By John Ramos

SANTA CLARA (KPIX) — On Saturday, Joe Biden became the first United States president to use the word “genocide” to describe the 1915 massacre of Armenians by the Turks. On Sunday, Armenians in the South Bay gathered to remember what happened and to celebrate what they see as the end of denial.

In his statement, President Biden said, “The American people honor all those Armenians who perished in the genocide that began 106 years ago today.” It was the first time the term “genocide” had been used and Santa Clara Supervisor Joe Simitian, who is of Armenian descent, said it’s been a long time coming.

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“Year after year, decade after decade, we were told it wasn’t the right time,” he said. “And what I would say is, it’s never the right time to do the wrong thing and denial is the wrong thing.”

In 1915, with World War I underway, the Ottoman Turks began an ethnic purging of the Armenian homeland, according to Roxanne Makarsdjian, executive director of the Genocide Education Project.

“Hundreds of thousands of Armenians died and, by the end of the war, more than half of the Armenian population living on its historic homelands were destroyed,”she said, .

It’s estimated that 1.5 million people were killed and those who survived fled to all parts of the world, including the United States. But ever since, Turkey, an important NATO ally, has pressured the U.S. to refrain from calling it a genocide. Sunday, at a remembrance ceremony at St. Andrew’s Armenian Church in Cupertino, the normally somber atmosphere was tinged with gratitude toward Pres. Biden and local congresswoman Anna Eshoo, who made a personal appeal to the president to call the atrocity a genocide.

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“I thanked him for his consistent support and said that he had the opportunity to make history and he did,” she said.

Eshoo, who is also Armenian, helped to get a genocide recognition resolution to a vote of the House in 2019 where it passed by a margin of 405-11. Some say it was that backing by the Congress that made it possible for Pres. Biden to choose the word he did.

“The word is important,” said Eshoo, “because each one of them mattered — each life, a loved one. And in silence is buried denial.”

The Turkish government denounced Pres. Biden’s statement immediately, calling the word genocide “a vulgar distortion of history” and warning that “the U.S. president’s statement will not yield any results other than polarizing the nations and hindering peace and stability in our region.”

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But the Armenians say the words coming from the White House matter and, even though they cannot change what happened, at least they’re no longer pretending that it didn’t.