By Mary O’KEEFE
With all that is going on in Washington, D.C. it is easy to forget that other issues have been dealt with including the historical vote on Oct. 24 when the House voted overwhelmingly to officially recognize the Armenian Genocide of 1915.
In a rarity in Washington, the vote was bipartisan with a vote of 405 to 11. This is something that the Armenian community, as well as its supporters, has for decades been working on and hoping for. Yet, as quickly as the vote was taken and the Armenian Americans celebrated the recognition of the Genocide, the reality of global political diplomacy came into view when the Senate chose not to take the same vote.
Since Congressman Adam Schiff has been in office he has been working to get the resolution passed in the House.
“I am grateful to my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, as well as the Armenian American activists and community leaders who have fought for recognition for so long. While we can never undo the atrocities of the Armenian Genocide, this vote is a commitment that we will never forget and we will never again be intimidated into silence,” Schiff stated on the day of the House vote.
H. Res. 296 was introduced by Schiff and Republican Congressman Gus Bilirakis from Florida. From 1915 to 1923, an estimated 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks.
According to the Armenian Genocide Museum Institute Foundation, “The massacres were done by the government of the Young Turks and were later finalized by the Kemalist government. … In February 1915, the military minister Enver Pasha ordered to eliminate the Armenian soldiers serving in the Army. On April 24 and the following days, 800 Armenians were arrested in Constantinople and exiled to the depths of Anatolia. Armenian writers, journalists, doctors, scientists, clergymen, intellectuals including Armenian members of the parliament were among them. A part of them died on the way of the exile, while others died after reaching there. The first international response to the violence resulted in a joint statement by France, Russia and the Great Britain in May 1915, where the Turkish atrocities against the Armenians were defined as a crime against humanity and civilization. According to them, Turkish government was responsible for the implementation of the crime.”
“The [vote was] very bipartisan, which is one of the most wonderful things about it,” Schiff said in an interview with CVW.
Schiff said he was particularly appreciative of the House’s historic vote while there are still survivors of the Genocide. He had not been able to get a vote on the floor of the House for about 20 years.
“I can’t begin to tell you all the hours and hard work [that has been done],” Schiff said of the decades of effort to bring this resolution to a vote. “I know how much [this] means to the victims and their families and descendants.”
“When I first heard the House had voted overwhelmingly to adopt their resolution re-affirming the Armenian Genocide, my first thoughts were of deep satisfaction and relief,” said Dr. Alice Chalian, a member of the Crescenta Valley Armenian Community & Youth Center. “All four of my grandparents were Genocide survivors in 1915, and they all raised their families to become productive citizens of their adoptive countries, especially the USA. Their trauma has continued because of the ongoing denial of the Genocide by the government of Turkey. The House has previously adopted similar resolutions in 1975 and 1984, and President Reagan affirmed the Genocide in 1981, so it is a relief that the U.S. House of Representatives has stood up again to declare its defense of the truth in response to individuals and foreign governments who have been denying the Armenian Genocide.”
She added the reason the 2019 vote was so important to the survivors, like those in her family, is a “declaration of the fact of the Genocide in the face of relentless denial of it by the government of Turkey, which is the direct successor to the perpetrating Ottoman Empire.”
“Turkey has worked to dictate U.S. policy on this issue by demanding that the U.S. keep quiet regarding the Genocide, even though our U.S. officials received firsthand accounts from witnesses to the crimes of 1915,” she said.
The atrocities of the Young Turks were known and recognized by the U.S. in 1915. The Dept. of State delivered a warning to the Young Turks regime that it would be held liable for the crimes against humanity, and witnesses included not only the survivors but U.S. officials who were in the region at the time.
The resolution went to the Senate on Nov. 13 but was stopped by Senator Lindsey Graham. A resolution can be brought by only one member to the floor and can be rejected by only one member. The resolution was brought to the Senate floor by Senator Bob Menendez.
“At the time of the Genocide, the United States’ diplomats knew the tragedy they were seeing was an intentional choice. Henry Morgenthau, then-ambassador for the United States to the Ottoman Empire, said that the Turkish government’s deportation order of the Armenians was a death warrant for the whole race,” Menendez said.
Graham’s response was the Senate should not “sugarcoat history or try to rewrite it but deal with the present.”
In response to a clarification requested by CVW to Senator Graham’s office, the Senator’s representative said the objection was not based on the substance of the resolution but on the timing.
“Relations between Turkey and the United States are very much at risk now. Senator Graham spent time with President Trump and President Erdogan [of Turkey] engaged in a frank effort to restore the relationship to where it was before Turkey purchased the S-400 from Russia and invaded Syria,” stated Kevin Bishop, Graham’s spokesman in an email response to CVW. “This resolution and the timing of the attempt to pass it were designed to add further stress to the relationship and would do nothing to resolve the longstanding issues between Turkey and Armenia.”
The timing, though, never seems to be right, according to Menendez.
“We continue to become an enabler of the type of actions that are undemocratic. More journalists are jailed in Turkey than in any other nation; imagine that, a NATO ally. More lawyers are jailed [in Turkey] than in any other place in the world and the simple recognition of a historical fact … of the then Ottoman Empire and the cruel persecution of the Armenian people cannot be recognized by the United States Senate?” Menendoz asked.
Politics aside, this is a very personal issue for the Armenian American community.
“It is disappointing that the Senate blocked the vote of the Genocide resolution. It appears to be a political move that is based on expediency and strategy, rather than on principle and truth – and that is even more disappointing,” Chalian said. “Moving forward, the advocacy by the Armenian National Committee of America [ANCA] will continue. It pursues a variety of causes, one of which is a collaboration with ‘In Defense of Christians,’ an organization which supports oppressed Christian minorities in the Middle East. The ANCA will continue to educate about the Armenian Genocide, to provide voter information and promote participation and motivate the local communities to engage maximally.”