GLENDALE, Calif.— A town hall recognizing strides toward getting the U.S. government to recognize the Armenian Genocide was usurped this weekend by protestors angry with Rep. Adam Schiff for taking a leading role in House Democrats’ quest to impeach President Donald Trump.
Schiff has represented Glendale, a suburb of Los Angeles and one of the country’s largest Armenian-American communities, in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2001. The community has long pushed for the U.S. government to recognize the Armenian Genocide, but faced pushback from people concerned it could weaken the United States’ strategic relationship with Turkey.
At the Glendale Public Library on Saturday, Trump supporters wielded “DON’T IMPEACH” signs, heckling and booing Schiff as he began to talk about the years-long effort to get Congress to acknowledge the 1915 mass killings of more than 1.5 million Armenians as genocide.
“This is an event that’s honoring 1.5 million victims of the Armenian genocide. If you’re choosing to interrupt this event, please leave!” said Ara Khachaturian, the moderator of the event and editor of the Armenian-American news publication the Daily Asbarez. “I will not tolerate anyone disrespecting the memory of my grandfather and the memory of 1.5 million grandfathers.”
But the protestors were undeterred. They started a “Liar!” chant to protest Schiff’s actions as the Chair of the House Intelligence Committee, which oversaw the investigation into Trump’s dealings with Ukraine that form the heart of the impeachment inquiry.
Those attending the event initiated competing chants, first of “Leave!” and then of the Armenian National Anthem.
After years of stalled legislation, in late October, Schiff’s H.R. 296 passed the House of Representatives with bipartisan support. On Dec. 12, parallel legislation authored by New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez passed the Senate.
“For 19 years, I’ve made (recognition) one of my top priorities to try to accomplish in Congress, but for many of you, it has been a struggle that has gone on far longer,” Schiff said during a brief moment where the protests died down. “I know at times, along the way, there were many who wondered if we would ever see this day, whether we’d be able to overcome the enormous opposition of the Turkish Lobby and Azeri Lobby.”
The regional chapter of the Armenian National Committee scheduled the town hall at the Glendale Public Library hoping to hear Schiff and Rep. Judy Chu, another Southern California Democrat, speak about the legislation’s passage and give Armenian-Americans a chance to ask questions, but after fighting erupted between anti-impeachment hecklers and Armenian Americans, Glendale police cleared the venue.
Throughout the event, Schiff remained unfazed, standing behind police officers and bodyguards, taking selfies with supporters happy with the passage of the House resolution, who made up a majority of the audience.
In a statement provided after the event, Schiff said he was grateful to celebrate the resolution’s passage with his constituents.
“Unfortunately, some came to the event with the intent to disrupt, but the Armenian community has had to overcome far greater challenges along the road to recognition than to be deterred by a few angry voices,” he said.
Sam Metz covers politics. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @metzsam.