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Rep. Schiff, System of a Down share goal of Armenian Genocide recognition

By Chad Garland, Glendale News-Press – While the alternative rock band System of a Down plans to use the concert stage this month as a platform to push for formal recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the United States and Turkey, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), is using his influence as a legislator toward the same goal.

Their efforts coincide with the 100-year anniversary of the atrocities that began under the Ottoman Empire — what is now the Republic of Turkey — which claimed the lives of 1.5 million Armenians and others.

They are seeking to push President Barack Obama to uphold a promise he made in 2008 to acknowledge the genocide, but also to end Turkey’s campaign of denying the tragedy.

“This is the year,” Schiff said. “We need to make sure our president and our Congress do the right thing.”

During a conference call with the media to discuss their efforts on Wednesday, Schiff joined System of a Down lead vocalist Serj Tankian and drummer John Dolmayan, as well as Taner Akcam, a Turkish academic and professor of history at Clark University, and Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America.

The Grammy-winning band — including guitarist Daron Malakian, a Glendale resident who attended Glendale High School — it is launching a tour to bring awareness to the issue, seeking justice for the victims and their families. The first show will be Monday in Inglewood, followed by stops throughout Europe before culminating with a free show on April 23 in Republic Square in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, on the eve of Armenian Genocide Recognition Day.

It’s the group’s first performance in Armenia, though all four current members are of Armenian heritage, and will feature two of the group’s songs about the genocide — “P.L.U.C.K.” and “Holy Mountains.”

“It is inspiring,” Dolmayan said of the tour, but he added that it is “something that transcends the music” and the Armenian Genocide.

“This is a world issue,” he said. “We want to prevent this happening to other people.”

Last month, Schiff introduced a bipartisan resolution calling on President Obama to restore Armenian-Turkish relations and seek Turkey’s full acknowledgment of the Armenian Genocide. It’s the latest in a perennial effort at official recognition, which Congress has not given in decades.

“If we fail to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide in the face of denial and opposition by Turkey, we lose our standing to fight modern-day genocides,” Schiff said. “We just can’t be picking and choosing which genocides to recognize.”

Schiff also announced that he plans to read the names of a “small fraction” of the 1.5 million victims of the massacre into the Congressional Record on April 22 during an hourlong speech on the floor of the House of Representatives. In the past, he’s read an open letter to the people of Turkey and given a speech in Armenian.

He said reading all of the names would take weeks, but he hopes reading as many as he can will remind his colleagues that “those killed were not an abstraction, but were mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, each one a precious life.”

Tankian said the band members have heard horrific stories told by family members who were witnesses to the genocide, such as his grandfather who saw his own brother being killed during a forced march.

“[The genocide] is still with us and the denial is a spit in the face of that every year and it has to end for relations to improve among nations,” he said.

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