As nearly 1,200 people packed the Alex Theatre on Thursday at the 13th annual commemoration of the Armenian Genocide, attendees were abuzz about a historic statement made by the Turkish Prime Minister the day prior.
Most dismissed the comments made by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the eve before the 99th anniversary of the genocide, in which he offered condolences to Armenian descendants of the massacre and mentioned a "shared pain," but did not directly recognize the massacres of the Ottoman Empire as a genocide.
It was the first time a top Turkish official has offered conciliation, but the government continues to refuse to recognize the 1915 genocide of 1.5 million Armenians. The United States has also yet to describe the killings by the Ottoman Empire as genocide, but local and state lawmakers have done so.
"There was nary an apology, there was nary any atonement for what happened," Mihran Toumajan, a Glendale resident who works in software engineering, said before the event, which featured speeches, and Armenian songs and performances — including a modern dance that depicted a man dressed in a traditional Turkish fez hat steal a woman's baby.
But, Osheen Keshishian, a Glendale Community College professor from Sherman Oaks, said that although many would criticize him for saying it, he considered the statement a step in the right direction.
"It's not enough, but he has never reached this point," he said.
State Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Silver Lake) echoed Keshishian on stage, but added that after 99 years, condolences cannot be considered an adequate response. While Rep. Adam Schiff didn't directly refer to the condolences, he said the pain of genocide victims' descendants are not the only emotion that can be passed down.
"Responsibility, too, passes down through generations," Schiff said.
Speakers also recognized other recent news that shook the international Armenian community: the violent takeover last month of a majority Armenian town in Syria known as Kessab. The Syrian rebel forces who overran the town of about 2,000 came in through the Turkish border, an upsetting reminder of the genocide for many Armenians around the world.
"By now the wounds should have healed, but the wounds have not healed," Mayor Zareh Sinanyan said. "The wounds are still bleeding."
The event's keynote speaker, Maurice Missak Kelechian, a Silicon Valley engineer whose scientific research led to the unveiling of a mass grave at an Armenian orphanage dating back to the time of the genocide, shared a lengthy presentation demonstrating American humanitarian efforts during the early 20th century to support Armenians.
"We don't have to prove to anyone that the genocide happened," Kelechian said, clicking through a presentation featuring photos of starving children, hundreds of orphans and American advertisements asking for donations to a humanitarian group called "Near East Relief."
During that time, Americans — even presidents, their wives, and local politicians — rallied to support Armenians, he said, adding that with that past support in mind, President Barack Obama should be ashamed of his multiple attempts to commemorate the tragedy without calling it a genocide.
On Thursday, Obama described the events 99 years ago as an atrocity, despite promising to recognize the genocide as president during his 2008 campaign.
"We need to make the tragedy not just an Armenian one, but a tragedy for humanity at large," Kelechian said.
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