“The best way to ensure that the truth about the Armenian Genocide is recognized is for the United States Congress to act to commemorate the victims now, while a handful of survivors are still with us.”
—Rep. Adam Schiff
WASHINGTON—House Armenian Genocide Resolution lead sponsor, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), this week called for the adoption of the Armenian Genocide Resolution (H.Res.252) as a necessary step to both counter Turkey’s campaign of denial and to help lay the foundation for a lasting Armenia-Turkey relationship based on truth, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
Schiff’s actions came in response to a letter from the Assembly of Turkish American Associations (ATAA) and the Federation of Turkish American Associations (FTAA) that cited the “historical commission” provision of the recently signed Turkey-Armenia protocols as justification for blocking congressional condemnation and commemoration of the Armenian Genocide.
“The Turkey-Armenia protocols, which the United States, Europe, and Russia are supporting, include the establishment of a historical commission to investigate the events of 1915,” explained ATAA president Gunay Evinch and FTAA president Kaya Boztepe. “This investigation will necessarily probe the Armenian Revolt (1885-1919) during which 1.1 million Ottoman Muslims and Jews perished, and its consequences for Ottoman Armenian rebels and their supporters,” they continued, advancing the standard Turkish government propaganda denying the Armenian Genocide.
Schiff, in a letter made public on Dec. 18, said, “I received your letter regarding the Armenian Genocide Resolution (H.Res.252) and after reading it, I am more certain than ever that the best way to ensure that the victims of the Armenian Genocide are not forgotten is to pass the resolution.” The California legislator also stressed his concern that “tiny, landlocked Armenia will be forced to accept an historical whitewash in order to end the punitive blockade that is stifling its economic development and threatens to condemn another generation of Armenian children to poverty.”
Referencing recent statements by U.S government officials that the “commission is not intended as a vehicle to review the history of the Armenian Genocide,” Schiff described the ATAA/FTAA letter as “a vehicle to continue Ankara’s decades of denial.”
“Congressman Schiff’s powerful response to the ATAA and FTAA clearly rejects Turkey’s attempts to use the Turkey-Armenia protocols to block U.S. recognition of the Armenian Genocide,” said Aram Hamparian, the executive director of the ANCA. “We value, as well, the congressman’s strong words, his principled stand, and his tireless efforts to firmly establish the fundamental truth that Turkey has spent decades trying to avoid—namely that the universal recognition of this crime, including by both Washington and Ankara, represents a necessary element of any durable Armenia-Turkey relationship.”
H.Res.252, introduced on March 17th of this year by lead sponsors Adam Schiff and George Radanovich (R-Calif.), and Congressional Armenian Caucus co-chairs Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), currently has over 135 co-sponsors. Its companion legislation in the Senate (S.Res.316), spearheaded by Senators Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and John Ensign (R-Nev.) has 11 co-sponsors, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the most recent addition to the co-sponsor list. Both bills are identical to legislation in the 110th Congress that was adopted by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and publicly endorsed by then-candidate for president Barack Obama, current Vice President Joe Biden, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Since the introduction of the current resolution this March, Obama has broken his pledge to recognize the Armenian Genocide, retreating markedly from repeated statements and promises he made throughout his service in the Senate calling for proper U.S. condemnation and commemoration of this crime against humanity.
The complete text of Schiff’s letter is provided below, along with the text of the ATAA/FTAA letter.
Text of Schiff Letter to the Assembly of Turkish American Associations (ATAA) and the Federation of Turkish American Associations (FTAA).
December 17, 2009
I received your letter regarding the Armenian Genocide Resolution (H.Res.252) and after reading it, I am more certain than ever that the best way to ensure that the victims of the Armenian Genocide are not forgotten is to pass the resolution.
Ninety-four years ago, the government of the Ottoman Empire launched what is almost universally considered the first genocide of the twentieth century—the Armenian Genocide. By the time the atrocities ended in 1923, 1.5 million men, women and children had been killed—shot, beaten, starved, raped, and force-marched through searing deserts.
