Armenian Genocide Played Central Role in the Debate Over the 1986 U.S. Ratification and 1988 Implentation of Genocide Convention

August 19, 2002

WASHINGTON, DC — Armenian American support for Senate legislation (S.Res.307) commemorating United States participation in the Genocide Convention follows in the long tradition of community-wide advocacy for legislative measures to help ensure that the terrible lessons of the Armenian Genocide are put to use in preventing future genocide – against the Armenians or any other people, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).

In the four decades leading up to the 1986 Senate ratification and the 1988 formal U.S. implementation of the Convention, Armenian Americans actively encouraged U.S. legislators to adopt this landmark human rights treaty. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), a central figure in the ratification of the Convention, in remarks on the Senate floor immediately prior its ratification in 1986, stressed his appreciation for “the work of the Armenian National Committee,” noting that, “the convention has a special meaning for Americans of Armenian descent. I know they are particularly pleased by today’s vote.”

The Armenian Genocide, and the Turkish government’s denial of this crime, figured prominently throughout the Senate ratification process in February of 1986 and its implementation in October of 1988.

Among the many Congressional hearings held in the years preceding U.S. ratification of the Convention was one in May of 1976 by the Subcommittee on Future Foreign Policy Research and Development of the House International Relations Committee. The hearing investigated specific instances of genocide and considered the U.S. position on ratification of the Convention. The Subcommittee examined the contemporary implications of the Armenian Genocide, taking testimony from Levon Sarkisian of the the Armenian National Committee; Professor Vahakn Dadrian; Professor Dennis Papazian; Dicran Simsarian of the Armenian Rights Movement, Professor Richard Hovannisian, Professor Shavarsh Toriguian, and Professor Avedis Sanjian.

Excerpts of Congressional debate over the Genocide Convention are provided below:

February 18, 1986 (99th Congress 2nd Session, 132 Congressional Record S, 1252, Vol. 132 No. 14 – Title: International Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide)

Sen. John Kerry (D-MA): “I believe the opposition to the Genocide Convention in its current form demonstrates extraordinary insensitivity to the many American citizens who came here following the Armenian Genocide, to those who once were refugees from or had relatives killed in Hitler’s death camps, to those immigrants from Southeast Asia who fled from the Khmer Rouge.

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA): “The reason why the United States should ratify the Genocide Convention is to add our name to the effort to deter genocide in the future. We have had too many examples in the recent history of humanity – the Armenian massacre, the Holocaust, and the Cambodian nightmare – not to recognize that genocide can occur and it can recur. By ratifying this convention, genocide will become fully established in international law as a crime against humanity. This treaty is a statement of repugnance by all civilized peoples at that crime, and the name of the United States should be on that statement.”

Sen. Bob Dole (R-KS): “This treaty has enormous symbolic value as a worldwide statement of outrage and condemnation over very real horrors — as real as the Armenian genocide and Hitler’s death camps.”

Sen. Claiborne Pell (D-RI): “I think it important to reflect for a moment on why it is so essential for use to ratify the Genocide Convention. The convention arose from the ashes of the Holocaust, a response to the attempted extermination of European Jews by the Nazis and, therefore, regarded as much for its symbolic as well as for its practical effect. In this century we have also witnessed the massacre of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire and the barbarism of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia during the 1970’s millions upon millions of lives have been lost.”

Sen. Paul Simon (D-IL): “There are two fundamental questions: One is why should we ratify the treaty? And I think Adolf Hitler provided us with the answer on that. When Hitler was asked whether he thought the world would permit his planned extermination of the Jews, Hitler simply noted the earlier instances of genocide that had been carried out with impunity and he asked this question: “Who remembers the Armenians?” And unfortunately, there is a ring of truth to Hitler’s question, because we do not remember the slaughter of the innocent Armenians as we should.”

Sen. Rudy Boschwitz (R-WI): “Who among us can say that had the Genocide Convention been passed in the 1930’s as a response to the slaughter of the Armenians and then to the Ukrainians, that had the Genocide Convention been passed and ratified by the nations of the world, including the United States of America, who among us could say that the events of the 1930’s and 1940’s would not have been different? Perhaps thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions would have been saved. And I submit that none among us could say that had the Genocide Convention been passed, and had the press been aware of the desire of nations to oppose it, that the events of the 1940’s would indeed not have been different.”

Sen. Pete Wilson (R-CA): “And how, can we allow any inference that American memory is so short or sensitivity so lacking that we have forgotten or grown indifferent to the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust or of genocide against the Armenian people? The answer, Mr. President, is that we dare not make such mistakes.”

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ): “Early in this century, the Turkish slaughter of the Armenian people was an early and unfortunate example of genocide. What was originally called the Ukrainian famine of 1932-33 is now known as a broad and orchestrated campaign of starvation, physical abuse, and internment, and called genocide by many. Today Cambodia is reported to be the site of genocide killings. The litany goes on. The victims are many, the voices of outrage too few. The ratification of an international treaty outlawing the practice of genocide seems a small enough protest against the enormity of the crime. Still, this is a government of laws, and we write the moral bases of our society into law. It is therefore imperative that after a 35 year delay, the Senate should give its advice and consent to the signing of the Genocide Treaty.”

