A Century of Denial

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With duct tape covering their mouths and the word “DENIAL” scrawled across in red, more than a dozen Armenian Students Association (ASA) members staged a “die-in” in Quarry Plaza.

Known as Red Sunday, April 24 marks 100 years since the killing of over a million Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire. The Armenian community and its supporters consider it the first genocide of the 20th century.

Laid beside the students were signs reading, “Genocide (n): the deliberate and systematic extermination of a national, racial, political or cultural group #NeverAgain,” “Silence is denial #TurkeyFailed” and “1915 Never Again.”

“A lot of people tell me, ‘Well it happened 100 years ago, why don’t you forget about it?’” said Lisa Tatoian, vice president of ASA. “But we can’t forget about it because it was our family, and if they hadn’t run away, if they had not survived, we wouldn’t be here today.”

Tatoian said the refusal to acknowledge the killings as genocide “just hurts,” and the Armenian community continues to fight for recognition to honor its ancestors.

During his presidential campaign in 2008, President Barack Obama guaranteed that, if elected, he would acknowledge the Turkish annihilation of Armenians as genocide. Seven years later, Obama continues to abstain from referring to the killings as a genocide. Instead, in a statement issued by the White House on April 24, he said it was “the first mass atrocity of the 20th century.”

Former ASA President Anthony Kerimian said the president of the U.S. is a “coward” for perpetuating the denial of the Armenian Genocide.

“Obama is under a great deal of pressure from hundreds of lobbyists, politicians and millions of Armenians to recognize the genocide,” Kerimian said. “He will be seen as a hypocrite for initially saying that he would recognize the facts, and now [reverse] his decision.”

As Obama continues to refrain from using “Armenian” and “genocide” in the same sentence, other officials and public figures have openly acknowledged the genocide in light of its centenary. During a meeting with Armenian religious officials in the Vatican, Pope Francis said “the first genocide of the 20th century was that of the Armenians.” California Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) read the names of 1,000 people killed during the Armenian Genocide and tweeted them followed by the hashtag #NeverForget1915.

Kerimian, however, acknowledges the denial reaches far beyond the U.S. and affects most citizens of Turkey, who aren’t taught about the history of the killings. During his time at UC Santa Cruz, a foreign exchange student from Turkey approached Kerimian and said, “You’re not one of those Armenians who, you know, thinks we massacred you all, are you?”

Kerimian said this triggered many emotions “unlike anything [he] had experienced before.”

“They do not realize how much effort has gone into censoring the atrocities of 1915 and changing known history,” Kerimian said. “They see a lack of hard evidence as proof that nothing resembling genocide occurred during these times.”

Fourth-year transfer student and ASA member Alexander Abraamian said the “die-in” demonstration was an effective tactic to engage the UCSC community in a discourse about the history of the Armenian Genocide.

“You can’t expect everyone to be 100 percent respectful because they’re doing their own things, but I do appreciate it when people walk by and even stare or look for a minute or two,” Abraamian said. “Honestly, I wish we had bigger numbers today, but I do appreciate whoever came out.”

After the demonstration, ASA traveled to San Francisco City Hall to memorialize the Armenian Genocide alongside Mayor Ed Lee and Armenians living in the Bay Area. In Los Angeles, thousands marched six miles from the Little Armenia neighborhood to the Turkish Consulate after a rally led by Mayor Eric Garcetti.

“On the long drives from one village to another [in Armenia], I imagine my people walking in the death marches and it brings tears to my eyes,” said ASA President Dvin Ghazarian. “In the distance, I see mount Ararat, which now belongs to Turkey –– it appears so close, but there’s a border that divides us from it.”