A Call to Recognize the Armenian Genocide with 100th Anniversary Approaching
Ninety-nine years have passed since the spring of 1915, when a dying empire launched the first genocide of the 20th century. That campaign by the Ottoman Empire’s Young Turk government – a campaign of expulsion, rape and murder – eventually killed 1.5 million Armenian men, women and children.
The world watched in horror as the Ottoman Turks committed massacres, death marches through blistering deserts, and the wholesale murder and looting of an entire people.
By the time this campaign of terror was over in 1923, the world’s oldest Christian nation had been shattered, its survivors scattered throughout the world with many settling in the United States as they sought safe haven – including here in Los Angeles, Glendale and the foothills.
I recently delivered an open letter to the Turkish people on the House of Representatives floor on the Armenian genocide – a subject that many, especially the younger generation, know little about because it concerns a chapter of world history that the Turkish government has expended enormous efforts to conceal. In the “open letter,” I attempted to speak directly to the Turkish people:
“Were you aware that your grandparents and great-grandparents had many Armenian neighbors and friends – that 20% of the population of today’s Istanbul was Armenian? Did you know that the Armenians were well integrated into Turkish society as celebrated intellects, artists, craftsmen and community leaders? Have you ever wondered what happened to the Armenians? Have you ever asked your parents and grandparents how such a large, industrious and prosperous people largely vanished from your midst? Do you know why your government goes to such lengths to conceal this part of your history?
“As a young man or woman in Turkey, you might ask: What has this to do with me? Am I to blame for a crime committed long before I was born? And I would say this: Yours is the moral responsibility to acknowledge the truth and seek a reconciliation with the Armenian people that your parents and their parents could or would not. It is an obligation you have inherited and one from which you must not shrink. For though we cannot choose our own history, we decide what to do about it – and you will be the ones to shape Turkey’s future.
“This path, of reflection, reconciliation and repentance, must be Turkey’s path as well. It will not be easy; the questions will be painful, the answers difficult, sometimes unknowable. One question stands out: How could a nation that peaceably ruled over a diverse, multicultural empire for centuries have turned on one of its peoples with such ruthlessness that an entirely new word had to be invented to describe what took place? Genocide. As in Judaism and Christianity, the concept of repentance or tawba is central to Islam. Next year will mark a century since the beginning of the genocide and Armenians around the world will mourn their dead, contemplate the enormity of their loss, and ask, why?
“Answer them, please, with words of repentance.”
Our community is home to the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those lost in the Armenian Genocide. And with the 100th anniversary approaching us and with Syria’s Armenians in extreme peril, it is more important than ever that we speak clearly, truthfully and unequivocally about the genocide. While the Armenian Genocide has been recognized by more than 20 nations including Canada, Italy, Sweden, France, as well as the European Parliament, it has not been formally recognized by the U.S. Congress in decades.
Before becoming President, Barack Obama spoke clearly of the massacre of the Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman government, calling it a genocide.
I urge the Administration to do so now, to stand with the ever-dwindling number of survivors and their descendants, and fully recognize the horrors of the Armenian Genocide.
Congressman Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) represents the 28thCongressional District, including the communities of Glendale, La Cañada Flintridge, La Crescenta, Los Feliz, Montrose, Shadow Hills, Sunland and Tujunga.