Officials Attend Bay Area Genocide Commemoration

SAN FRANCISCO–A guest list including State Senator Jackie Speier–genocide history author Samantha Power–San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown and others highlighted the Bay Area’s annual commemoration of the Armenian Genocide–at St. John Armenian Church.

"It’s a huge honor–not just to be here tonight–but to be treated the way I have been by the Armenian community," said Samantha Power–who included the event–in her national book tour. Power’s "A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide" begins with a chapter titled "Race Murder," about the Armenian Genocide and the insufficient response by the United States. It has received very favorable reviews from the New York Times–Washington Post–and numerous other publications. About 350 people attended the event.

Power said she was "surprised and disappointed," that such a small effort could generate such appreciation. "I didn’t do anything. I wrote a little chapter. It shouldn’t be a big deal to write about it." Telling the story of Raphael Lempkin–who invented the word "genocide" after reading about the Armenia’s–Power noted the sad irony that Armenia’s would have to struggle for the term to be applied to their tragedy. She said the real problem is denial–absence of leadership–and a culture which refuses to recognize–to prevent–and to punish genocide.

"You can’t move on when genocide has happened and it is denied. Policymakers can’t make it go away," said Power–praising the Armenian-American community for its political activism. "You are the model for survivors and immigrant groups," she said–encouraging those present to continue to pursue the teaching of the Armenian Genocide–to make it part of mainstream consciousness. Had it not been for Armenia’s educating Bob Dole about the Armenian Genocide–she noted–Dole would not have taken such a strong role in convincing the US government to intervene in the massacres in Bosnia.

State Senator Jackie Speier–an Armenian-American with a long career in politics–addressed the issue of Turkey’s denialist propaganda–pointing to the common use of the term "alleged" in reference to the Armenian Genocide–and Turkey’s false argument that 1.5 million Armenia’s died as a result of war–not genocide.

"When propaganda raises doubt–it succeeds," said Speier–arguing that the state legislature must continue to pass Armenian Genocide resolutions every year–and stressing the importance of a strong school curriculum on the Armenian Genocide. "We must fight hatred and challenge the lies that would turn an atrocity into a detail of history. You and I speak for the victims," said Speier–calling on the crowd to continue to recognize and commemorate the Armenian Genocide.

San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown–a yearly guest at Armenian Genocide commemorations spoke about the need for the perpetrators to acknowledge their crime. "In my lifetime–my mother always told me that I could not come clean with her–until I came clean with myself–" said Brown. "As an elected official–as a fellow human being–and as an American–I have to insist that the government that perpetuated this genocide must acknowledge it–and soon."

"Without recognizing the truth–there can be no reconciliation," said San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin–who has twice sponsored the resolution proclaiming April 24th Armenian Genocide Commemoration Day. Peskin said that growing up as a Jew–he was taught what had happened to the Armenia’s–but that unlike Holocaust victims–Armenia’s received no recognition and no reparations. "This is something that the Turkish government has been unable to come to terms with. It is our duty as government officials – of–states–and the federal government–to make the government of Turkey reach that reconciliation."

Supervisor Tony Hall–who co-sponsored the resolution–spoke of the "unbelievable courage–warmth… and vision of the Armenian people," commending the community for acquiring the Mt. Davidson Cross–a historic city landmark which was in danger of demolition. City Treasurer Susan Leal also addressed the crowd–commenting on her work with the community during the acquisition of Mt. Davidson Cross.

Addressing the attendees in Armenian was UC Berkeley Visiting Professor of Turkic Studies–Dr. Rouben Safrastyan. Safrastyan spoke about Turkey’s inability to solve the problem of the Armenian Genocide in a politically civilized manner–and about the inability of the United Nations to hold nations accountable for their crimes.

He said that soon after the Armenian Genocide–European governmen’s dubbed it a "crime against humanity," the first use of the phrase–and similar terminology was used in establishing the Nuremberg trials after WWII.

But even with various attempts to hold Turkey responsible through court trials–Turkey was able to escape accountability. Safrastyan pointed to the absurdity of the Ottoman law which states that those subjects who left the Ottoman Empire would lose all rights to their property.

"Each Armenian needs to participate in the effort," said Safrastyan in Armenian–saying he believes the effort must be concentrated on the European Union and the United States–and the Armenian side must be prepared with the documentary evidence of the genocide.

Taline Sanasarian acted as Mistress of Ceremonies–and the event included an opening flag ceremony by the Homenetmen Scouts–patriotic songs by the Jeboor Choir of Krouzian-Zekarian Armenian School–and solo pieces by lyric soprano Soussana Choboorian–accompanied by Naiyry Sarkiss. Very Reverend Father Papken Tcharian gave a benediction dedicated to the Armenian Genocide victims. Father Tcharian also led a requiem service at the Mt. Davidson Cross on the preceding Sunday–which was followed by a cultural program by the AYF.

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