LONG BEACH, CA–Questions about Turkey’s human rights record and denial of the Armenian Genocide hampered an annual gala in Long Beach marking the founding of the Turkish Republic on Saturday, October 25, when over 50 activists from the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) demonstrated outside the hotel hosting the celebration in protest of the republic’s contentious and violent history.
Organized by the Association of Turkish Americans of Southern California (ATASC), the Turkish Republic Day ball commemorates Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and other Turkish ‘founding fathers.’ The event marks the founding of a Republic, the establishment of which was no less bloodier than the crumbling of the Ottoman Empire that preceded it. Ataturk is hailed as the harbinger of the “new” Turkey for the Turks while many see his rise to power as a continuation of the centuries of persecution of ethnic and religious minorities in Turkey.
“The birth of a state through the wholesale destruction of millions of Armenian, Greek and Assyrian people is a feat we believe is not worthy of celebration,” said Vache Thomassian of the Armenian Youth Federation.
“If individuals feel that they can celebrate historical atrocities we will be there to remind them that crimes against humanity cannot be masked with balloons and champagne,” Thomassian said. “We will continue to pursue awareness and recognition for the Armenian Genocide and we will continue to bring to light those individuals that try to distort and rewrite history.”
Most of the participants at the demonstration were young Armenian-Americans who were determined to draw attention to Turkey’s laundry-list of human rights violations. Chants and statements read by AYF activists outside the Long Beach Hilton Hotel penetrated deep into its lobby, triggering discussion on the issue among many guests and passerbys. Meanwhile, a smaller group of AYF members silently demonstrated in the hotel lobby, wearing t-shirts depicting a bloody Turkish flag and the words “republic of inhumanity.”
“We were able to loudly and clearly get our message across to all those inside and outside the hotel,” said Thomassian. “No one went inside that event or building, without considering the the role of the Turkish republic in the Armenian Genocide.”
Although this was the first time the AYF confronted the ATASC and the Long Beach Hilton on the issue of the Genocide, Long Beach has long been a hotbed of Turkish activity against the Armenian American community in Southern California, hosting Turkish dignitaries and organizations that actively deny the Armenian Genocide.
In 2002, the California State University in Long Beach (CSULB), invited the then Turkish Ambassador to the United States, Osman Faruk Logoglu, to speak on US-Turkish ties to an audience of over 200 students, professors and members of the community.
Logoglu’s presentation, however, quickly became a public relations fiasco for Turkey, as Armenian National Committee (ANC) and AYF activists in the audience continuously asked the ambassador to explain his government’s abysmal record on human rights.
AYF and ANC activists, joined by the CSULB Armenian Students Association had also staged a peaceful protest outside the CSULB Main Library, distributing fliers and speaking with members of the campus community about the facts of the Armenian Genocide and Turkey’s internationally condemned record of human rights.
Years later, in 2006, CSULB Professor Tulin Mangir, coordinated students and members of the local Turkish community to disrupt an Armenian Genocide commemoration vigil, organized by the Armenian Students Association at UC Irvine.
Mangir, the former Vice President of the Assembly of Turkish American Associations (ATAA) and current faculty advisor to the CSULB Turkish Students Association, wrote an open letter to UCI’s chancellor, condemning the Genocide commemoration event and accusing Armenians of “perpetuating a genocide against Turks.” Mangir, the chief instigator of the protests, also pressed charges against the UCI ASA for physical abuse, but the university dismissed the charges, considering them to be unfounded.
“As a definite pattern emerges connecting a number of dubious Turkish organizations and initiatives to Long Beach, the Armenian-American community will pay closer attention to this developing relationship,” Thomassian said, adding that the AYF will continue to take issue with, and act upon, any group that tries to misrepresent history and deny historical truth.