More than 100 people today are expected to join a group of youths walking through Galt to Sacramento as part of a 215-mile trek to raise awareness of the Armenian genocide.
Walking by day and sleeping in churches by night, the group began its journey April 2 in Fresno and will end Thursday at the state capitol.
There they will rally to thank legislators for officially recognizing the Armenian genocide, the 90th anniversary of which falls this year. A resolution commemorating the genocide is due to be heard in the state Assembly next week.
Members of the group, many of whom are descendants of genocide victims, hope their march will attract public attention to the genocide, which resulted in the deaths of as many as 1.5 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, now Turkey, between 1915 and 1921. Their ultimate goal: an acknowledgment of the genocide by the Turkish government, which has steadfastly refused to recognize the event.
During the genocide, many Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire were forced to march through the Syrian desert, where they were left for dead.
Marching through Acampo on Thursday, the 14th day of the march, Fresno resident Shant Atikian said keeping the cause on his mind helps him forget about the fatigue that sets in as the group marches between 8 and 19 miles a day behind American and Armenian flags.
"Just thinking about how our great grandparents did this without any sleep, food or water -- if they did it, we can do it, too," Atikian, 19, said.
Armenians mark the anniversary of the genocide on April 24th.
"Youths who are descendants of survivors aren't going to let the 90th (anniversary) pass by with just candles and a commemoration," said march organizer Serouj Aprahamian.
Marchers number about 20 during weekdays, Aprahamian said, but that number swelled to more than 100 last weekend.
Assemblyman Greg Aghazarian, R-Stockton, who will meet the group when they arrive at the capitol steps, commended the marchers.
"It's a tribute to our strong culture that the youth picks up the torch from the previous generation and raises awareness," he said in a phone interview Friday.
A resolution commemorating the genocide will be heard on the Assembly floor next week, Aghazarian said. Thirty-six states have recognized the genocide.
Aghazarian said it "shocks the conscience" that the U.S. and Turkish governments have not recognized the first genocide of the 20th century, though Turkey has shown signs that many hope will lead to an acknowledgment.
"The time has come for the Turkish government to acknowledge the crimes of their forefathers 90 years ago," he said. "The more awareness we have, the more likely it won't happen again."
Contact reporter Jake Armstrong at firstname.lastname@example.org.