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Armenian American Communities Praise Biden's Genocide Declaration

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

The Armenian American community is welcoming President Biden's use of the term genocide to describe the 1915 slaughter of Armenians by Ottoman forces. Reporter Aaron Schrank spent time at rallies and vigils in Los Angeles, home to the largest Armenian community in the U.S., and brings us this report.

AARON SCHRANK, BYLINE: Every April 24, Armenian Americans visit a 75-foot-tall concrete monument in Montebello, east of LA, for a prayer vigil to remember the lives lost in the 1915 genocide. Carmen Libaridian has been coming to this vigil for decades.

CARMEN LIBARIDIAN: We've been waiting a long time. And everyone's trying to get their justice, you know? And Armenians have never gotten it.

SCHRANK: The memorial was the first of its kind outside of Armenia when it was built. Libaridian says the vigil feels different this year. After Biden's announcement, the usually somber mood is tinged with relief, even celebration.

LIBARIDIAN: This is a great step - OK? - a little late for what happened to us, but thank you. Thank you, Biden.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Speaking Armenian).

SCHRANK: The vigil is hosted by Armenian clergy who issue prayers of intercession for the departed souls of their ancestors. Hovnan Derderian, archbishop of the Armenian Apostolic Church's Western Diocese, says Biden's action honors their memory.

HOVNAN DERDERIAN: It is vital that historical facts are recorded justly because generations will learn from the history so that genocide is never repeated again.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing in Armenian).

SCHRANK: As sacred hymns are sung, families lay flowers and wreaths at the center of the memorial. Most historians view the massacres and displacements of Armenians by Turkish-led Ottoman forces as the first genocide of the 20th century. An estimated 1.5 million people were killed. The government of Turkey denies the genocide label and says the deaths were the result of widespread regional conflict. Thirty countries have acknowledged the genocide. But no U.S. president had formally done it until now.

ALEX GALITSKY: This recognition of the genocide today is the result of the tireless advocacy of our community over generations and generations.

SCHRANK: I met Alex Galitsky outside LA's Turkish consulate, where about a thousand were gathered for an annual march. He's with the Armenian National Committee of America, which has pushed for the recognition. While Turkish officials rejected Biden's declaration, organizers still hope the symbolic move could eventually force Turkey's leaders to acknowledge this history.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Turkey must pay. Turkey will pay.

SCHRANK: Sophia Armen is among the crowd at the consulate. She's the descendant of eight genocide survivors. Armen carries with her a copy of an old family photograph. There are 10 faces in it. Five of them are encircled in red. These are her family members who didn't survive. She's thinking about them today and the resilience of her people.

SOPHIA ARMEN: Armenians have been fighting for not only Armenian genocide recognition but our next steps - reparations, return and full reconciliation - for decades.

SCHRANK: And now Armen and others hope they can move on to those next steps. For NPR News, I'm Aaron Schrank in Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.