Los Angeles Daily News, CA

Article Published: Saturday, April 02, 2005 - 12:00:00 AM PST

Deaths of Armenians remembered

By Alex Dobuzinskis, Staff Writer

Knar Kitabjian never met her grandfather, but the story of how he survived a
death march through Turkey as a child during World War I has stayed with
her.
Today, to honor him, the 23-year-old Armenian-American will begin a march of
her own: a 215-mile hike from Fresno to Sacramento designed to raise
awareness about what has been known as the Armenian genocide.

"I just feel like out of respect for what he went through, it's the least I
can do," the Arleta woman said of her grandfather, Parsegh Kitabjian. "It's
my duty to participate in an event like this."

Kitabjian and 15 others will be making the 19-day march, organized by the
Armenian Genocide 90th Anniversary Commemoration Committee of California.
Nearly 30 other hikers are expected to join for parts of the journey.

Most of the walkers are young - many of them high school or college students
willing to spend nights in churches and community centers and walk as much
as 15 miles a day, rain or shine.

The march is scheduled to end April 21 in Sacramento, where the hikers and
supporters will rally at the Capitol to thank the Legislature for its
passage of a bill recognizing the genocide.

The rally comes a few days before April 24, generally the day when Armenians
mark the deaths of 1.5 million people from 1915 to 1921 in the Ottoman
Empire.

Tuluy Tanc, minister counselor for Turkey in Washington, D.C., said his
government has met with Armenians about the deaths but do not consider it a
genocide.

"The Ottoman Empire in 1915 in this war situation, under war conditions,
tried to relocate a part of the Armenian population ... in the part that was
being invaded by Russia to a safer part of the empire," he said.
"Tragically, lots of Armenians lost their lives.

"But this was not a genocide. It was part of a war."

Many of the Armenian-American youths participating in the hike have
participated in similar marches and protested in front of the Turkish
consulate over the issue.

Martin Melkonian, 18, says his grandfather was an infant during the forced
exodus, and much of his family was killed before he knew them. Melkonian, a
Glendale resident, said tears came to his grandfather's eyes when he found
out Melkonian would be participating in the 215-mile hike.

"He gets sad that he grew up without a family, with no mother. His feeling
towards it is basically, in his own words, how can a government be so
cold-hearted that after all we've been through, after all the pictures that
we have, and they still deny that they have done it," Melkonian said.

For today's hike, Melkonian and others have been preparing with training
walks, and organizers have recommended a high-carb, high-protein diet that
includes spaghetti and peanut butter sandwiches. Today's marchers also will
be accompanied by a recreational vehicle in which they can take showers.

"I've been a long-distance runner, so I'm ready for this," said Narbeh
Aboolian, 17, a student at Herbert Hoover High School in Glendale, who will
join three relatives on the march.

Kitabjian said she also has been preparing for the march, but still will be
challenged because she will carry a video camera to shoot a documentary.

"We live in California, we're always in our car, so it's going to be a
change. But I think I'm going to be able to handle it," Kitabjian said.

For several of the hikers, this month's march highlights not only efforts to
get official recognition of an Armenian genocide by Turkey but broader
issues about mass killings around the globe.

"We haven't done enough in order to stop all these atrocities from
happening," said Nora Ounjian, 23, a student at California State University,
Northridge, who will hike for seven days. "Because obviously Sudan is
happening now."

Alex Dobuzinskis, (818) 546-3304 [email protected]