Washington.- 77 U.S. lawmakers introduced on Tuesday a symbolic measure that puts President Barack Obama in a bind. The resolution backed by lawmakers who represent large numbers of Armenian-American constituents calls on Obama to “accurately characterize the systematic and deliberate annihilation of 1,500,000 Armenians as genocide.”
The bill introduced with 77 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives largely tracks similar resolutions introduced in previous years. Its fundamental point is to apply the term “genocide” to events that occurred between 1915 and 1923 during the Ottoman Empire’s final years. The empire was based in what is now the Republic of Turkey.
“It has never served our national interest to become complicit in the denial of genocide, and it never will,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif. “While there are still some survivors left, we have a compelling moral obligation to speak plainly about the past.”
But what some call a moral obligation strikes others as a diplomatic conundrum. Obama had one of the first telephone calls of his presidency with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, with whom Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has met personally. Obama in early April will visit Turkey, where the genocide resolution is anathema.
The biggest test for the Obama administration is what the president will say on or around April 24, the traditional date for any Armenian genocide commemoration. A Los Angeles Times story published Tuesday suggested that Obama might postpone the traditional commemorative statement. A White House spokesman could not be reached Tuesday to elaborate.
In advance of the upcoming 94th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, Representatives Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), George Radanovich (R-Calif.), Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) wrote a letter to President Barack Obama commending him on his record of supporting the truth about the genocide and urging him to make a strong statement of recognition on April 24th.
“Throughout his career, President Obama has always demonstrated a profound understanding of history and the moral courage to speak plainly about the horrors of genocide,” said Schiff. “We applaud his strong recognition of the Armenian Genocide as a Senator, and look to him for continued strong leadership on this issue as President.”
“Over the years, the President of the United States, regardless of political party, has done a great disservice by refusing to properly recognize the Armenian Genocide,” said Radanovich. “As a proud representative of the Armenian American community, and co-author of the Armenian Genocide Resolution, I commend President Obama for his previous commitment to the truth and I eagerly await the fulfillment of his promises to recognize the Genocide as President.”
“As a Senator and as a candidate, President Obama demonstrated a clear record of supporting recognition of the Armenian Genocide,” said Pallone. “As co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues, I am hopeful that both the President and Congress will not waiver in their efforts to discuss the past openly and honestly.”
“As a U.S. Senator and as a presidential candidate, President Obama made unprecedented commitments to recognize the Armenian Genocide,” Kirk said. “Knowing his personal commitment to ending genocide and promoting human rights, we are hopeful President Obama will keep his promise.”
“Representatives Schiff, Radanovich, Pallone and Kirk are right on the mark in commending Barack Obamaʼs clear and unequivocal stand against genocide and its denial,” said ANCA executive director Aram Hamparian. “We join with them in welcoming the Presidentʼs pledge to recognize the Armenian Genocide.”
The full text of the letter is below.
March 10, 2009
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President,
As we approach the upcoming 94th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide on April 24, we want to thank you for the courage you have always shown in characterizing properly the slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians from 1915-23 as genocide. No president in the postwar era has come into office with a stronger understanding of the historic facts of the genocide, or with a greater track record of speaking plainly on this terrible chapter in the past.
As a United States Senator, your record on the Armenian Genocide was clear and unequivocal. In 2005 and 2006 you joined many of your colleagues in asking President Bush to refer to the slaughter of Armenians as genocide, noting that “[i]t is in the best interests of our nation and the entire global community to remember the past and learn from these crimes against humanity to ensure that they are never repeated.”
In 2006 you wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in the wake of the recall from Yerevan of Ambassador John Evans for using the term “genocide” to describe the events of 1915-23. In your letter you described the official U.S. position on the genocide as “untenable” and reminded the Secretary that “the occurrence of the Armenian Genocide in 1915 is not an ʽallegation,ʼ a ʽpersonal opinion,ʼ or a ʽpoint of view.ʼ Supported by overwhelming evidence, it is a widely documented fact.”
In questions submitted to Ambassador-designate Marie Yovanovich last year, you pressed her on the issue of genocide recognition, specifically asking her what steps she would take to recognize the genocide and what actions the Department of State was undertaking to press for Turkish recognition of the crimes committed by their Ottoman forebears. Last April, in a statement printed in the Congressional Record, you pledged to “continue to push for the acknowledgement of the Armenian Genocide.”
As a presidential candidate, you were also forthright in discussing your support for genocide recognition, saying that “America deserves a leader who speaks truthfully about the Armenian Genocide and responds forcefully to all genocides.” We agree with you completely.
During your upcoming trip to Turkey and in discussions with your advisors over how to commemorate the events of 1915-23, you will doubtless be counseled by some to continue the practice of avoiding the truth in favor of short-term political expediency. We do not minimize Ankaraʼs threats of adverse action when you recognize the genocide, or when Congress takes action to formally recognize the genocide, but we believe that our alliance is strong enough to withstand the truth.
Elie Wiesel has described the denial of genocide as the final stage of genocide—a double killing. Sadly, our nationʼs foreign policy has, for too long, abetted this denial. As you told Secretary Rice in your letter about the sacking of Ambassador Evans, “when State Department instructions are such that an ambassador must engage in strained reasoning—or even outright falsehood—that defies a common sense interpretation of events in order to follow orders, then it is time to revisit the State Departmentʼs policy guidance on that issue.”
Mr. President, you have demonstrated time and again your understanding of the importance to Armenian Americans of formal American recognition of the crime that was committed against their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. Their pain is not unlike that of American Jews, who live each day with the memory of the Holocaust, and African Americans, whose view of themselves has been colored by the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow. But, of course, the importance of speaking unequivocally about a matter as grave as genocide is a human rights imperative affecting us all. Whether it is todayʼs Sudanese government or yesterdayʼs Ottoman Empire, the perpetrators of genocide, as well as the victims, must know that the United States will not shrink from confronting the truth.
Adam B. Schiff
Member of Congress,
Member of Congress,
Frank Pallone, Jr.
Member of Congress,
Mark Steven Kirk
Member of Congress