) clearly confirm that the events of 1915 constitute a matter of legitimate debate. President Biden’s statement will hurt our bilateral relations and undermine dialogue efforts for peace and stability in the region.”
Alex Galitsky, communications director for the Armenian National Committee of America’s Western Region; he tweets @algalitsky