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Lawmakers focus on recognizing Armenian genocide

April 14, 2011|By Bill Kisliuk, bill.kisliuk@latimes.com

Lawmakers representing Burbank and Glendale turned their focus to Armenia last week, holding meetings with representatives of the Armenian-American community and hosting events recognizing the Armenian Genocide, which took place from 1915 to 1923.

April 24 is the 96th anniversary of the beginning of the atrocity that left more than 1.5 million Armenians dead at the hands of Ottoman Turks.

On Thursday, Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Silver Lake) led the Assembly’s annual commemoration of the genocide. Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Primate of the Burbank-based Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of North America, offered the invocation. The state’s official recognition, Derderian said in a statement, “gives us the spiritual strength to hold firm the essence of our Christian faith and heritage and to become devoted citizens of this blessed country of the United States of America.”

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Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) is co-author of this year’s measure setting aside the week of April 18-24 for the state to recognize the genocide. Gatto introduced a measure this year extending the period of time that descendants of genocide victims can use California courts to pursue insurers for unpaid policies stemming from the time of the atrocity.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), author of legislation seeking congressional recognition of the genocide, sent a letter to President Obama last week asking him to use the word “genocide” when publicly acknowledging the history of Armenia. That is something Obama did on the campaign trail in 2008, but not since.

“I ask you to return to the clarity you so forcefully expressed in 2008, and stand with the ever-dwindling number of survivors, as well as the descendants of others, who survived the Armenian Genocide and continue to suffer the ‘double killing’ of denial, by referring to it as a genocide,” Schiff wrote.

The Turkish government strongly opposes recognition of the atrocity as genocide, and lawmakers who emphasize the United States’ reliance on Turkey as a key political and military ally in the Middle East have blocked genocide recognition efforts.

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