The largest group of Armenians outside of their homeland have claimed secondary roots for decades in Southern California. On Monday, the community gathered in remembrance of the 102nd anniversary of the Armenian genocide, which resulted in as many as 1.5 million Armenian lives at the hand of the Ottoman Turkish government in 1915.
While the genocide has been chronicled by historians as an action of ethnic cleansing, Turkey has denied it occurred and blamed it on the chaos of World War I, which also claimed Turkish lives.
Salpi Ghazarian, chair of the Institute of Armenian Studies at the University of Southern California, spoke with KPCC about the continued effort to educate future generations about the genocide more than a century later.
A march and rally proceeded from Pan Pacific Park to the Turkish consulate on Wilshire Boulevard on Monday to demand recognition of the events, but more is also being done to spread knowledge.
Last month, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to declare April as Armenian History Month.
In the even more far-reaching realm of Hollywood, “The Promise,” starring Christian Bale and Oscar Isaac, is a fictional story set in the historical time. Ghazarian told KPCC it fits right into the messaging.
"It does a really good job at taking those personal stories and making them global. That is, at the end of the day, the way to get the message across," she said.
How many Armenians are living in Southern California and why have they wound up here?
They started coming here even in the pre-genocide years... And since then, successive waves after the Lebanese Civil War, after the Iranian Revolution, they came because there are other Armenians here. Sociologists say that’s what we do, you go where your music and your bread can be found. It’s really hard to come up with numbers, because Armenians are so well integrated into this community. [I'd say] near 1 million.
What are some of the contributions of Armenians to America's economy and culture?
Because they came in the really early years, many of them ended up in the San Joaquin Valley and did a great deal for agriculture in this state — not just as the growers but also the packers, setting up the industry, moving into management. In Southern California, Armenians were the ones who set up the first commercial trash pick-up system. They were the ones who did the hot lunch trucks — this whole lunch truck craze, I’m happy to be a part of it.
April 24 has long been a day of remembrance for Armenians. The phrase #ArmenianGenocide is spray-painted on banners along various freeways in the region. How has the messaging around this day evolved over the years?
It’s very interesting, as the generation are farther removed from the survivors themselves. How each generation is trying to own the topic, to make sense of it and also to share it. That’s really going to be the challenge going forward, and the Holocaust survivors now dying off, the Jewish community is coming to the same realization. When those survivors are gone, how do you make the understanding of this trauma, the relevance of this trauma real for successive generations? In some ways, this younger generations is dealing with what it knows, it knows hashtags... It’s a shared injustice, it’s a shared humanity and we are at that forefront of keeping the world aware of that. That’s going to be the challenge going forward.