HOLLYWOOD (CBSLA.com/AP) — Thousands of people marched in Los Angeles on Friday to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the killings of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians during the Ottoman Empire, and to press for recognition by Turkey and U.S. that it was genocide.
The “March for Justice” began at 10 a.m. at West Avenue and Sunset Boulevard in the Little Armenia area of Hollywood as throngs carried flags and signs, and most wore black on the 6-mile walk to the Turkish Consulate, which rejects the characterization of genocide.
Walking under dark gray skies that dropped occasional sprinkles, many participants wore black clothing. A slogan emblazoned on shirts read: “You cannot silence history. Genocide is no mystery.”
While the march was largely peaceful, there were reports early Friday afternoon of small skirmishes outside the consulate, where a smaller group of Turkish supporters waved flags and held a rally of their own.
Some social media reports from the rally appeared to show some demonstrators throwing eggs toward police. There were no immediate of injuries or arrests.
The event comes after President Barack Obama once again stopped short of calling the 1915 killings genocide, going back on a campaign promise and prompting anger in the Armenian community.
“I was extremely disappointed in Obama,” said Andrea Marootian, 54, of San Diego. “As an American, I’m disappointed. As an Armenian, I’m disappointed.”
The eighth-grade teacher said her great-grandfather and many other relatives were among those killed.
“I was 13 when my mother took me to a march and to a memorial,” Marootian said. “I wondered, `Why is everybody crying?’ My dad said, `They lost their families in Armenia.”‘
The commemoration was held outside City Hall in downtown Los Angeles Thursday.
Yevigne Salibian, 101, survived the massacre and spoke at the event. The Mission Hills resident said she’s still haunted by the sound of blood rushing after she was badly injured.
“Still I hear that! I don’t forget it,” she said.
Los Angeles is home to the largest number of Armenians in the United States.
For decades, Armenians have been demanding recognition for the million people who died at the hands of the Turkish Ottoman government. Armenian Americans and human rights activists call the event the first genocide of the 20th century.
The United States has not officially recognized the event as genocide, although Mayor Eric Garcetti strongly disagrees.
“When we don’t recognize that there was a deliberate strategy or targeting of Armenians, it dehumanizes them. It says they were just accidental victims of war when children, babies, whose sculls were crushed. Families were obliterated – that isn’t just an accident or the kind of excuse of war,” he said.
A small group of Turkish-Americans gathered outside the consulate for a counter-protest. They say the loss of Armenian lives was the tragic outcome of a relocation effort during a war: “There’s no reason to call it a genocide; it was not intentional. Unfortunately, they did not carry it out properly and lots of lives were lost,” Metin Mangir said.
After around six hours, the outnumbered Turkish group told the LAPD they wanted to leave for their safety and asked officers to accompany them.
Police say Armenian demonstrators hurled bottles of water, eggs and fruit at the Turkish group. Five adults and three minors were placed under arrest.
“We’re going to make sure they get back to their vehicles and things safely. As you can see, it’s a very hot issue right now and we just don’t want anyone hurt,” LAPD Commander Blake Chow said.
Turkey has called for a joint historical commission to study the tragic events of 1915. The Turkish Consulate General released the following statement:
“It is unfortunate to see that only one sides’ voice is being used while the other side is constantly being silenced,” he said. “It is necessary to confront the past through dialogue, not through denial and confrontation.”
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