Genocide Resolution: A Major Victory, But Facts Should Not Be Ignored

Above the Fold | Wall Street Journal quotes ANCA’s Aram Suren Hamparian: “… the Armenian Genocide resolution establishes the rejection of genocide denial as a matter of U.S. policy.” (Photo: ANCA/Twitter, October 30, 2019)

On October 29, 2019, Armenian Americans scored a major victory in the halls of US Congress. For the first time in 35 years, the US House of Representatives adopted Resolution 296 affirming the facts of the Armenian Genocide.

I used the term affirming because contrary to many Armenian and non-Armenian commentators, this was not the first time that the United States has recognized the Armenian Genocide. In fact, this was the fifth American governmental recognition. As I have reported dozens of times in past years, the United States government first recognized the Armenian Genocide in 1951 when it sent an official document to the International Court of Justice (World Court) presenting the Armenian Genocide as an example of genocide. The US House of Representatives recognized the Armenian Genocide in two Resolutions adopted in 1975 and 1984, and Pres. Ronald Reagan issued a Presidential Proclamation on April 22, 1981 mentioning the Armenian Genocide.

Among the misrepresentations made by various commentators were statements like:

1.  “The October 29, 2019 recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the House of Representatives was the first time in a century that the United States has recognized the Armenian Genocide.” It was not! In fact, the text of Resolution 296 itself lists all the previous US recognitions of the Armenian Genocide and describes it as affirmation, not recognition.

2.  “Resolution 296 set a policy on the recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the US government.” It did no such thing. This Resolution, like the others before it, is a non-binding Resolution, expressing simply the will of Congress. It is not a law and it has no legal consequences.

3.  “Resolution 296 obligates Pres. Trump to use the term genocide in his next April 24 statement.” It does not. The President can still use other euphemisms to describe the Armenian Genocide, if he wishes to, as he and other US Presidents have done since Pres. Reagan.

4.  “Resolution 296 will allow Armenians to file lawsuits in US courts against Turkey demanding restitution for damages suffered during the Genocide.” This is not true. As mentioned above, two similar Congressional Resolutions were adopted in 1975 and 1984 and neither one helped Armenians win a single lawsuit against Turkey in US courts.

5.  “After the passage of Resolution 296, if the US Senate adopts the counterpart Resolution (SRes.150), and if Pres. Trump signs it, then the Resolution becomes a law.” This is untrue, since both the House and Senate versions are “stand alone” Resolutions. Should the Senate version also be adopted, the Resolution will not go to Pres. Trump for his signature, since the House and Senate versions were not submitted as a “Joint Resolution.”

Nevertheless, none of the above clarifications are made to minimize the value of the adoption of Resolution 296 on October 29, 2019. Here are the reasons why this Resolution was a major victory for the Armenian Cause:

1.  After trying to pass a genocide resolution in the House for 35 years, it is a major accomplishment for the Armenian American community to be able to finally score such a victory. It is not possible to continue demanding that the Armenian public support a cause for decades without a concrete result from time to time. This victory will energize Armenian-Americans to continue their commitment to the Armenian Cause and work harder to attain greater accomplishments.

2.  While the passage of Resolution 296 does not obligate the President of the United States, it will increase the pressure on him to properly acknowledge the Armenian Genocide in his April 24 statement.

3.  Resolution 296 also makes it more difficult for the Turkish government to continue its denials of the Armenian Genocide.

4.  Paradoxically, the harsh reactions of the Turkish leaders to the adoption of Resolution 296 helped remind the Turkish people and others worldwide about the Armenian Genocide.

5.  Thousands of articles, television reports and social media posts on the adoption of Resolution 296 helped further publicize the Armenian Genocide around the world. Over 100 years after the Genocide, the cry for justice remains alive thanks to the activism of Armenians and their supporters.

6.  The passage of Resolution 296 is another step in Armenia’s struggle to pressure Turkey and the world community to take further steps to undo the damage caused by the Genocide, albeit delayed over a century!

7.  Beyond setting straight the historical record, the effort over the passage of the genocide resolution is a political battle between the Armenian American community and the Turkish government and its paid lobbyists as to which side has more political clout in Washington. The overwhelming victory (405 to 11 votes) is a clear indication of the smashing defeat of Turkey and the total victory of Armenians.

8.  The Turkish government has wasted tens of millions of dollars over the years hiring high-powered American lobbying firms in a failed attempt to block the approval of Armenian Genocide Resolutions by the US Congress. It is impossible to misrepresent genocide as a humane act no matter how many billions of dollars Turkey spends on lobbyists!

9.  Turkey’s defeat also sends a message to the Turkish public that the taxes they have paid are being squandered by their government to deny the undeniable.

10.  Some have made the excuse that Congress took advantage of the souring relations between Turkey and the United States to pass Resolution 296. While this is true, there are several counter-arguments:

– Congress is a political body; hence all its deliberations and decisions are of a political nature;

– If it weren’t for the diligent efforts of Armenian-American organizations and the Armenian community, there was no guarantee that this Resolution would have appeared on the agenda of the House of Representatives. Since the US Congress was unhappy with Turkey’s invasion of Northern Syria, the House of Representatives would have been satisfied by passing a Resolution on October 29, 2019, placing sanctions on Turkey for its barbaric attacks against Kurds. However, because of Armenian activism, the House also adopted on the same day the Resolution on the Armenian Genocide.

