Senator Simitian, Assemblymember Portantino Lead Efforts to Commemorate Genocide through SJR 26

SACRAMENTO—The California State Legislature has a long and proud tradition of reaffirming its moral stand against all genocides and speaking out against human rights violations.  California has repeatedly spoken accurately and passed legislation for over the last three decades that clearly and unambiguously memorializes the Armenian Genocide, the Holocaust and the Genocide in Darfur. With nearly a three decade long history of designating April 24 as California Day of Remembrance of the Armenian Genocide, California has taken a leadership role in reaffirming the Armenian Genocide and rejecting the gag rule imposed by Turkey on the United States.

SJR 26, authored by Senator Simitian (R-11), serves as a continuation of this proud tradition. SJR 26 designates April 24, 2010, as “California Day of Remembrance for the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923″ and memorializes the Congress and the President of the United States to act likewise.  This important human rights legislation states that “by consistently remembering and openly condemning the atrocities committed against the Armenians, California residents demonstrate their sensitivity to a need for constant vigilance to prevent similar atrocities in the future.” Furthermore, SJR 26 asserts that annual recognition of the genocide is “crucial to preventing the repetition of future genocides and educating people about the atrocities connected to these tragic events.”

The California State Senate unanimously adopted SJR 26 on April 15th, with dozens of Armenian American activists in attendance on the Senate Floor. Senate floor session commenced with a flag procession by the Santa Clara “Ani” Chapter of the Homenetmen Scouts, and was followed by an invocation by Archbishop Hovnan Derderian of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church.

Immediately following the Senate, the Assembly also adopted SJR 26 unanimously, during a ceremony led by Assemblymember Portantino (D-44). The Assembly commenced its floor session with an invocation by Father Gosdanian, parish priest at Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church in Fresno, representing the Western Prelacy of the Armenian Church. The Walnut Creek “Gars” Chapter of the Homenetmen Scouts led the flag procession on the Assembly floor. Assemblymember Portantino introduced SJR 26 on the Assembly floor, urging his colleagues to continue the tradition of the annual remembrance and send the resolution to Congress and the President, encouraging them to do the same. Portantino reminded the Assembly that denial of the Armenian Genocide or any genocide sets a dangerous precedent that makes future genocides more likely. During the adoption of SJR 26, several legislators rose in support of the resolution and urged their colleagues to support the measure. Their remarks are highlighted below.

Assemblymember Portantino

“Denial of the Armenian Genocide or any genocide sets a dangerous precedent that makes future genocides more likely.  The genocide in Sudan is already in its 8th year.  The designation of this day will raise awareness about this crime against humanity at all levels and educate the next generation of leaders. There are those in the world that try to deny that the Armenian Genocide, the Holocaust and other atrocities. When I look up and I see students from Pasadena and the Armenian Youth Federation is another reason why it is important that we embrace this day because there is an effort to educate the next generation to see that atrocities like this never happen again.”

Assemblymember Kevin de Leon

“I will continue to do my part as an individual, not just as a legislator, but as a citizen of this country to remind everyone that the first genocide of the 20th Century was the Armenian Genocide.”

Assemblymember Cameron Smyth

“It is so important that we stand here today, standing up against the revisionist history of those who want to say that this event never happened.”

Assemblymember Bonnie Lowenthal

“I rise as a member of the Jewish community on behalf of my colleagues here in the Assembly in strong support of this resolution. It is unfortunate that the Armenian Genocide was only the first of others that occurred during the 20th Century.  And as one who was a follower through my family of the 6 million who were killed during the Holocaust in Germany and Europe it gave us hope and strength to know that the Armenian community had survived, had fought, had come to America, and would be a model for us as we knew that we would survive the Holocaust and the horrors that happened then.  And we all have to remember that in addition to the Armenian community there are other refugee groups that did experience genocide whether in Africa or Southeast Asia.  We are a state that has taken in people and now it is our job to turn those memories into growth, productivity, understanding and memories so that this cannot happen again.”

