By Daphne Abeel
WASHINGTON — Once more, April 24, the day of commemoration of the Armenian Genocide has come and gone, marked by ceremonies and observances throughout the US, in Armenia and abroad. Once more, President George Bush issued a statement that avoided the word “genocide,” calling the events “one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century.”
When there was the real chance that H.R. 106, the bill that supports Genocide recognition, might come to the floor for a vote in fall 2007, Bush adamantly opposed the resolution, citing concerns that US ally Turkey might engage in diplomatic acts of reprisal. On October 10, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs had held a mark-up of the bill and ordered it reported favorably by a vote of 27-21. Nevertheless, the forward motion was quashed by the executive.
Despite the fact that Congress buckled to the Bush administration’s opposition to H.R. 106,members of the Armenian Caucus and others, continue to voice support for the resolution. At the Capitol Hill annual Armenian Genocide observance, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) urged passage of the resolution, a move described by legislators as a long overdue rejection of Turkey’s “gag-rule” on the US Congress and
a powerful step toward ending all forms of US complicity in Turkey’s multi-million dollar campaign of denial.
Said Pelosi, “I come to pay respect with some sadness — certainly sadness over what happened nearly 100 years ago, but also sadness that it is long past time for the president and the Congress to formally recognize the Armenian Genocide.”
Many other legislators including Co- Chairmen of the Armenian Caucus, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Joe Knollenberg (R-MI) stated support for the resolution.
Said Knollenberg, ”Though we have had some setbacks in this Congress and certainly last year, we are not going to stop until there is an official genocide recognition and we pass House Resolution 106. So we give you that commitment. The United States should affirm the Genocide once and for all. There are many reasons to do this, but the most important is so that we can prevent atrocities like the Genocide from happening in the future. But we first must admit to and learn from the past before we can stop future genocides.”
Other legislators who spoke up at the Capitol Hill observance in support of Genocide recognition included Rep. Anna Eschoo (D-CA), Jackie Kanchelian Speier (D-CA), Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA), Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD). Rep. George Radanovich (R-CA), Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), Rep. Ed Royce (D-CA) and Rep. Steve
Sen. Bob Menendez. (D-NJ), who placed a hold on Bush’s nomination of Richard Hoagland to fill the ambassadorship to Armenia after the State Department fired former Ambassador John M. Evans for acknowledging the Genocide. Received enthusiastic applause for his principled stand.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) both made strong statements in support of Genocide recognition.
Schiff, who was a sponsor of H.R. 106, when it was introduced on January 30, 2007, said in a statement, “The resolution currently has 212 cosponsors and enjoys the support of major Armenian-American organizations, including the Armenian National Committee of America and the Armenian Assembly. In addition, seniormembers of the House leadership, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, have expressed support for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide of 1915-23.”
He added that he and “other leading supporters of the resolution are continuing to work to broaden support in the House and hope that it will be taken up during the remaining months of the 110th Congress.”
At the Capitol Hill observance, Schiff said, “We have the strongest moral imperative to call that loss exactly what it was — without equivocation, without mitigation — a genocide. And we will fight until we succeed. We have a moral imperative and we have a very practical imperative as well. And the practical imperative is this, although this genocide took place 93 years ago, there is also a genocide taking place today, half-way around the world. And we cannot have the moral authority we need to stand up and ask the world to take action against that genocide if we don’t have the courage and the moral rectitude to recognize this genocide and indeed every genocide.”
Said Markey, “Countries all around the world have adopted similar resolutions to ensure that the atrocities committed against the Armenian people are properly recognized as genocide. Canada, France, Switzerland, Greece and Poland have passed resolutions affirming the recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Properly recognizing the Armenian Genocide here in America is essential to ensure that all past genocides are never forgotten and all future atrocities are never permitted. The House must afford the proper recognition to the Armenian Genocide. We must do so not only be cause of our solemn obligation to recognize those that were lost, but also because of our duty to those that can still be saved.”
Other legislators in attendance at the Capitol Hill observance were Representatives Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), David Dreier (R-CA), Betty McCollum (D-MN), James McGovern (D-MA), Joe Wilson (R-SC and Frank Wolf (R-VA).
Brian Ardouny, executive director of the Armenian Assembly, said he was encouraged by the turnout at the Capitol Hill observance.
“It was a very good event with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer reaffirming their commitment on this essential human rights issue. Also Senator Menendez was there.”
He added, “The problems remain within the administration, which has viewed the issue through the prism of Iraq. We’ve been focusing on points of leverage that we can exert on the administration and Congress to compel a vote. The community and members of Congress are all with us. What’s missing is that last critical ingredient that could be persuasive. We’ll take Pelosi and Hoyer at their good word that they will work to schedule a vote. It’s always a battle. We remain committed to take every possible step to get this resolution passed.
Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), said, “We will continue to work very hard for the passage of the Genocide Resolution. Just recently we have launched an ad campaign — “end the gag rule.” We’re falling short in getting the US to stand up to Turkey’s government. A foreign government should not impose a gag rule on the US. Americans should not stand for this. We’re trying to get Congress to pass this resolution as soon as possible.”
The ANCA’s message can be viewed on their website, and depicts a photograph of the Statue of Liberty, a Turkish flag pasted across her mouth. The headline above the photo reads, “Who Decides When America Speaks on Human Rights?”
Continued Hamparian, “Bush has used all his energy to stop recognition of the Genocide. He has gone back on his own word; he fired John Evans for recognizing the Genocide. The key argument is to point out to Americans that a foreign government does not have the right to impose a gag rule. The Bush administration has outsourced our policy to the Turkish government.”
In spite of continued opposition from the Bush administration, Hamparian remains optimistic that H.R., 106 could come up for a vote on the House floor before Congress adjourns in October.