– We cannot be so naive as to expect that any government would defend the Armenian Cause if doing so would have been contrary to its own interests. It is perfectly reasonable that the condemnation of the Armenian Genocide happened to coincide with Congress’ anger at Turkey for other reasons. In fact, the more Armenians can find reasons to match their interests with those of other countries, the more successful they will be in their pursuit of the Armenian Cause.

For the next step, I hope the US Senate will shortly pass Senate Resolution 150. This is important, since the US Senate has never adopted a Resolution acknowledging the Armenian Genocide. And maybe next year, the Armenian Genocide Resolution could be reintroduced, but this time as a “Joint Resolution,” which would mean that should the Resolution pass both Houses of Congress and the President signs it, the Armenian Genocide would become US law, not just a “non-binding” Resolution. This would obligate all future American Presidents to use the term Armenian Genocide in their April 24 statements or on any other occasion.

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Harut Sassounian

California Courier Editor
Harut Sassounian is the publisher of The California Courier, a weekly newspaper based in Glendale, Calif. He is the president of the United Armenian Fund, a coalition of the seven largest Armenian-American organizations. He has been decorated by the president and prime minister of the Republic of Armenia, and the heads of the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches. He is also the recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.

4 Comments

  1. Thank you Mr Sassounian.

    As great as this non-binding resolution has been to boost the spirits of so many Armenians and non Armenians, i must question the amount of resources put in passing a resolution that is merely worth the same as a get well card ! Armenians our battles are in many fronts and resolutions are not on top of my list especially non binding resolutions. It seems we get happy for a week then every body goes back to business with shaking hands with Erdogan ! We Armenians and especially our institutions should fight the battles that will aid Armenias stance in the world politics,making Armenia a hub where any threat from outside will send shivers across the top 5 super powers ? Example Armenians have the rights to the turkish air bases, persuade the powers 100 years of free access with no conditions . Think about it

  2. I totally disagree with the negative tone that Mr.Sassounian espouses about Res.296.

    Mr.Sassounian, despite insisting otherwise, goes through some counter-arguments as if to downplay the passage of res.296 and goes through some moot points to prove that this is not as important as it seems.
    Mr.Sassounian you are wrong, there are many important aspects that you choose to overlook;

    a) The passage of this resolution (by a vote of 405 for and 11 against) jolted the Turkish political establishment, underscoring the futility of further Turkish counter-attack

    b) This powerful resolution jolted the Russian political establishment into realizing that Russia is not the only superpower that can “benefit” from the Armenian issue. Russia is famous in using the Turksu factor into scaring Armenians into obedience but now it sees that the US can use the Armenian issue to strike against a common enemy and indeed use it in such a way that Armenia, as a result comes out as a winner. The day after the passing of the resolution we witnessed hysterical announcements from the Russian embassy in Yerevan about unsubstantiated and mysterious US plot to drive a wedge between “brotherly Armenia and Russia” and two days later the Russian defense minister rushed to Yerevan to “strengthen” the military base in Armenia. These cannot be a coincidence.

    c) This resolution is a political act by the US aimed at Turkey by a combined by-partisan almost unanimous vote in time of modern post-Soviet independent Armenia. Furthermore, this resolution has passed at a sensitive time where Armenia is embroiled in a pan-Turkic war. The US official documents stating the facts of the Armenian genocide in 1951, and all other subsequent declarations of 1975, 1981, 1984 was during Soviet era where there were no internationally recognized independent State of Armenia. The Armenian at that time was part of a community, scattered throughout the world, including the USSR, and represented no official political status. One should not overlook this fact.

    d) Out of the 29 States that have passed resolutions recognizing the Armenian Genocide only 4 (France, Greece, Cyprus and Argentina) have made the Armenian genocide resolutions the law of the land, the rest have all been non-binding parliamentary resolutions. The president of the United States not uttering the word “genocide” does not make it less official. The flag of the United States will be joining all other nations that have given their recognition in a similar manner.

    e) Last but not least, even the co-president of the Turkish-American parliamentary friendship group, the one-time virulent anti-genocide recognition Rep. Steve Cohen, Democrat from Tennessee, voted “yes” for this resolution because he has had enough of Turkish shenanigans. This must be especially biting irony for the Turks.

    I don’t know why Mr. Sassounian dwells on highlighting the negative where there are so many positives with the passage of Res.296. Could it be that he has argued continuously about stopping the lobbying efforts for the passage of an Armenian genocide resolution in the House of Representatives that today he feels obligated to justify his past insistence of not-so-correct theories.

    Thanks you,
    Zaven Zakarian
    Montreal Qc.

  3. Although I very often disagree with Sassounian either because of the tone or substance of his writings, he is overwhelmingly on the mark here. I would sum up his column thus: HR 296 is good as far as it goes. He does a good job pointing out what it does and does not accomplish, and what is needed to accomplish more. Well done.

  4. The passage of Resolution 296 by the US House of Representatives was a major milestone
    and a solid step in the right direction.
    Sassounian’s article is an objective evaluation and analysis of what the legal implications are; might be considered negative in tone, but truthful.
    Zaven Zakararian’s comment accentuates the positives and consequences that it might lead to.
    A victory is a victory; but the work is not completed and the effort should continue
    to achieve our ultimate objective; not only recognition but also reparations.
    Turkey has to pay a price for its crimes; otherwise its all rhetoric and politics.
    Vart Adjemian

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