In-Depth: Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) introduced this resolution to recognize the genocide against the Armenian people by the Ottoman empire, reject efforts to enlist the U.S. government in denial of genocide, and encourage education about the Armenian genocide and the United States’ unprecedented relief efforts in its aftermath:
“Over 100 years ago, the Ottoman Empire undertook a brutal campaign of murder, rape, and displacement against the Armenian people that took the lives of 1.5 million men, women, and children in the first genocide of the 20th century. Genocide is not a relic of the past, but an ever present threat. Its denial is not only a continuing injury to the survivors, but makes its repetition against another people more likely. It is therefore all the more pressing that the Congress recognize the historical fact of the Armenian Genocide and make clear that we will never be an accomplice to denial."
At the Capitol Hill Armenian Genocide Observance, Rep. Schiff said:
“No one needs to explain to Jews or Armenians how hurtful it is when people deny genocide. It is a contemporary injury. It is therefore so important that we not view this in its mere historical context, as important as that is, but as a present injury, a contemporary injury that Elie Wiesel described as a 'second killing.' There is a moral imperative here that should give us a sense of urgency."
Original cosponsor Rep. Gus Bilrakis (R-FL) adds:
“Genocide must not be denied. It must be acknowledged for what it is—a scourge on humanity. Official recognition of the Armenian Genocide would represent a courageous new chapter in American foreign policy. With the bold leadership of the current Administration, it is time for the United States to take a stand against Turkish genocide denial.”
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), sponsor of the Senate version of this resolution, says:
“As we near the anniversary of Armenian Remembrance Day, one of the darkest events in human history, I am proud to lead this effort to formally recognize the Armenian Genocide on behalf of the U.S. Congress. The Armenian genocide is a historical fact and not up for debate. Only by accurately recognizing this genocide of the past can we ever hope to move forward in a legitimate and effective manner to meet the challenge of preventing mass atrocities and genocide in the future. With this resolution, we honor the millions of victims of this genocide, remember how they died and pledge that history accurately remember their deaths.”
The Armenian Assembly of America supports this resolution. Its executive director, Bryan Ardouny, notes the role that the U.S. played in helping genocide survivors:
“This resolution highlights a proud chapter in American history, where, thanks to America’s unprecedented humanitarian intervention, thousands and thousands of survivors of the Armenian Genocide were saved in what U.S. Ambassador Henry Morgenthau described as a ‘campaign of race extermination’ and what Major General James G. Harbord - who served as General John J. Pershing’s Chief of Staff during World War I and led an American Military Mission to Armenia - reported from the USS Martha Washington that the ‘[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.”
The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA)’s executive director, Aram Hamparian, praises this bill’s codification of education about the Armenian genocide:
“All who oppose genocide welcome… legislation locking-in U.S. recognition of the Armenian Genocide and – once and for all – locking-out Turkish denials of this crime. This bipartisan measure – spearheaded by Representatives Adam Schiff and Gus Bilirakis – also permanently locks down – as official U.S. policy – that future generations should be educated about the facts of this crime, America’s noble relief efforts for its victims, and – most urgently – the relevance of the Armenian Genocide to modern-day crimes against humanity.”
The Turkish government acknowledges that hundreds of thousands of Armenians died over the time period that historians refer to as the Armenian genocide. However, it disputes suggestions that the deaths were part of a deliberate program to eliminate the Armenian population, and suggests that many Armenians died of disease. It also suggests that casualties may have been inflated, and points out that many Turks died at Armenians’ hands. Turkish officials insist that describing these events as a “genocide” falsely equates it with the Nazi Holocaust.
This legislation has 117 bipartisan House cosponsors, including 101 Democrats and 16 Republicans. Its Senate companion, sponsored by Sen. Bob Mendendez (D-NJ), has 19 bipartisan Senate cosponsors, including 15 Democrats, three Republicans, and one Independent. The Armenian Assembly of America and the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) support this resolution.
This is the ninth time — once for every Congress since his election — that Rep. Schiff has introduced legislation to commemorate the Armenian genocide. In 2007, Rep. Schiff’s legislation had 212 cosponsors and nearly passed on the House floor.
Of Note: The Armenian Genocide of 1915 was the killing of millions of Armenians by the Turks of the Ottoman Empire. In 1915, during World War I, Turkish government leaders put together a plan to expel and massacre Armenians. By the time the massacres and deportations finally ended in the early 1920s, somewhere from 600,000 to 1.5 million Armenians were dead and many more had been forcibly removed from the country.
While most historians call this event a genocide, the Turkish government still doesn’t acknowledge its enormity or scope. Within Turkey’s borders, it’s illegal to talk about what happened to Armenians during this era. Turkey denies that a genocide occurred, and pressures other countries — including the U.S. — to follow its lead. Because Turkey is an important ally to the West in the Middle East, Western governments have been reluctant to condemn the Armenian genocide.
Rep. Schiff notes that Turkey has exercised its relationship with the U.S. to veto recognition of the Armenian genocide by the U.S. government. He criticizes this as a historical practice, and adds that it’s farcical in light of Turkey’s recent slide into authoritarianism:
“For far too long, Turkey has been allowed to exercise a veto on the U.S. government's recognition of the genocide. That has always been outrageous, but as Turkey sinks into dictatorship, purchases Russian missile defense systems, and even assaults Americans on our soil, it is simply a farce. It must end.”
In a letter to his Congressional colleagues seeking cosponsors for this resolution, Rep. Schiff argued that Turkey’s denial of the Armenian genocide is “a source of continued regional tension” that undermines the foundations of a durable peace that would serve U.S. interests and national seucrity. He concludes, “Official recognition of the Armenian Genocide can help open a new chapter in United States foreign policy.”
Rep. Schiff’s home state of California has taken the lead on educating Americans about the Armenian genocide. In 2014, then-Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 1915, which requires California high school social studies and history curricula to to cover the topic.
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / NickolayV)