The anniversary date has come and gone. The big March for Justice is over.
But Agasi Vartanyan, who is halfway through a 55-day fast that began last month, said his mission remains the same: to bring formal recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the United States and Turkey, the Los Angeles Daily News reports.
“For 100 years, Turkey hasn’t recognized the genocide,” Vartanyan said Thursday through a translator. “Should we stop trying? I will continue to fight for my people. I can’t comment on what Turkey or President Obama are doing, but I can talk about my efforts, which I won’t stop.”
Vartanyan, a Glendale resident, has stayed inside the enclosure built on a high platform outside St. Leon Armenian Cathedral in Burbank since April 3. The front of the enclosure, which measures some 12 feet by 12 feet, is a glass wall, allowing the public to see him day and night, though there is some privacy. He’s been given 55 gallons of water, a few clothes, a cot and a television. He has lived on only water for the last 28 days and, so far, has lost almost 40 pounds.
The hunger strike is meant to cast global attention on what Vartanyan calls an injustice to the 1.5 million Armenians killed under the command of the Ottoman Turks starting a century ago this year. From 1915 to 1923, Armenians were forcibly deported from their homes and killed as part of a systemic ethnic cleansing that also affected Assyrians and Pontic Greeks.
Historians, scholars, human rights activists and even Pope Francis call it the first genocide of the 20th century, but the Turkish government maintains the deaths were a result of betrayal and civil unrest in what was then a collapsing Ottoman Empire.
Vartanyan couldn’t participate in the March for Justice last week, when more than 100,000 people walked for six miles through the streets of Los Angeles to mark the April 24 centennial. But he was filled with pride when he learned of the great outpouring.
“I am very proud that Armenians were strongly united,” he said. “It’s made me very happy to see countries like Germany, France and Russia acknowledged the genocide. I watched the Pope’s mass, and it was wonderful. When the world is recognizing the genocide, it’s so important so mass crimes against humanity don’t happen again.”
Despite his determination, Vartanyan admitted he has had his moments of weakness.
“I think about meat — different kinds of meat,” he said. “I have so much time to think that how could I not think about food?”