WASHINGTON, DC – On April 23rd, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was joined by more than a dozen of her House and Senate colleagues in urging passage of the Armenian Genocide Resolution, a move described by legislators on both sides of the aisle as a long overdue rejection of Turkey’s “gag-rule” on the U.S. Congress and a powerful step toward ending all forms of U.S. complicity in Turkey’s multi-million dollar campaign of denial, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
“Americans don’t like gag rules,” said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. “We saw that at this year’s Capitol Hill observance, and we’re seeing it across Congress, from both sides of the aisle. Americans don’t appreciate a foreign government dictating our human rights policy and resent Turkey’s attempts to veto America’s recognition of the Armenian Genocide.”
Speaker Pelosi’s remarks came at the annual Armenian Genocide Observance on Capitol Hill, organized this year by the Congressional Armenian Caucus. Over 200 Armenian Americans attended the function including Armenian Genocide survivors Rose Baboyan, Yeretsgeen Sirarpi Khoyan and Alice Shnorhokian. The event was preceded by a reception organized by the ANCA, U.S.-Armenia Public Affairs Committee and other organizations.
Speaker Pelosi, who received a standing ovation upon her arrival, noted that she keeps a copy of the front page of the October 11, 2007, issue of The New York Times, which features a photo of Armenian Genocide survivors attending the House Foreign Affairs Committee markup of the Armenian Genocide Resolution (H.Res.106). The Committee, despite intense pressure from the Turkish Government and personal pleas by President George Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other Administration officials, passed the resolution 27 to 21. “Our work is not finished – there is much more to be done, but on that day, a very important committee of the Congress of the United States made a statement that was courageous – made a statement that was appropriate to the values of the American people – that nearly 100 years ago something happened to the Armenian people and we in the United States are prepared to call it a genocide,” stated Pelosi, who went on to note, “it is long past time for the President and the Congress to formally recognize the Armenian Genocide.”
Speaker Pelosi then went on to explain the modern day implications of genocide denial. “Many times people have said to me as we were bringing this up and since then ‘Why are you doing this? Even if it is genocide, it happened a long time ago?’ I said ‘I know, but genocide is happening right here and now on our planet. It happened in Rwanda, and it is happening in Darfur. And as long as it exists we have to make a statement about a genocide we know happened – no matter how long ago.’”
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer concurred, sharing with the assembled Members of Congress and Armenian American community activists, “Don’t accept the premise at all that this resolution is about what happened in 1915-1923. Does it recognize it, does it relate to it – of course. But it is a resolution that says not just to Turks, not just to the Armenian people, but to all peoples, that we need to recognize the transgressions of the past – however heinous they may be and however much we may want to deny them. Because if we do not, our children will not recognize their responsibility to never let it happen again.”
Ending the Cycle of Genocide
Speakers throughout the evening of the Capitol Hill Observance noted the dangerous precedent set by failing to recognize the Armenian Genocide. Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), an influential member of the House leadership, citing his successful efforts along with Maryland State Senator Perry Sfikas to adopt Armenian Genocide legislation in the Maryland State Senate in 2003, explained that “If people had stood up and called attention to what was happening at the time and had condemned it, we may well have avoided the other genocides and atrocities in the 20th Century.”
Congressional Hellenic Caucus Co-Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) agreed, noting that, “those who forget will face the same horrors in the future. We must pass the resolution, we must make sure that this country and world remembers the Armenian Genocide so that it never happens again to any person, to any culture, to any nation.”
Armenian American Legislators Offer Powerful Remarks
Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), who until recently was the only Member of Congress of Armenian heritage, affirmed that she “will not rest” until the U.S. Congress has recognized the Armenian Genocide, and praised the Armenian American community for its vital role as the conscience behind this noble human rights movement. She pointed out to her legislative colleagues and all gathered for the event that, “There is an important advertisement in ‘The Hill’ today which reads, “Who decides when America speaks on human rights? We should – not any foreign government.” And so we shall.”
Jackie Kanchelian Speier (D-CA), who was sworn-in as the second Armenian American in Congress earlier this month after a special election in her Bay Area district, came to Washington, DC with a long and distinguished track record of Armenian Genocide recognition as a State legislator. She stressed that, “The facts before us are not in dispute. The reason we still debate this is not to determine that a genocide took place, but to determine if we have the political backbone to stand up for the truth… I commit to you, as a member of this Armenian Caucus, and as a member of the House of Representatives, that I will have the backbone to stand up to make sure that the Armenian Genocide is not only recognized, but is never ever forgotten.”
New U.S. Ambassadorial Nominee for Armenia
Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) received the most thunderous applause of the evening for his remarks regarding his principled stand against President Bush’s flawed nomination to fill the vacancy in U.S. Ambassador to Armenia after the State Department, in 2005, fired John Marshall Evans from this same post for speaking truthfully about the Armenian Genocide. To sustained applause, he recalled that, “When I saw Ambassador Hoagland’s responses to questions that were placed to him, I felt compelled to put a hold on his nomination. His nomination did not move forward and I have told the Administration, which now has a new nominee, that I intend to ask the same tough questions […] and that I hope our new nominee will give us answers that we can accept. If not, I will not hesitate to use my power once again to stop that nominee.”
Also addressing this issue, Congressman Jim Costa (D-CA), explained that he sent a letter to the President last month stressing that the Administration’s nominee fully understand the “very clear” history of the Armenian Genocide before having an opportunity to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
Armenian Genocide Resolution Lead Sponsors Call for Passage
“Almost an entire people were lost and 93 years later we still fight in the greatest democracy on earth to recognize the plain fact of what took place,” said the author of the Armenian Genocide Resolution, Adam Schiff (D-CA). “We have the strongest moral imperative to call that loss exactly what it was without equivocation without mitigation – genocide. And we will fight until we succeed.”
