The Armenian genocide.
The Turkish government denies it ever happened. But to the throngs of Armenian Americans who marched Tuesday through the streets of Hollywood on the Armenian Day of Remembrance, that denial only fueled their zeal to never forget what occurred during World War I.
Blocking parts of Hollywood and Sunset boulevards, thousands chanted slogans, waved flags and walked 1 1/2 miles to honor the 1.5 million Armenians whose deaths they believe constituted the first genocide of the 20th century.
Most of the deaths occurred during World War I when part of Armenia was ruled by the Turkish Ottoman Empire. Armenians and the U.S. ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Henry Morgenthau, said the killings were organized by the Turkish government.
"The Turks can deny it all they want, but it doesn't take a genius to figure out what happened," said Hollywood resident Hagop Hagopian. "For 2,500 years, Armenians lived in [what is now eastern Turkey]. Now, no Armenians live there. Did everybody just get up and move? Come on."
Though he avoided using the word "genocide," President Bush issued a statement Tuesday honoring the Armenians who perished in the 1915 atrocities.
"Today marks the commemoration of one of the great tragedies of
Peter Abajian, director of the western region of the Armenian Assembly of America, said that Bush's statement was well-researched, and although "it just doesn't say 'genocide,' [it is] more than we've gotten out of a lot of presidents."
Some in the Bush administration--Secretary of State Colin Powell in particular--have cautioned against approving an Armenian genocide resolution so as not to anger Turkey.
This year marked the first time that the United Armenian Students, a group from universities throughout Southern California, organized the event. The rejuvenated march was the largest in recent memory.
"Even though this is a day of mourning, we want to honor our survival and our continuation as a nation," said Armineh Agakhanyan, a law student at UCLA.
For most of the march, Agakhanyan was at the front, exhorting her fellow Armenians to never forget and never again allow genocide.
A student spokeswoman said the T-shirts printed for the event speak for their primary goal.
"Our motto says 'genocide never again,' " said Anna Menedejian, a student at Cal State Northridge. "We're not just against genocide against Armenians, but genocide against any people in the world."
The crowd, which at times stretched a mile long, was more than organizers had hoped for.
Many held signs calling for acknowledgment by the Turkish government. It has long denied the genocide, having stated that up to 600,000 Armenians died during World War I from exposure and starvation.
Monday afternoon, the deputy counsel at the Turkish Consulate in Los Angeles would not comment on Tuesday's student-led march.
"You are calling us at the last moment to discuss a very important matter, and we find it very unprofessional," said deputy Nevzat Uyanik.
As the march came to an end at Hobart and Sunset boulevards, Agakhanyan fell into the arms of fellow student organizers. She was elated so many thousands had joined in the march.
If she could talk to the Turkish government, what would she say? "I'd
tell them they had their chance and they missed it," said Agakhanyan, her
voice beginning to fade and crack after an hour of yelling into a megaphone.
"They didn't kill us off then, and they never will."