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Armenians Remember the Death of Their Countrymen

  • Ernest Leong

For Armenians, April 24 is a significant date. It's when Armenians remember the death of 1.5 million of their countrymen who they say were systematically exterminated by the Turkish Ottoman Empire almost a century ago. It's a crime Turkey denies.

Hundreds gathered recently in Sacramento, capital of the U.S. state of California, to remember their Armenian ancestors who were either killed or died from starvation between 1915 and 1923. Armenia says this was the intentional result of forced relocations by Turkey's nationalist government.

Turkey says there was no plan to wipe out Armenians, but many Western historians and politicians believe there was.

California State Senator Jackie Speier says, "Many Armenians were taken from their homes and were executed. Many others spent many years marching through the desert."

Feelings and memories remain strong in the Armenian community. Father Yeghia Hairabedian of the Armenian Orthodox Church says, "My great aunt was one of them. One of my great aunts, when she was two-years-old, she died on the death march, starving and begging for food."

There are approximately 500,000 Armenian-Americans living in California. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger recently signed a bill officially recognizing April 24 as a commemoration day for what some call the "Forgotten Genocide."

Armenians claim it began on April 24, 1915, with the Turkish government deporting and massacring the minority population of Armenian Christians. Turkey denies this, saying any atrocities were at the hands of rogue groups and individuals, and not sanctioned by the government.

It's an issue Turkey would like to put behind it. This coming October, Turkey begins talks on possible entry to the European Union. The problem is, some European politicians, especially in France, agree with Armenia's views.

Organizers in Armenia expect 1.5 million people, representing the number they say died in the genocide, to converge on the capital, Yerevan.

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