Rep. George Radanovich (R-CA), the lead Republican behind the Resolution and consistent champion for its adoption, shared that State Department officials have said to him, “George, we can’t do this, if we do this… Turkey is on the border of Iraq, if we do this they’re going to invade and go after the Kurds in northern Iraq. Well we didn’t do it and look what the Turks did – they went into Northern Iraq anyway, and they attacked the Kurds.”
Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Co-Chairman of the Armenian Caucus, who served as one of the events two Masters of Ceremony along with his fellow Co-Chairman Joe Knollenberg (R-MI), explained that, “Though we have had some setbacks in this Congress and certainly last year, we are not going to stop until there is an official genocide recognition and we pass House Resolution 106. So we give you that commitment.” Rep. Knollenberg, who serves on the Congressional panel that writes the foreign aid bill, stressed that, “The United States should affirm the Genocide once and for all. There are many reasons to do this, but the most important is so that we can prevent atrocities like the genocide from happening in the future. But we first must admit to and learn from the past before we can stop future genocides.”
Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA), a vocal and eloquent advocate who played a pivotal role in the resolution’s adoption in Committee last year, said that, “We will pass the Armenian Genocide Resolution and we will pass it on the floor. And when we do, I would argue that the greatest beneficiaries other than the Armenian people, will be the Turkish people. Where would Germany be today, if Germans denied the Holocaust? Their ticket to becoming a modern and respected nation was acknowledging their own history. Someday Turkey needs to enter the 21st Century with clean hands or at least a repentant heart.”
Armenian Caucus Member Ed Royce (R-CA), who rallied key Republican supporters during October’s Committee vote, delivered a moving address, in which he asked: “if we are going to be a leader for human rights around the world, are we prepared to stand aside when the French and the Germans and the Swiss and the Swedish and even the Russians step forward and recognize what constitutes genocide? Are we prepared, because of pressure to be silenced?”
Rep. Steve Rothman, a powerful member of the foreign aid panel and a strong advocate for the passage of the Armenian Genocide Resolution and strengthening Armenia, affirmed that, “We will never hide from the truth. Humanity will suffer if we do that again. I will not be a party to that. A genocide has been committed, if you wish to say it was by the Ottomans, so be it, but it was a genocide. One and a half millions souls destroyed intentionally.”
Among the other legislators in attendance were Representatives Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), David Dreier (R-CA), Betty McCollum (D-MN), James McGovern (D-MA), Joe Wilson (R-SC) and Frank Wolf (R-VA).
IAGS President Greg Stanton Explains Real Cost of Genocide Denial
Providing keynote remarks at the observance was noted genocide scholar Dr. Gregory Stanton, President of the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS) and Genocide Watch. Citing the House Foreign Affairs Committee passage last year of the Genocide resolution, Stanton explained that by postponing a full House vote, “Again the United States surrendered to the ninety-year campaign of denial by the government of Turkey. The State Department and the White House have continued the cowardly policies of every Secretary of State since Lansing who have considered it more important to placate the Turkish government than to be truthful about history.”
Dr. Stanton went on to explain the eight stages of genocide and the dangerous cost of genocide denial both to the victims and the perpetrators. He described the benefits of genocide recognition, “telling the truth would ultimately be good for U.S.-Turkish relations, because they would no longer be based on diplomatic lies.” Passage of the Armenian Genocide Resolution, he noted, would also “pay tribute to America’s first international human rights movement. The Foreign Service Officers and prominent individuals such as Theodore Roosevelt, Ambassador Henry Morgenthau, and Cleveland Dodge, who did so much to help the Armenians, exemplify America’s legacy of moral leadership. Click here to read Dr. Stanton’s complete remarks.
Moving Remarks by Diplomats and Clergy
The program was opened by moving prayers by His Eminence Oshagan Choloyan, Prelate of the Armenian Apostolic Church of the Eastern United States, and His Eminence Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, Diocesan Legate and Ecumenical Officer of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America. In his invocation, Archbishop Choloyan gave a special prayer for the “safety of all of the men and women of our armed forces serving around the world.” He went on to praise the efforts of Amb. Henry Morgenthau and the diplomatic corps of the time of the Genocide who “shared in the responsibility of publicizing the Genocide of the Armenians and administering relief.”
Armenia’s Ambassador to the United States, His Excellency Tatoul Markarian, affirmed that Armenia’s “policy towards Turkey will continue under the newly elected President, Serzh Sargisyan. We are ready to establish diplomatic relations with Turkey. We have made that offer consistently since 1991, meaning that Turkey has to resolve all issues bilaterally with Armenia within normally established inter-state relations. Meanwhile, we all understand, however, that normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations although important, cannot happen at the expense of the genocide recognition.”
The Republic of Nagorno Karabagh’s Representative in Washington, DC, Vardan Barseghian, spoke eloquently on behalf of the citizens of his Republic, noting that, “Some who are less familiar with our part of the world, and whom we are trying to educate about the urgency of recognizing the crimes of the past, would say that we should not be concerned about a new genocide. Some are even prepared to argue that modern day Turkey is not a threat to Armenia and Artsakh. Fifteen years ago, Turkey supported Azerbaijan, as the latter waged a war to kill or expel the entire Armenian population of Nagorno Karabagh. Unfortunately the threat of genocide is an ever-present one. Azerbaijan continues to threaten Artsakh with a new war, because we insist on our right to live in freedom.”