A candlelight vigil commemorating the 96th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide was held on the steps of Burbank City Hall on Tuesday night, two days before an L.A. visit by President Obama, who has not kept a campaign promise to formally recognize the mass killings in 1915 as genocide.
Several in the crowd of about 200 held signs with phrases such as "1915 Never Again," "End the Cycle of Genocide" and "Stand True to Your Word."
"Mr. President, you did not keep your promise," said Hilton Sorkazian, a member of the Armenian Youth Federation and a speaker at the vigil. "Keep your promise."
He then encouraged Armenians to attend a rally planned for 3 p.m. Thursday in Culver City, where Obama will reportedly attend a fundraiser. Obama's sidestepping of the genocide issue is missing a larger issue, said Nanneh Chehras, a volunteer with the Armenian National Committee.
"It's a human rights issue. It's not limited to Armenians," she said. "It's the first genocide of the 20th century; 1.5 million people were massacred and it's not recognized. It's crazy. It doesn't make sense."
Vartan Deirdeirian said Obama is buckling to political pressure.
"In this case, it's Turkey," he said.
During his election campaign, Obama repeatedly committed to recognizing the mass killings as genocide if elected. But he has since avoided the term in commemorative addresses. In 2009, he referred to the atrocities as the "Meds Yeghern," the Armenian phrase for "the great calamity." He took a similar approach in 2010.
During the vigil, personal accounts of genocide survivors were read.
Raffi Proodian read an account of a 12-year-old boy, Bedros Bahadovrian, who was part of the march to Deirel Zor, during which most of the Armenians in the genocide lost their lives.
"An epidemic broke out. There were people dying all around us," Proodian read.
The dead bodies were thrown on top of one another in holes dug in the ground, the account continued.
Armond Aghakhanian, political chairman for the Armenian National Committee, read a quote in German from Adolf Hitler a week before Germany invaded Poland and set in motion the Jewish Holocaust.
Translated in English, Hitler said: "Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?"
Aghakhanian asked how many other times in history that sentiment has been used for genocides in other countries, such as Cambodia and Darfur.
"We will have justice," he told the crowd.