Despite a series of convictions of some of the leading perpetrator after World War I, the Turkish state has never accepted responsibility for the acts of its predecessor government and has stubbornly maintained that the genocide never took place. Even today, Turks are forbidden to discuss openly the genocide are subject to prosecution if they do so. Ankara’s failure to acknowledge the truth about the vents of 1915-23 has complicated Turkey’s relationship with the United States and a number of European countries and is also an impediment to Turkey’s efforts to join the European Union.
The evidence of the genocide is overwhelming. American newspapers, especially the New York Times, chronicled the genocide in great detail. American diplomats throughout the crumbling Ottoman Empire transmitted a flood of cables and other reports detailing the slaughter of Armenians. In 1919, Congress passed legislation to aid the victims and ordinary Americans contributed money to aid the survivors.
Our National Archives houses thousands of cables, reports, eyewitness testimony, photographs, and other evidence of a deliberate campaign of extermination.
For the past 90 years, the Armenian people have sought justice; they have fought to have their suffering, which inspired a young Polish Jew to coin the term “genocide,” recognized by the international community and especially the descendants of those who carried out the slaughter. In response, the Turkish government has maintained a decades-long policy of fighting any attempt by the American government or other nations to recognize what happened to the Armenian people for what it was.
Earlier this year, the governments of Turkey and the modern state of Armenia signed the protocols that, upon ratification by the two countries’ respective parliaments, will end Turkey’s 16-year-old blockade of landlocked Armenia. The border will be reopened and the Armenian people, who have suffered economic privation and physical isolation as a result of Ankara’s blockade, will certainly benefit. And open border would also help Turkey in its quest for EU membership and by removing a significant irritant in Ankara’s relationship with the international community.
While I strongly support ending Turkey’s blockade of Armenia and for improving relations between the two countries, I share the deep concerns of many Armenians and Armenia Americans about the inclusion in the protocols of an historical commission that will examine the past—including the Armenian Genocide. I fear that tiny, landlocked Armenia will be forced to accept an historical whitewash in order to end the punitive blockade that is stifling its economic development and threatens to condemn another generation of Armenian children to poverty.
In recent months, some, including some in our government, have suggested that the commission is not intended as a vehicle to review the history of the Armenian Genocide.
Your letter honestly characterizes it as a vehicle to continue Ankara’s decades of denial, supporting my own interpretation of the protocols’ commission provision.
The best way to ensure that the truth about the Armenian Genocide is recognized is for the United States Congress to act to commemorate the victims now, while a handful of survivors are still with us. By speaking now, and on behalf of the American people, the House of Representatives can forestall any effort by Turkey to force the victims of one of history’s great crimes to cooperate in denying that it ever happened. True reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia must be built on a foundation of truth.
Adam B. Schiff
Member of Congress
Text of ATAA/FTAA Letter to Rep. Adam Schiff.
December 9, 2009
Dear Representative Schiff,
We, the presidents of America’s largest Turkish American grassroots organizations, the Assembly of Turkish American Associations (ATAA) and Federation of Turkish American Associations, (FTSS), urge you to support the nascent Turkish-Armenian rapprochement. Therefore, the present Armenian resolution in the House (H.Res.252) should neither advance nor pass.
Extremists in the Armenian American community have contacted you to press for passage of this one-sided resolution, which would condemn the Ottoman Empire and, by implication, Turkey and the people of Turkish heritage, of the high crime of genocide. Passage would derail the vital and brave steps being taken by the Turkish and Armenian people to achieve a fuller relationship that will advance peace and security in their region.
The Turkey-Armenia protocols, which the United States, Europe, and Russia are supporting, include the establishment of a historical commission to investigate the events of 1915. This investigation will necessarily probe the Armenian Revolt (1885-1919) during which 1.1 million Ottoman Muslims and Jews perished, and its consequences for Ottoman Armenian rebels and their supporters.
Further, Congress ought not to sit in judgment of Turkey and people of Turkish heritage, because, as the protocols imply, legislators are not historians and certainly not experts in Ottoman history. Also, as the resolution levels the crime of genocide, by international treaty the United States acknowledges the sole jurisdiction to hear such allegations of the International Court of Justice at the Hague.
Finally, Armenian anti-Turkish resolutions are fundamentally unfair and unjust, representing ethnic politics at its worst. Turkish Americans are concerned about being persecuted by these resolutions and urge rapprochement as a productive approach.
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