Views from WASHINGTON » Rep. Adam B. Schiff

The House Will Never Again be Silent on the Armenian Genocide

Ever since I was first elected in 2000 to represent our community in Congress, I’ve had the privilege of representing one of the largest Armenian diaspora communities anywhere in the world. And in my many years of working closely with Armenian-Americans, I have been painfully aware of how the issue of the United States’ shameful silence on the Armenian Genocide has been a continuing wound.

For 19 years, I have lobbied my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, introduced bipartisan resolutions, marched and rallied, and implored Presidents of both parties to recognize the Armenian Genocide, only to be told time and time again that now was not the right time, that it was too politically inconvenient to formally recognize the facts of this particular genocide.

On Tuesday, Oct. 29, the House of Representatives finally passed a resolution to commemorate the Armenian Genocide by a vote of 405 to 11, a resounding bipartisan achievement. This vote, long overdue, was one that tens of thousands of Armenian-Americans in our community and millions across the country have for decades worked, struggled and prayed to see. The resolution, which I introduced with Rep. Gus Bilirakis, puts the House of Representatives on record as a body that will not remain silent and ignore the truth.

The facts of the Genocide are horrific and undisputed by historians. Between 1915 and 1923, the Ottoman Empire engaged in a campaign of ethnic cleansing, murdering 1.5 million Armenians and displacing millions more. Many other religious and ethnic minorities in the Ottoman Empire met similar fates, among them the Greeks, Assyrians and Chaldeans.

These brutal truths were recorded by American diplomats serving in the Ottoman Empire at the time, who bore witness in official cables to the annihilation of the Armenian population in the Ottoman Empire. The U.S. ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Henry Morgenthau, would later recall, “I am confident that the whole history of the human race contains no such horrible episode as this. The great massacres and persecutions of the past seem almost insignificant when compared with the sufferings of the Armenian race in 1915.”

I have sat with survivors of the Genocide in our community, men and women, their numbers dwindling year after year, and heard them recall the destruction of their lives, loss of their homes, 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 this nation, in Armenia, and around the world – with hundreds of thousands settling here in Southern California.

The United States has long been a vocal champion of human rights around the world. We have prided ourselves on standing up to ruthless strongmen and protecting the innocent. It is vital we not waver in our commitment to human rights, and especially so today.

As we see images of terrified Kurdish families in Northern Syria, loading their possessions into cars or carts and fleeing their homes headed to nowhere except away from Turkish bombs and marauding militias, we are reminded of the Armenians from a century ago, and the necessity to protect human rights wherever they are violated.

We cannot pick and choose which crimes against humanity are convenient to speak about. We cannot cloak our support for human rights in euphemisms. We cannot be cowed into silence by a foreign power. What we must do, and what we have done with this historic vote, is state the facts and stand up for justice. While we can never undo the atrocities of the Armenian Genocide, the House has pledged we will never forget, and we will never again be silent.