This year was like no other for Bay Area Armenian community

Armenians around the world received something Saturday they have been waiting decades to receive.

President Biden released an official statement calling Turkey’s atrocities against Armenians that began during World War I a genocide. 

One hundred and six years ago, Armenians began being deported and killed by the Ottoman Empire, part of what is modern-day Turkey.

With the release of the president’s statement, this year’s remembrance gathering in San Francisco took on added significance.

As they have done for more 20 years, Bay Area Armenians gathered at the Mount Davidson Cross in San Francisco for Armenian Remembrance Day to honor victims of Turkish atrocities that began April 24th, 1915, during the first world war.

But this year was unlike any other, as the crowd heard a word from the White House they had longed to hear.

"In Biden's words, he says, ‘each year on this day we remember the lives of all those who died in the Ottoman Armenia era genocide,’" said Ella Sogomonian, MC of the Ceremony.

"Genocide" is a word President Biden used twice in an official statement, in the first and last paragraphs.

"Seeing the word ‘genocide’ provided an extraordinary sense of relief and gratitude," said Haig Baghdassarian, with the Armenian National Committee of America

"Genocide has a definition that no other words contain," said Roxanne Makasdjian, with The Genocide Education Project.

No U.S. president had ever officially used that word to acknowledge the mass killings, which some estimates put above one million.

Congress officially acknowledged the events as genocide in 2019.

But all former U.S. presidents avoided the term, fearing it might fracture already brittle relations with Turkey, considered an ally.

Within the crowd in San Francisco were many descendants of Armenian refugees who made the Bay Area their home.

As recently as last summer, the community experienced some of the ripple effects of violence still occurring near their homeland.

"We were hit with very serious hate crimes in the Bay Area.  Our Armenian Cultural Center, housing so many Armenian charitable organizations, including my own organization, was hit with an arson fire, was completely destroyed inside, as well as gunshots against our school," said Makasdjian.

Armenians say they hope Biden’s acknowledgment leads to added political pressure that forces Turkey to right the wrongs of the past.

What his words have already changed is how some feel about this sacred day.

"There is, along with the feelings of sadness we have, and the justifiable anger, it’s also coupled with a sense of optimism about what the future holds," said Baghdassarian.

A coalition of Armenian groups are the owners and stewards of the land around the Mt. Davidson Cross and maintain it as a gesture of thanks to San Francisco for being a safe haven for genocide survivors.

By issuing the statement, Biden has fulfilled a campaign promise.

As for Turkey’s response, the foreign minister rejected Biden's statement earlier in the week in anticipation of it being released.