Thursday, April 24, 2008

Remembering The Armenian Genocide

April 24th is the Armenian Genocide Day of Remembrance.

This year the occasion seems to be passing without much notice, compared to storms that have accompanied the event in recent times.

Sadly, one detail remains constant: the battle over words continues, as once again President Bush's annual statement dances around what the Day of Remembrance is remembering: genocide.

On this day of remembrance, we honor the memory of the victims of one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century, the mass killings and forced exile of as many as 1.5 million Armenians at the end of the Ottoman Empire. I join the Armenian community in America and around the world in commemorating this tragedy and mourning the loss of so many innocent lives.
As we reflect on this epic human tragedy, we must resolve to redouble our efforts to promote peace, tolerance, and respect for the dignity of human life. The Armenian people's unalterable determination to triumph over tragedy and flourish is a testament to their strength of character and spirit. We are grateful for the many contributions Americans of Armenian heritage have made to our Nation.
We welcome the efforts by individuals in Armenia and Turkey to foster reconciliation and peace, and support joint efforts for an open examination of the past in search of a shared understanding of these tragic events. We look forward to the realization of a fully normalized Armenia-Turkey relationship.
The United States is committed to a strong relationship with Armenia based on shared values. We call on the Government of Armenia to take decisive steps to promote democracy, and will continue our support for Armenia to this end. We remain committed to serving as an honest broker in pursuit of a lasting and peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
On this solemn day of remembrance, Laura and I express our deepest condolences to Armenian people around the world.
It may well be another 93 years before the lesser evils of global realpolitik subside sufficiently for the US Congress to finally pass its Armenian Genocide Resolution. This year, Representative Ed Royce (R-CA) has written an open letter to Congress asking that they officially recognize the Armenian Genocide.

“...As a State Senator, with the help of Governor George Deukmejian, I authored the first resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide, which passed the California Legislature.

In Congress, George Radanovich, Jim Rogan and myself, along with bipartisan support, were able to successfully pass the first Armenian Genocide Resolution through the foreign affairs committee. Later, Adam Schiff, with the support of myself and others, was able to do the same. But, regardless of whether the President was Bill Clinton or George Bush, and whether the Speaker was Dennis Hastert or Nancy Pelosi, the impact of the Government of Turkey’s protests has had the same effect. The Genocide Resolution, which we have passed through the Foreign Affairs Committee, has consistently been checkmated by the Government of Turkey. The reason the Government of Turkey can’t be allowed to halt passage of this resolution is because of the gravity of the subject of genocide.

On April 24, 1915, the Ottoman Empire set out on a campaign to exterminate the Armenian people. Between 1915 and 1923, the numbers were horrific. One and a
half million Armenians were murdered and 500,000 deported from their homelands. At the end of these eight years, the Armenian population of Anatolia and Western Armenia was virtually eliminated, becoming one of the 20th Century’s darkest chapters.

While acknowledging the role played by the Ottoman Empire in killing Armenians, some have laid doubt to the claim of genocide, citing the subsequent deportation of the survivors as merely a movement of a people from one land to another. Henry Morgenthau, the U.S. Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire from 1913-1916, saw it much differently. In his memoirs, Morgenthau recalls that the Turks, "never had the slightest idea of reestablishing the Armenians in (a) new country" knowing that "the great majority of those would...either die of thirst and starvation, or be murdered by the wild Mohammedan desert tribes."

I recall Morgenthau’s words here because he saw first hand the atrocities wrought on the Armenians, and he had been told by Turks that they understood quite well that they had handed down a death sentence to the Armenian people. The Turks not only knew of what they were doing, but spoke quite freely of it. Eighty years later, however, many are still unwilling to recognize the killing for what it was: genocide.
However, it is no less important today to recognize the Armenian genocide for what it is. The deafening silence that came in its wake set the stage for a century that saw genocides occur in Europe, Africa, and Asia.
To the critics who say that we should not dwell on history, I say it’s much harder to get tomorrow right if we get yesterday wrong. The world’s strength to oppose killing today is made greater by accountability, for actions present, but also past. It’s weakened by denial of accountability of past acts. Not recognizing the Armenian genocide, as such, does just that.

"People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them."
___James Baldwin

Godspeed to Armenians on this day, as they remember their history. May your memory help us get tomorrow right.

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