President Joe Biden on Saturday became the first U.S president to officially recognize the 1915 massacre of 1.5 million Armenians under the Ottoman Empire as “genocide.”
In Florida, as in the rest of the nation and world, Armenian Americans rejoiced that the atrocities that brought many of their families to the United States was finally recognized by the government of their new home.
“This is something that I’ve fought for my entire life,” said Taniel Koushakjian, a West Palm Beach resident and editor in chief of flarmenians.com, which bills itself as the online home and news source for Florida’s Armenian population.
In Tampa Bay, the Rev. Hovnan Demerjian, the pastor of St. Hagop Armenian Church in Pinellas Park, called Biden’s statement “the healing of a wound” that was a “long time in the making.”
“It’s powerful and means the world to Armenians even in our community, who are here today because their family narrowly survived the genocide and escaped to here,” he said.
Demerjian, along with Armenian churches throughout the nation and world, said they were already planning to hold a special service Sunday in remembrance of those who died. He and his roughly 100 parishioners will celebrate with a special prayer service at the end of Sunday Mass.
“I hope there will be a feeling of relief, justice and, finally, peace,” Demerjian said.
Koushakjian said he is a direct descendent of survivors of 1915 and became emotional when he spoke of Biden’s declaration, made on the 106th anniversary.
“My great grandmother was a survivor and I carry that story, her story, with me every single day in my life,” Koushakjian said. “And I know so many other Armenian Americans have done the same.”
Koushakjian said his great-grandmother Hnazant Kutnerian was living in Sivas, present-day Turkey, when the persecution of Armenians started. She survived a death march into the Syrian desert, Koushakjian said, and eventually emigrated to the U.S.
But Kutnerian’s husband, parents, aunts, uncles and cousins were all killed, along with an estimated 1.5 million other Armenian Christians in the events known as Metz Yeghern.
“The American people honor all those Armenians who perished in the genocide that began 106 years ago today,” Biden said in his statement. “We affirm the history. We do this not to cast blame but to ensure that what happened is never repeated.”
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Koushakjian called Saturday a historic day for all Armenian Americans, nearly all of whom are descendants of survivors. He also called Biden’s statement a “relief” to the Armenian diaspora.