Assemblymember Juan Arambula

“Do not ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee (referencing John Dunn). What these words signify to me is that what happens to one member of humankind affects all of us.  We should have paid attention when this genocide was occurring.  We should have intervened to stop that genocide.  And I cannot help but feel that that tragedy could have been avoided had we listened to what was going on and to the pleas of the Armenian people.  The Armenian people are a proud, ancient, hard working people.  They did not deserve what happened to them.  And we need to make sure that what happened to them is remembered and that we make sure that this does not occur under our watch.  Do not ask for whom the bell tolls, it did not just affect the Armenian people, it affected us all.

Remarks by Jack Weinstein, Regional Director – Facing History and Ourselves

We should be filled with revulsion that what happened to Armenians in the deserts of Der Zor and that what happened to Jews in the death camps in Poland, but I ask that out of this revulsion we take a cue not to turn away from what we know, but to be inspired and galvanized to prevention. And when prevention is not effective, then to strong responses and, of course, to remembrance. Memory, it may be said, is a final frontier.  If the world had been conscious of the genocide that was committed by the Ottoman Turks against the Armenians under the cover of World War I, then perhaps humanity would be more alert to the warning signs that were given before Nazi madness was unleashed.

Majority Leader Calderon Advances Legislation to Highlight the Armenian Genocide Martyrs Monument on State Highway 60

On April 15th, the State Assembly also voted unanimously in favor of ACR 148, a resolution authored by Assembly Majority Leader Charles Calderon (D-58), that would highlight the Armenian Genocide Martyrs Monument on State Highway 60. ACR 148 calls on the California Department of Transportation to erect signs on State Highway 60 directing mo
torists to the Armenian Genocide Martyrs Monument at Bicknell Park in Montebello.

The Armenian Genocide Martyrs Monument stands as a piece of California history since its construction in 1965 and a symbol of the 1.5 million Armenians who were systematically annihilated at the hands of the Ottoman Turkish Government. The imposing 50 plus foot structure rests on a hill in Bicknell Park in the City of Montebello as a reminder of the American humanitarian effort made to honor the survivors of this crime against humanity and their undying will to survive and prevail. ACR 148 recognizes the Armenian Genocide Martyrs Monument as a beacon of awareness for all crimes against humanity.

“This monument stands as a beacon for tolerance and a reminder of man’s inhumanity to man.  It stands vigilant over forces that would re-write the history of genocide and those who would seek to repeat it,” said Assembly Majority Leader Charles Calderon (D-58). “When this sign is erected, thousands of Californians that travel by this humble monument will know that it stands as a voice against all of man’s inhumanity to man.”

As California takes the lead in educating the next generation of leaders in the hope that they will be better equipped to prevent future genocides, highlighting the Armenian Genocide Martyrs Monument on a state highway is a meaningful step towards this goal.

“Having this constant reminder where the Armenian Genocide Martyrs Memorial stands will help us remember that history so that it can be avoided and that the tragedies of the past not be repeated in the future,” stated Assemblymember Tom Torlakson (D-11).

ACR 148 will be voted on in the Senate next week and is expected to be adopted unanimously.

Assemblymembers Kevin de Leon and Anthony Portantino Host the iWitness Exhibit in the State Capitol

Assemblymembers Anthony Portantino (D-44) and Kevin de Leon (D-45) co-hosted the iWitness Photo Exhibit this year at the State Capitol. The iWitness Photo Exhibit is a photographic project by artists Ara Oshagan and Levon Parian, during which they documented survivors of the Armenian Genocide. The iWitness Exhibit, located in the second floor rotunda of the Capitol Building, was highlighted during the Legislature’s Day of Remembrance of the Armenian Genocide. The exhibit will remain in the Capitol Building through April 30th of this year.

“Maps describing ancient civilizations and history books have been altered, all to erase the existence of Armenians from their millennial homeland,” said Levon Parian, photographer of the iWitness Exhibit. “Historical art exhibits of carpets, ceramics and jewelry are explained as made by “Nomadic Christian Turks. The names of animals, trees, and cities have been changed. Cemeteries and churches have been re-named or crushed into fine stone to be used for building roads. The recognition of the Armenian Genocide is so crucial. We must let the government of Turkey understand that history cannot be swept away, re-written and forgotten. The grandchildren of the survivors will not forget the crime that was committed.”

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