CARSON, Calif.—The Carson City Council on Wednesday unanimously rejected a proposal to erect a memorial monument for Genocide perpetrator and denier Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in the city’s International Sculpture Garden reported the Armenian National Committee of America – Western Region.
The 4-0 vote came after an overflow crowd of community organizations, leaders, activists and concerned community members packed Carson’s City Hall to voice their concerns during the public comment session. While over 298 members opposing the monument and 101 in favor submitted cards to speak, only 6 from each side were afforded the opportunity to comment.
In the weeks leading up to today’s vote, the ANCA-WR, Armenian Revolutionary Federation, Armenian Youth Federation, American Hellenic Council, elected officials from neighboring cities, and the concerned citizenry of the local South Bay community, respectively had all been educating the Carson City Councilmembers who had been lobbied by the Los Angeles Turkish American Association with the ill-conceived proposition for erecting a statue of Ataturk on public grounds and rallying the community for tonight’s meeting.
“We thank our grassroots and the community based organizations for their unrelenting vigor to time and again advocate for the truth, which Turkish lobbyists shamelessly and unsuccessfully, as evidenced today, try to bury with corrupt funding and preposterous schemes,” stated ANCA-WR Executive Director Elen Asatryan. “We applaud Mayor Jim Dear, Mayor Pro Tempore Elita Santarina, and Councilmembers Lula Davis-Homes and Albert Robles for listening to the testimonies and comments from our community and allies and voting against such revisionist agendas,” added Asatryan.
Glendale City Mayor Zareh Sinanyan was the first to speak in opposition of the proposal, and recounted his family’s personal story of survival of the Armenian Genocide. He informed the Carson City Council that Ataturk was idolized by Nazi Germany and by Hitler for how he ‘liberated’ Turkey. This liberation, however, included trying to finish what the Armenian Genocide perpetrated by Ottoman Turkey attempted but failed—total annihilation of the Armenians. At the end of his comments Mayor Sinanyan urged the Council to vote against the measure and noted that having an Ataturk Memorial would be the same as having one of Hitler.
“To honor Ataturk is to honor murder, rape, dictatorship, repression, ethnic cleansing and genocide. Today the Armenian community of S. California made sure there is no place for that here or anywhere else in the civilized world,” stated Mayor Sinanyan.
Sinanyan’s statements were followed by Honorable Mayor of Montebello Jack Hadjinian, Glendale City Clerk Ardashes “Ardy” Kassakhian, Professor Levon Marashlian, and the Vice Chairman of the American Hellenic Council Aris Anagnos who shed light on the historical facts surrounding the Armenian Genocide and Ataturk, all urging the Council to reject this ridiculous measure. In his remarks, Anagnos posed the question that crossed the minds of many “Why would an American city choose to honor a General who fought against Americans?”
Professor of History, Dr. Levon Marashlian during his public comment noted that Mustafa Kemal continued the crimes of the Armenian Genocide and read an excerpt from American nurse Edith Woods’ eyewitness testimony in 1922 of the atrocities committed against the Armenians during Kemal’s forced deportations of the Armenians from Turkey. “The children would often be dead before I had taken their names. 40 to 50 of the older women died each day, their mouths were massive sores and their teeth were dropping out and their feet, those poor bleeding feet. Deportation assured death, and a far more horrible death than massacre. Unless one sees these things it is difficult to believe that such monstrous cruelty and barbarity exists in the world.” “As elected officials it is our responsibility to properly identify real historical figures and honor them for their true heroism or public service rather than ignore the facts and glorify villains who thrived from the blood of our ancestors or of any innocent man,” stated Montebello Mayor Jack Hadjinian.
“Ataturk built the modern republic of Turkey upon the bones and ashes of its minorities – Greeks, Armenians and others. My own family survived the burning of Smyrna – one of the worst catastrophes of the 20th century. To honor such a man is not only insult to Armenian-Americans but to all Americans who believe that every person is born with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” remarked Glendale city clerk Ardashes Kassakhian. “Ataturk and his regime denied thousands of these rights. It is upsetting that the Mayor of Carson has invited upon his city the stain of honoring a Genocide denier by proposing such an inappropriate monument. A more appropriate monument would be one to honor the victims of Ataturk’s regime,” added Kassakhian.
California State Assemblymembers submitted a letter in opposition to the monument, which was presented at the meeting by a representative of Assemblymember and former Carson City Councilman Mike Gipson, and co-signed by Assemblymembers Adrin Nazarian, Katcho Achadjian, Scott Wilk and Mike Gatto.
When Turkish Consul General of Los Angeles Raife Gulru Gezer, who was one of the 6 to speak in favor of the proposed monument, addressed the City Council, an overwhelming majority of the crowd in attendance turned their backs to her in protest.
Carson Mayor Jim Dear, who initiated the monument proposal and used unfair tactics including initially permitting an additional speaker in favor of than in opposition to the monument and providing unlimited speaking time to foreign agent Turkish Consul General of Los Angeles Raife Gulru Gezer, while curtailing the voice of the American citizenry, made a motion to table the item to a future meeting. The motion was rejected by the other Councilmembers who did not want to delay the vote.
Prior to making a motion to reject the monument Councilmember Robles stated “This type of monument would bring bad notoriety to our City.” In the end, Dear changed his vote and spent over 10 minutes talking about the atrocities that took place during the Armenian Genocide.
Armenian press, including Asbarez, was not allowed to enter the City Council chamber. However, CNN Turk and ABC7 were allowed to cover the proceedings from inside the chamber.
Upon confirmation of today’s scheduled vote, ANCA-WR disseminated an action alert, to which its highly mobilized grassroots responded swiftly. Phone calls and e-mails expressed the grave concerns of Armenian-Americans who questioned why the city of Carson would ever consider memorializing a genocide denier, perpetrator and profiteer, calling their attention to the precarious timing of the vote just weeks away from the Centennial anniversary of the Armenian genocide of 1915-1923, committed by Ottoman Turkey, a crime still unpunished, and for which recognition, reparations and restitution are justly sought.
The Armenian National Committee of America-Western Region is the largest and most influential Armenian American grassroots advocacy organization in the Western United States. Working in coordination with a network of offices, chapters, and supporters throughout the Western United States and affiliated organizations around the country, the ANCA-WR advances the concerns of the Armenian American community on a broad range of issues.