Support has faded for a measure that would officially recognize as genocide the mass killings of Armenians in 1915. The resolution passed a contentious House committee vote, but it has stalled in the face of criticism that it would harm U.S. relations with Turkey.
The resolution was backed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D), who represents California's 8th District, an area with a sizeable Armenian-American population. This week, Pelosi has admitted that she is reconsidering her pledge to force a vote on the measure in Congress.
In Glendale, Calif., a Los Angeles suburb that is home to the nation's largest Armenian population, reaction to the resolution being tabled has been harsh.
'They Were Massacred'
Armenians make up about 40 percent of Glendale's population. Their music, food and culture give the community a distinct flavor. At one restaurant called Raffi's, Alice Milkorian discussed the events that have sparked the resolution.
"My mother's parents were lost in the genocide," Milkorian said. "They were massacred."
Milkorian, who is nearly 80, was born on April 24, also known as Armenian Remembrance Day, the beginning of the killing by the Turkish Ottoman Empire that would eventually claim as many as 1.5 Armenian lives.
Like many Armenian-Americans, Milkorian says she looks forward to an official U.S. acknowledgement of that event. Political reluctance — even outright denials of the deaths — only makes Armenians more passionate about the issue, Milkorian says.
"We Armenians," Milkorian said, "[have] hot blood. So we want our youth to know what happened in the past. It's very important for us."
"Every single Armenian family has a story, a terrible story, as to what happened," said Glendale's mayor, Ara Najarian. He says he gets choked up whenever he recalls his own family's stories.
"My grandfather on my dad's side relayed to me how he saw his father beheaded in front of his own eyes," Najarian said. "And on my mother's side, I heard the story of how my great-grandmother, at that time, threw herself into the river to commit suicide rather than to be raped and abused and eventually executed by the Turkish soldiers."
Push for Recognition will Continue
Ten years ago, the state of California officially recognized the Armenian genocide. Najarian says he still hopes politicians in Washington follow suit.
"It certainly is not going to bring back loved ones from four generations ago," Najarian said, "but it's just a recognition of the historical truth."
Najarian and others point out that world leaders have acknowledged the events of 1915. Even Adolph Hitler allegedly asked, "Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?" More than 20 nations have officially condemned the atrocities.
And six years ago, President Bush referred to the "terrible events" in a presidential message. But this week, Bush urged Congress not to risk antagonizing Turkey's military support for U.S. missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. And that has Glendale's Armenian community upset.
"I'm appalled, I'm surprised, and in many ways I'm disgusted," said Larry Zarian, who hosts a cable TV show in Glendale. "Why are we playing politics with this?"
Zarian, who was the city's first Armenian mayor, says Bush is backing away from an election promise to officially condemn what happened to the Armenians.
"This is about humanity and about one and a half million people that perished 92 years ago. Let's do the right thing. Let's put this behind us," Zarian said. "Turkey needs us more than we need them. Turkey is going to be our ally. Turkey cannot do without the United States of America. Why are we so worried?"
Zarian and others in Glendale say that even if the current resolution dies in Washington, they'll continue their crusade to put the Armenian genocide on record.