Rep. Schiff's Open Letter to President Obama – "Call the Armenian Genocide What it Was - Genocide"
Updated: Jul 6, 2021
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the lead sponsor of the Armenian Genocide Truth and Justice Resolution in Congress, spoke on the House Floor and delivered an open letter to the President of the United States, Barack Obama, urging him to recognize the Armenian Genocide in his final year in office in advance of the 101st anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. The commemoration of the genocide will take place on Sunday, April 24.
Watch the speech, or read the text below (as delivered):
Dear Mr. President:
In 2009, less than a year after assuming the Presidency, you accepted the Nobel Peace Prize. You began your acceptance of this honor by acknowledging that it was bestowed, at the “beginning, and not the end, of my labors on the world stage.” You spoke on that day with eloquence and conviction about fundamental human rights – rights that are endowed not by accidents of birth like nationality or ethnicity or gender, but by our common humanity. And the principles that you articulated have indeed guided and defined your presidency.
In your foreign policy, you have emphasized the rights of ethnic and religious minorities worldwide and put these causes closer to the center of our foreign policy. You have extended aid to refugees fleeing horrific violence. You established the Atrocities Prevention Board to coordinate and monitor our efforts to prevent mass atrocities and genocide.
And in a few days, you will have a chance to add to your legacy.
On April 24th, the world will mark 101 years since the systematic extermination of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1923. The facts of the slaughter are beyond dispute. And I know you are well-acquainted with these horrors visited upon the Armenian people, having spoken eloquently about them as Senator.
I have sat with survivors of the Genocide. Men and women, their numbers dwindling year after year, and heard them recall the destruction of their lives and their families and all they had known. As children, they were forced from their homes and saw their families beaten, raped, and murdered. They fled across continents and oceans to build lives in our nation. Mr. President, for them and for their descendants, the word “genocide” is sacred because it means the world has not and will not forget. To deny genocide on the other hand, is profane. It is, in the words of Elie Wiesel, a “double killing.”
This April 24th will be your final opportunity to use the presidency to speak plainly about the genocide. In past years as President, you have described the campaign of murder and displacement against the Armenian people as a “mass atrocity,” which it surely was. But, of course, it was also much more, and you have avoided using the word genocide even though it has been universally applied by scholars and historians of the period. In fact, as you know better than most, the Ottoman Empire’s campaign to annihilate the Armenian people was a prime example of what Rafael Lemkin was trying to describe when he coined the very term “genocide”.
I know that as you consider your words this year, you will hear the same voices as in the past who will tell you to hold your tongue and speak in euphemisms. They will say that the time is not right or that Turkey is too strategically important or that we should not risk their ire over something that happened a century ago.
Mr. President, regardless of what you say on April 24th, there can be little doubt that Turkey will do exactly as it has always done in its relations with the United States – and that is whatever Turkey believes to be in its self-interest. Many of our European allies and world leaders, including Pope Francis, have recognized the genocide, yet they have continued to work closely with Turkey, because that has been in Turkey’s interest. The same will be true after U.S. recognition of the Genocide.
I dearly hope, as do millions of Armenians descended from genocide survivors around the world, that you take this final opportunity to call the Armenian Genocide what it was – Genocide. To say that the Ottoman Empire committed this grotesque crime against the Armenians, but that their campaign of extermination failed. And that, above all, we will never forget and we will never again be intimidated into silence. Let this be part of your legacy, and you will see future Administrations follow your example.
When you spoke in Oslo, more than 7 years ago, you closed your remarks by returning to the counsel of Dr. Martin Luther King and said, “I refuse to accept the idea that the ‘isness’ of man’s present condition makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal ‘oughtness’ that forever confronts him."
Mr. President, confronting painful, difficult but vital questions “is” who you are. Help us be the America we “ought” to be, that beacon of freedom and dignity that shines its light on the darkness of human history and exposes the vile crime of genocide.
Sincerely, Adam Schiff