Turkish denialists cannot defeat Armenians in California

Governor Gavin Newsom speaking with attendees at the 2019 California Democratic Party State Convention at the George R. Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco, California (Photo: Flickr/Gage Skidmore)

Turkish denialists found out last week that they can’t defeat Armenians in California.

Contrary to extensive Turkish lobbying efforts, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law on Sept. 29, 2022, a bill designating April 24, Genocide Remembrance Day, as a state holiday. The bill, initiated by California Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian on February 7, 2022, was adopted unanimously by both legislative chambers at the end of August. It had earlier passed unanimously through three separate committees in each of the chambers.

Assembly Bill 1801 mandates the closing of all community colleges and public schools throughout California on April 24 of every year. State employees will be given time off with pay. The bill states: “The Legislature finds and declares that Genocide Remembrance Day would be a day for all to reflect on past and present genocides, but especially those that have felt the impact of these atrocities and groups that have found refuge in California, including, but not limited to, the Holocaust, Holodomor, and the Genocides of the Armenian, Assyrian, Greek, Cambodian, and Rwandan communities. Genocide Remembrance Day would be observed annually on April 24, also known as Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, during the week the state of California traditionally recognizes Genocide Awareness Week.”

The bill further states: “Public schools and educational institutions throughout this state may include exercises, funded through existing resources, remembering and honoring the many contributions that survivors of genocide have made to this country. The State Board of Education may adopt a model curriculum guide to be available for use by public schools for exercises related to Genocide Remembrance Day.”

In a belated and failed attempt, the Assembly of Turkish American Associations (ATAA), issued on Sept. 6, an action alert asking Gov. Newsom to block the bill after it was adopted unanimously by the California legislature. The Turkish action alert was also posted on websites in Turkey, urging millions of Turks around the world to send messages to Gov. Newsom. The Turkish messages contained the usual denials about the Armenian Genocide, ignoring the fact that all 50 states had acknowledged the Armenian Genocide, along with both Houses of Congress and President Joe Biden.

On the eve of Gov. Newsom’s Sept. 30 decision on the bill, the ATAA posted a second action alert urging him to veto it. Unfortunately for ATAA, the governor signed the bill on that same day. The ATAA posted a sheepish message on its Facebook page on Sept. 30 with a typing error: “Regretfully sharing the devastating Mrs. [probably meant to write ‘news’] for Turks in state of California. CA Governor Newsom signs.”

After signing the genocide bill, Gov. Newsom declared: “Genocide commemoration is more than a history lesson. It is a powerful tool to engage people across generations in the sanctity of human rights, the enormity of crimes, and how to prevent future atrocities. Establishing a state holiday that commemorates genocides both past and present provides space for groups to heal and sends a powerful signal about our California values. Importantly, California continues to lead by example, with a strong record of providing refuge to countless groups suffering through the atrocity of genocide.”

Assemblymember Nazarian stated: “As a member of a community impacted by genocide, it’s hard to describe how much this means to those of us who have endured the often intentional denial of our pain and history for so long. Today, the largest state in the union and the fifth largest economy in the world has taken a stand to annually recognize the impacts of genocide. To all those who have been lost to genocide, we remember you. To all those who live with the impacts of genocide, we stand with you.”

California Assemblymember Laura Friedman told The California Courier: “In recognizing ‘Genocide Remembrance Day’ on April 24th as a state holiday in California, we’re acknowledging the tragedy and horrors of the Armenian Genocide and the devastation of genocides that followed. We’re also honoring the victims and survivors throughout history, and educating future generations so that we can prevent such atrocities from occurring again.”

The Turkish action alerts were futile because they had the impossible goal of blocking a widely-acknowledged historical fact, the Armenian Genocide.

The only thing that Turkish denialists and their government should now do, after over 100 years of lies, is acknowledge the truth and make appropriate amends to descendants of the Armenian Genocide. Such an action would be in the best interest of Turkey itself. After that, Turkish citizens would no longer live with a guilty conscience and resort to embarrassing cover ups whenever they are reminded of the Armenian Genocide.

As I wrote in my December 2006 article, Ahmet Ertegun, the founder and CEO of Atlantic Records and son of Mehmet Ertegun, Turkey’s Ambassador to the US, had told me in a meeting in Los Angeles prior to his death that he could not understand why Turkish officials kept denying the Armenian Genocide a fact known to the entire world. He made it clear that his purpose in acknowledging the Genocide was not to appease Armenians. He believed that it was, first of all, in Turkey’s interest to acknowledge the Genocide, because doing so would help Ankara’s application for membership in the European Union and get rid of the stigma that had haunted his native land for so many years.

It is now up to Turkey and Turkish denialists to decide what course to take. They can either acknowledge the obvious truth of the Armenian Genocide or continue denying an undeniable historical fact and become the laughing stock of the world.

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Harut Sassounian

California Courier Editor
Harut Sassounian is the publisher of The California Courier, a weekly newspaper based in Glendale, Calif. He is the president of the Armenia Artsakh Fund, a non-profit organization that has donated to Armenia and Artsakh $917 million of humanitarian aid, mostly medicines, since 1989 (including its predecessor, the United Armenian Fund). He has been decorated by the presidents of Armenia and Artsakh and the heads of the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches. He is also the recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.

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