'It's very emotional': Bay Area Armenians react to Biden recognizing genocide

SAN MATEO, Calif. (KGO) -- President Biden made history on Saturday as the first sitting U.S. president to officially recognize the massacre of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians during World War I as a genocide.

The Bay Area has a sizeable Armenian population of around 50,000 people. Residents described the news as joyous and a step forward.

At just 4 years old, San Mateo resident Hrag Kalebjian's grandfather had to flee Armenia.

"They came and invaded his village," Kalebjian said. "He was hidden by his sisters and they paid a man to take him away. They didn't know where he was going to go. That was the last time they saw him, but the story is that he sat in the back of a camel or a horse. He was given food and he traveled to an orphanage in Aleppo."

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These are the stories of survival and sacrifice that many Armenians grew up listening to. San Bruno resident John Kevranian shares a similar family story about his grandfather.

"My grandfather was in his late teens, early 20s," Kevranian described. "My grandparents were born in Turkey and they went to Syria as refugees. They fled the genocide."

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For 106 years, Armenians have carried these stories and suffering, but they say President Biden's recognition is the first step into their healing.

"As soon as we heard we were all cheering," said Kevranian. "It's very emotional. It's a very difficult to explain what it feels like unless you are an Armenian."

"We are going to take a stance against genocide and the recognition is where it starts," said Kalebjian. "I'm so humbled and thankful that the United States, the biggest country in the world has recognized that now. Its great step forward for us."

The move comes as San Mateo, Santa Clara and San Francisco counties announce they have designated April 24 as Armenian Genocide Commemoration Day in public schools.

Luz Pena: "What do you think your dad and your grandparents would say today?

John Kevranian: "Grandparents and parents are looking down and smiling and are very proud of us because justice is served."

Hrag Kalebjian: "I would be sitting on the couch with him and have the news on and probably hold his hand, hug him and kiss him. We would think about the family that he lost, but it also created a new family. I'm here because of him."

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