NEW YORK - For Armenian Americans, it was a somber milestone: on the 106th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, President Joe Biden became the first U.S. president to formally acknowledge the genocide.
As they marked the occasion with religious services and a march, activists had mixed emotions.
What You Need To Know
- Making history, President Joe Biden formally acknowledged the Armenian Genocide on its 106th anniversary
- That comes as New Yorkers of Armenian heritage marked the somber occasion
- The acknowledgment was welcome, but activists say there is more work to be done in seeking justice for the Armenian people
“Certainly very proud,” said Nazareth Markarian, chairman of the Armenian National Committee of New York. “This is the culmination of years and years of activism that has brought us to this point. But at the same time, guarded because this is not the end, for many reasons.”
In 1915, in the midst of World War I, hundreds of thousands of Armenians were deported and massacred at the hands of the Ottoman Turks. But for generations, U.S. presidents have not used the word genocide, in an effort to avoid alienating Turkey, a NATO ally. That changed Saturday, with a presidential proclamation from Biden explicitly referencing the genocide.
“I remember my great grandparents, and the march that they took when they were kicked out of their homes and to not to be graphic, but women were raped, people were massacred — 1.5 million deaths,” Chantelle Nasri, president of the Manhattan chapter of the Armenian Youth Federation, said. “And no one speaks of it. So the fact that the very first president has made even like a connotation about it and use the word — it might get him in trouble, but for that I'm eternally indebted to President Joe Biden.”
In addition to gratitude among activists, there was a determination to keep moving forward in holding Turkey accountable, using a march as a way to draw attention to their cause.
“This is actually the beginning,” Markarian said. “Recognition by itself for Armenians really means nothing. We need to build off that — we need reparations for our people.”
Leaders in the community say it’s not only about the Armenian people — but about ensuring no other group faces what they did.
“We hope that in this case genocide acknowledgement will bring us a kind of relief and will task our world leaders, that they are taking care of preventing future genocide, which is the most important thing,” said Archbishop Anoushavan Tanielian, Prelate of the Eastern Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America. “We are not only improving our own cause, but for all those who might be future victims of the same kind of atrocities.”