Updated: Jun 11, 2021
This year’s statement, as has been the case in previous years, reflects a dictionary definition of genocide and uses the Armenian expression, Medz Yeghern, but falls short of President Ronald Reagan’s declarative statement in 1981: “Like the genocide of the Armenians before it, and the genocide of the Cambodians which followed it – and like too many other such persecutions of too many other peoples – the lessons of the Holocaust must never be forgotten.”
“The Administration’s statement falls short of the national consensus as reflected in the unequivocal affirmation by the Congress of the United States which overwhelmingly adopted H.Res. 296 and S.Res. 150 last Fall, as well as by 49 American states,” stated Armenian Assembly Executive Director Bryan Ardouny. H.Res. 296 sailed through the House of Representatives by a vote of 405 to 11 and S.Res. 150 cleared the United States Senate by unanimous consent in October and December of 2019, respectively.
Last Fall at the Armenian Assembly’s National Advocacy Conference honoring Armenian American Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA), she discussed the importance of genocide affirmation and many of her colleagues concurred, including former Senator and Vice President Joe Biden, who stated, in part in his letter to the Armenian Assembly: “The United States must reaffirm, once and for all, our record on the Armenian Genocide.” “We must never forget or remain silent about this horrific and systematic campaign of extermination…Failing to remember or acknowledge the fact of a genocide only paves the way for future mass atrocities,” the letter continued.
“Instead of supporting bipartisan Armenian Genocide resolutions, last Fall the Administration inexplicably enabled Turkey’s president to use the White House as a venue for genocide denial in an effort to thwart the will of Congress,” stated Assembly Co-Chairs Anthony Barsamian and Van Krikorian. “The failure to squarely affirm the Armenian Genocide hurts U.S. credibility on human rights around the world, and serves to empower authoritarian regimes as they continue to persecute Christians and other minorities,” the Co-Chairs added. “The facts of the Armenian Genocide and America’s record are clear. Presidential affirmation is inevitable and this was a missed opportunity,” the Co-Chairs concluded.
President Theodore Roosevelt stated that the atrocities committed by the “Turks on the Armenians” was “so hideous that it is difficult to name them…people whose little children are murdered and their women raped.” In a letter to Cleveland Dodge, who led the congressionally chartered Near East Relief organization headquartered in New York City, President Roosevelt stated further that it “was the greatest crime of the war, and failure to act against Turkey is to condone it…”
Major General James G. Harbord, who served as General John J. Pershing’s Chief of Staff during World War I, led an American Military Mission to Armenia and submitted a report from the U.S.S. Martha Washington in 1919. The report read in part: “[m]utilation, violation, torture and death have left their haunting memories in a hundred beautiful Armenian valleys, and the traveler in that region is seldom free from the evidence of this most colossal crime of all the ages.”
As the Congressional resolutions clearly espouse, “the United States has a proud history of recognizing and condemning the Armenian Genocide.” The Administration’s departure from the norms of human rights, established over a century ago, diminish the standing of the U.S. government in the world community. It remains for the Administration to unequivocally affirm the Armenian Genocide.
While we welcome the Administration’s “commitment to protecting vulnerable religious and ethnic minorities” and its encouragement of Turks reckoning “with their painful history,” we know from experience that actions speak louder than words and an unambiguous statement on the Armenian Genocide would go farther in meeting those goals. Minorities across Turkey remain under threat and much more can be done to see to it that the most basic freedoms of human rights advocates and journalists in Turkey are protected. Seeing today’s problems in the light of the Armenian Genocide gives proper context to understanding the persistence of the problems in Turkey as well as a strategy for overcoming them. The Administration can at the very least come to the defense of someone of Hasan Cemal’s stature, the grandson of one of the triumvirate responsible for the Armenian Genocide, and join him in recognizing and condemning the crimes committed in 1915.
Established in 1972, the Armenian Assembly of America is the largest Washington-based nationwide organization promoting public understanding and awareness of Armenian issues. The Assembly is a non-partisan, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt membership organization.