By Mary O’KEEFE
“We are not makers of history. We are made by history.”
~ Martin Luther King Jr.
The past is part of society and what society does with that knowledge is what defines it. Descendants of the Armenian community are keeping a piece of their tragic past alive, not only to remember and honor those who were victims of the Armenian Genocide, but as a warning of how cruel others can be and that by forgetting or denying the past a door could open allowing atrocities to happen again.
Over a century ago the Ottoman government initiated events that led to the deaths of over 1.5 million Armenians. On the night of April 24, 1915 the Turkish government arrested over 200 Armenian leaders in Constantinople. Hundreds more were later attested and all sent to prison where many were executed. The Young Turk regime had been rumored to have planned the genocide of Armenians and reports of atrocities were filtering out.
To this day, despite calls from Armenian survivors of the Genocide, their families and U.S. government, officials of the Turkish government have not recognized the Genocide. Instead they often characterize the events as part of a civil war.
“It is very important that we never forget, not only for the [Armenian] Genocide but what is happening [around the world] now,” said Harry Leon, community leader. “It is very important that we remember the lives that were lost. We should now come together with a new generation of peace and love.”
He added it is equally important to remember that people from many different cultural backgrounds can live together with respect and in peace.
Congressman Adam Schiff has been a strong supporter for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Last year Schiff, along with Representatives Robert Dold, David Valadao and Frank Pallone and with 40 other members of the House of Representatives, introduced the Armenian Genocide Truth and Justice Resolution.
The bi-partisan resolution called for President Barack Obama to “work toward equitable, constructive and durable Armenian-Turkish relations based upon the Republic of Turkey’s full acknowledgement of the facts and ongoing consequences of the Armenian Genocide. The resolution will also establish a fair, just and comprehensive international record of this crime against humanity,” according to a statement from Schiff’s office.
On Wednesday Schiff continued his support by speaking on the House floor about the Genocide and its need for recognition. In a letter addressed to the President he once again asked for his support.
“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,’” Schiff wrote.
“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,” he stated.
For the entire letter please read below.
There will be an Armenian Genocide commemoration organized by the Unified Young Armenians on April 23 at 6 p.m. at Parcher Plaza in Glendale. On April 24 at 10 a.m. in Hollywood a march is being held. Buses will leave at 8 a.m. from the Shirak Deli, 3857 Foothill Blvd. and Caesar’s Palace Banquet Hall at 6723 Foothill Blvd in Tujunga.
Schiff’s letter to the President:
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.