During a somber, yet celebratory event, Glendale students performed songs and dances as well as read poems during the 13th annual commemoration of the Armenian Genocide Monday night that brought hundreds of people to Glendale High.
After Glendale High’s a capella choir performed the national anthems of the United States and Armenia, Glendale Unified Supt. Dick Sheehan introduced a documentary clip produced by former L.A. educator Kay Mouradian, which shares a personal account of the genocide.
In the clip, a narrator reads a letter written by a man who survived the genocide, after soldiers opened fire on him and others or they used hatchets or swords to wound and kill.
The man, who was himself wounded by soldiers, threw himself in a river hoping to escape death. For several days, he went without food or water, eventually falling unconscious until he was found by two Arab men who bandaged his infected wounds.
“I don’t like to start with such a somber event such as this video clip, but that’s how important this is to our district that we don’t forget this,” Sheehan said, adding that the video would be shown to students in world-history classes.
Students from across Glendale schools also performed piano solos, sang songs and read poems in both English and Armenian Monday night.
In one dance by Glendale High students, a few dancers with swords “killed” fellow dancers on stage, although they eventually danced again. The piece culminated with a dancer holding a sign that read, “We’re still standing” as another held up the Armenian flag.
This year also marks the first year that Glendale Unified has made April 24 a noninstructional day.
Many students and teachers have taken April 24 off in the past to attend commemorative events to formally remember how the Ottoman Turks massacred 1.5 million Armenians beginning in 1915. Turkey, however, denies that the genocide occurred.
Now, 99 years after the genocide began, the U.S. government has not yet officially recognized it over fears of upsetting Turkey, a Middle East military ally. As president, Barack Obama has spoken about the loss of Armenian lives in the final days of the Ottoman Empire, but he has never used the word “genocide” to describe it.
The Turkish government’s denial was the subject of a speech by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) as he addressed the hundreds of people who attended the commemoration Monday night.
He said he recently delivered “An open letter to the Turkish people” to recognize the genocide this year, and sent it to prominent Turkish newspapers.
“Have you ever wondered what happened to the Armenians?” Schiff asks in the letter. “Do you know why your government goes to such lengths to conceal this part of your history?”
He went on to say that the massacre was the first universally acknowledged genocide of the last century, and urged for a new national conversation in Turkey on the genocide.
“Yours is the moral responsibility to acknowledge the truth and seek reconciliation with the Armenian people that your parents and their parents could or would not,” he wrote in the letter, in which he aims to reach young Turkish people. “It is an obligation you have inherited…you will be the ones to shape Turkey’s future.”
Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.