LOS ANGELES (AP) — Armenian Americans welcomed 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 was “genocide,” saying the recognition by a sitting U.S. president was long overdue.
“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. Dressed in black, many laid flowers around a tomb and said prayers for the estimated 1.5 million Armenians who were killed in the events beginning in 1915 known Metz Yeghern.
Kioudjian said for as long as he can remember his late father, whose parents were killed in the genocide, took him to memorials and demonstrations every April 24. That was the day in 1915 when Ottoman authorities began arresting Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople, now known as Istanbul.
“The day April 24 comes around, tears flowed from his eyes, from his heart. It was that sad,” he said.
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.
An estimated 2 million Armenians were deported. Today, a high concentration of Armenian Americans live in the Los Angeles area.
The survivors were recognized by California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who proclaimed Saturday a “day of remembrance of the Armenian genocide.”
“Forced to build new lives in all corners of the globe, Armenians bravely forged ahead in the face of unimaginable tragedy. Thousands made their homes in California, and we are greater for their contributions,” the proclamation states. “Today and every day, let us recommit ourselves to making certain that we never forget the Armenian Genocide, and that we always speak out against hatred and atrocities anywhere they occur.