Armenians fast for recognition

Hunger strikers demand Museum of Tolerance fulfill its promise to put up a standing exhibit recognizing the Armenian Genocide.

By Ryan Carter, News-Press

April 19, 2003

LOS ANGELES -- A man who said he was the owner of a Numero Uno pizza restaurant drove up to nine members Friday of the Armenian Youth Federation and gave them four pizzas for free.

But the group couldn't eat them. For three days they've been on a hunger strike, drinking only water and sleeping in sleeping bags in front of the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Museum of Tolerance. With bulging eyes, they ended up giving the pizza to nearby security guards and went on with their fasting.

Hunger strikers waiting for outcome. ( Photo/Gevork Ambartsumyan)
What they want is a permanent exhibition at the museum displaying the history of the Armenian Genocide, the 1915 killing of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman-Turkish Empire. A display recognizing the first genocide of the 20th century was promised by museum officials a decade ago, strike organizers said, and still permanent recognition exists.

Four days after Shant Baboujian and eight others began their hunger strike in front of the Museum of Tolerance at 9786 W. Pico Blvd., they continued to make their point.

"It's just kind of sad that the Museum of Tolerance, which stands for human rights and human justice, that it's doing the exact opposite," Baboujian, 23, said. Baboujian is a member of the federation, which has a chapter in Glendale. "It's sad we have to resort to a hunger strike for them to hear us out."

Art display by Zareh Megerditchian. ( Photo/Gevork Ambartsumyan)
As it stands, nobody is hearing them at the museum. It's been closed since Wednesday and won't reopen until Sunday. But as they display Glendale artist Zareh Megerditchian's "Turkish Soup Made With Armenian Bones," a work featuring a bloodied plastic skeleton folded into a pool of fake blood in a bucket, they feel their point is getting across.

Passersby are honking. And each day, more supporters join their nightly vigils and discussion forums, Baboujian said.

Museum officials couldn't be reached for comment Friday.

The strikers said they are prepared to wait it out and have drafted a letter for the museum's director. They also have gathered 300 signatures in support of the effort.

"We're getting by," said Vache Thomassian, 18. "I think everybody's getting their third or fourth wind now. This is very important because the museum's objective is to educate people and make them understand all crimes against humanity to prevent them from happening again."

Thomassian said the first 48 hours were filled with hunger among the group, but the group was psychologically ready for the ordeal, he said.

"After about the first 48 hours, the hunger subsides," he said. "It's mostly mental after that."

Source: Los Angeles Times