Vartan Dulgarian

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Memories still haunting on genocide anniversary Eugene Tong, Staff writer Article Last Updated: 04/23/2007 10:30:50 PM PDT

GLENDALE - The blood-stained carriage and the smoldering city still seemed fresh to the Rev. Vartan Dulgarian as he recalled personal memories of what many believe was the first genocide of the 20th century.

"The garbage wagon - all the bodies just piled up - the blood was flowing for three days," Dulgarian, 96, said Monday as he recounted memories of a massacre of Armenians in Izmir in 1922. The city on Turkey's Aegean coast, then held by Greeks, was set ablaze by invading Turks.

He had lived there with his mother and sister, and was being marched away with dozens of others to the slaughter when he recognized a Turkish grocer whom he had worked for during the past three summers.

"He was the head of the soldiers," he said. "I went up to him and embraced him. He said, 'Oh, you are here?' He said, 'Put this child in my cart and put a fez on him.' He took me back to my mother."

Dulgarian eventually got on a ship to Greece, then ended up in Egypt before coming to America decades later and settling in Glendale.

As old age claims more survivors of the mass slaughter known as the Armenian Genocide - which Armenians say began on this date in 1915 - Dulgarian is among the handful of eyewitnesses still able to tell his story. In a way, he's planting seeds in the minds of the next generation that he knows one day will bear fruit.

"I am 96 years old," he said. "All the bloody things happened in my life ... it's important for the new generation to know that these people have been brutalized, and massacred, so they know their history."

Dulgarian's story is a slice of forbidden history still disputed in the halls of power in Europe, a story the U.S. government does not recognize as genocide.

Armenians and many historians have asserted that Ottoman Turks began the displacement and slaughter of some 1.5 million ethnic Armenians in Turkey on April 24, 1915, a campaign that lasted until 1923.

Its 92nd anniversary today will be marked by remembrances in Glendale, home of the largest Armenian community outside Armenia. In L.A., a march from the Little Armenia neighborhood to the Turkish consulate is planned.

Meanwhile, Turkey has acknowledged that large numbers of Armenians died between 1915 to 1923 but has denied that it was genocide. Instead, its leaders say the death toll is inflated and that the massacres were the result of civil unrest during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

Turkey took out a full-page newspaper ad Monday, paid for by its embassy in Washington, which invited Armenia to "study the historical facts jointly."

The idea of a joint historical commission has been touted by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan since April 2005 - and has been rebuffed by Armenian leaders.

"We think that there are two narratives here that are diametrically opposed to each other," Turkish Consul Timur Soylemez said Monday. "It is a matter that belongs to history. ... In order to reconcile this history, we need to look at it in a sober, sincere and genuine way."

For Levon Marashlian, a historian at Glendale College, the proposal is actually a step back.

"It's an effort to divert attention from the main issue," he said. "There is so much evidence already that it's a genocide that a study - the kind Turkey wants - would not be productive. It's like proving again the Civil War happened."

The ad also supports efforts to "examine history, not legislate it." U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Pasadena, is making his annual push to pass an Armenian Genocide recognition bill in Congress. But the White House and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have sidestepped the issue, as Turkey is a key regional ally.

"The crime of genocide is the highest crime according to international law," Soylemez said. "You don't throw these allegations around lightly. The solution is not in the U.S. The solution is between Turkey and Armenia."

But for many who have lost relatives in the massacres or during the subsequent exile in the Syrian desert, healing can only begin with recognition.

"We're still trying to get away from the desert," said Raffi Momjian, executive director of the Genocide Education Project, a San Francisco-based nonprofit focused on Armenian Genocide education. "We can't do that until we get the proper recognition."

And those nightmarish memories will always be etched in Dulgarian's mind.

"In my life, always I pray for the people," he said. "I (forgive) them. But I can never forget the genocide."

_eugene.tong@dailynews.com_

(818) 546-3304


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