LONG BEACH, CA – Over 50 members of the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) converged around the perimeter of the Long Beach Hilton Hotel Saturday night to demonstrate in protest of an annual banquet honoring the establishment of the modern Turkish republic and its founding father, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
Hosted by the Association of Turkish Americans of Southern California (ATASC), the Turkish Republic Day Ball differentiates itself from other benign cultural or social events, celebrating the founding a state established through genocide.
“This event, which deifies Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and other Turkish ‘founding fathers’, seeks to commemorate the establishment of a Republic built on the ashes of 1.5 million victims of the Armenian Genocide; a feat we believe is not worthy of celebration,” said Vache Thomassian of the Armenian Youth Federation.
For four hours demonstrators, lined outside the hotel, chanted slogans and read short statements highlighting Turkey’s past and present human rights violations, while a smaller group of AYF members inside the hotel silently demonstrated in the lobby, wearing t-shirts depicting a bloody Turkish flag and the words “republic of inhumanity.”
“On October 29, 1923 Ataturk’s Republic of Turkey was formed and recognized as the successor state of the Ottoman Empire,” Arek Santikian screamed into a megaphone outside the hotel. “This Republic continued the oppressive and murderous policies employed by the Ottoman Empire, continuing to repress minorities, squash free speech and deny the Armenian Genocide.”
Chants and statements read by AYF members outside the hotel echoed throughout the hotel lobby, reaching all the way to rooms on the hotel’s top floors, according to AYF members who were inside the Hilton.
Meanwhile, two members, inside the banquet, shouted “recognize the Armenian Genocide” repeatedly during a moment of silence held in memory of “Turkish victims” killed by Kurds, a repressed minority currently under siege in Turkey.
The demonstration’s objective, according to the AYF, was to remind the event’s patrons of the historical truths surrounding the establishment of the Turkish Republic.
“Undeniable human rights violations such as the denial of the Armenian Genocide, the continual blockade of Armenia and outright rejection of free speech in Turkey are issues which must be brought to like during such a ‘celebration’,” said Thomassian.” Although we feel every ethnicity and nation has an indelible right to observe their respective cultural milestones, this instance is one which the AYF cannot remain quiet.”
“The demonstration was a success with everyone inside the hotel lobby was talking about the demonstration and the Armenian Genocide,” Thomassian said, adding that even detectives on scene sympathized with the AYF’s cause.