Sen. Don Riegle (D-MI): “Today’s ratification of the Genocide Treaty pays tribute to the millions of victims of genocide, including the 1.5 million Armenians whose massacre between 1915 and 1923 set the stage for the annihilation of 6 million Jews just a few decades later. In addition, we remember the millions of Ukrainians who perished in the only man-induced famine in history, and the killing of millions of Cambodians at the hands of the Pol Pot regime. These events are part of the darkest chapters in the world’s history.”

Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI): “First and foremost, let me commend my old friend Senator Proxmire. For his dogged heroism, and his 3,000-plus speeches he has been a profile in courage and in conscience. . . If his kind of courage had been in place in the first part of the century, we might not have had an Armenian Genocide. If his courage had been in place, we might not have had a Holocaust, which saw more than 6 million of our fellow humans lose their lives. And that courage hopefully now will result in future genocides being avoided.”

Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN): “I would also like to point out the contribution of the Honorable George Deukmejian, Governor of the State of California, and the work of the Armenian National Committee. The convention has a special meaning for Americans of Armenian descent. I know they are particularly pleased by today’s vote.”

October 14, 1988 (100th Congress 2nd Session, 134 Congressional Record S. 16266, Vol. 134 No. 146 – Title: Genocide Convention Implementation Act)

Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D-OH): “Many organizations and groups have fought for years to achieve full and effective U.S. participation in the Genocide Convention. Many of these groups represent individuals who have themselves suffered from the horrors of genocide or whose families or friends were victims. In this century, Jews from many countries in the world, Armenians, Cambodians, and the Baha’i community of Iran have been some of the victims of this most heinous of crimes.”

Sen. Claiborne Pell (D-RI): “The history of mankind is marred by the tragic record of man’s inhumanity to his fellow man through violations of fundamental human rights. The pogroms against the Jews in Russia were a genocidal attempt by the government of that country to obliterate its Jewish population. Turkey’s efforts to resolve its Armenian problem resulted in 27 years of bloody horror which ended with the death of over 2 million members of the Armenian minority. Most infamous of all was the systematic eradication of over 6 million Jews by the Nazis in World War II.”

October 14, 1988 (100th Congress 2nd Session, 134 Congressional Record S. 16107, Vol. 134 No. 146 – Title: Genocide Convention Implementation Act)

Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI): “The massacre of 1.5 million Armenians from 1915 to 1923 was the 20th century’s first act of genocide. As a result, Prof. Raphael Lemkin, who first coined the word “genocide,” waged an unsuccessful battle to declare genocide an international crime in 1933. Even Hitler noticed the world’s reticence in denouncing this genocide, “Who remembers the Armenians?” he asked, ‘Who will remember the Jews?’ And the annihilation of 6 million Jews and millions more of other ethnic groups by the Nazis soon followed. The sheer enormity of this atrocity shocked and horrified the world. Enactment of the Genocide Convention may not have prevented these genocidal acts and these were not the last victims of genocide in our time. The deaths of millions of Cambodians and the persecution of the Bahais are just a few examples and reminders that remembering is not enough. Implementation of the Genocide Convention affirms our commitment to try to prevent such crimes from happening again.”

Sen. Bob Dole (R-KS): “I cannot believe there is any American who does not agree with the purpose of this treaty: To outlaw the deliberate, systematic extermination of a national or racial group. Many of my generation saw first-hand, the horrors of the Holocaust. And like those who lived through the nightmare of Nazism, and those Armenians, Cambodians, and others, who have witnessed mass killings of family, friends, and neighbors, we are morally obligated to never forget, and say never again. By implementing the Genocide Treaty, the United States has said unequivocally, that we will not allow such atrocities to occur. We have stated unequivocally, that we put human rights, above all rights.”

Sen. Larry Pressler (R-SD): “As we prepare to pass this bill, and bring into effect the provisions of the Genocide Convention which we consented to ratify more than 2 1/2 years ago, we should keep in mind that the term genocide is applicable to several historical situations. Certainly the Nazis’ monstrous crime in killing millions of Jews stands out as the most heinous example of genocide. We must never let ourselves and those who succeed us on this Earth forget that Holocaust. But neither should we let the world forget the Khmer Rouge genocide against their fellow Cambodians. And we should not forget the genocide of the Ottoman rulers against the Armenians — millions of whom were slaughtered or forced to flee to other nations. Just as there are some who might like us to forget the Nazi Holocaust, so there are people who try to distort the historical record of what happened in the Ottoman Empire earlier in this century.” (Sen Pressler submitted a chapter on the Armenian Genocide from Ambassador Henry Morgenthau’s book,”Secrets of the Bosphorus,” into the Congressional Record.)

October 19, 1988 (100th Cong. 2nd Session, 134 Congressional Record H. 10441, Vol. 134 No. 149 – Title: Genocide Convention Implementation Act of 1987)

Rep. Tony Coehlo (D-CA): “It is in memory of the 1.5 million Armenians who were killed by the Ottoman Turks, the 6 million Jews who perished at the hands of the Nazi Germans, and all the countless other victims of genocide throughout history that the United States must finally become a full party to the Genocide Convention through passage of S.1851. But this alone is not enough – the next Administration must reverse President Reagan’s nonrecognition of the Armenian Genocide and also urge the government of Turkey to acknowledge their predecessor’s atrocities. Only through these actions will the United States be able to reclaim its rightful place at the forefront of the international community as the defender of justice and human rights for all people throughout the world.”


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