LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — For the first time ever, an American president is set to fully recognize the Armenian genocide in a move drawing praise from the American Armenian community despite Turkey's continued rejection of the claim.
"For the Armenian people, the genocide is not something that began and ended in 1915 and 1923," Alex Galitsky, spokesperson for the Armenian National Committee of America — Western Region, said.
During those years, Turkish troops killed 1.5 million Armenians. Armenians say it was mass murder, orchestrated by the government, and deny the claim that the victims were simply casualties of World War I.
"While genocide recognition is an important, a commendable, momentous first step towards justice, it is just the first step," Galitsky said.
But it's a step Armenian Americans have been marching for decades in hopes of accomplishing, and one that is seemingly closer than ever with both the House and the Senate last year passing resolutions to formally recognize the genocide and Biden poised to do the same — making the U.S. the latest country to do so.
And while it has been widely reported that the president is expected to make his announcement on the 106th anniversary, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki would not reveal any details.
"Certainly understand the question, and there's a great deal of interest in this particular topic, but I'm not going to get ahead of the president, and I also don't have anything else to provide from the podium today," she said Thursday.
The Los Angeles Turkish Consulate declined the opportunity for an interview about the potential recognition of the genocide, instead releasing a statement that said, in part:
"Turkey rejects the categorization of the events of 1915 as genocide. Furthermore, there is no judgment of a competent international court, which classifies the events of 1915 as genocide."
The consul general also said that "biased portrayal of this historical period undermines reconciliation and dialogue by creating a confrontational atmosphere."
But that continued denial is what USC Professor Stephen Smith, who specializes in genocide studies, called the "third act of genocide."
"First of all, there is the pre-genocide when there is ideology that attacks a person, a group of people," Smith, who is also the executive director of the Shoa Foundation of Visual History and Education, said. "Then there's the actual genocide, the physical killing of that group of people, and then there is the denial of it, and we have been party to the denial of the Armenian genocide for a hundred years right now."
As for the Armenian National Committee, the group said it did not entertain any denial of this well-known historic fact.
And tonight in Southern California, home to more people of Armenian descent than anywhere outside of Armenia, the reaction to the news was positive.
"I'm so glad that someone finally in America is acknowledging the fact that it happened," a girl in Glendale said. "Because stuff like the Holocaust happened, and they acknowledge that."
Smith said the recognition is about the court of history and the dignity that comes when history is finally being acknowledged.
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