Some things in this world never change, but many things do change. In 2019, the Armenian people experienced unprecedented change both in Armenia and in the American Diaspora. Armenia has taken a major step forward as a contributing global nation. It hosted several international conferences, experienced impressive economic growth and has finally begun to address the stain of violence and inequality against women. The diaspora has continued to assist in the building of Armenia with unity of purpose and substantial resources. In addition, it has continued to invest in the infrastructure of the diaspora with institutions such as the Armenian Museum in Glendale. But perhaps the biggest change in our lifelong quest for justice has occurred in the US Congress in the last months of 2019.
Let’s put things in perspective. It is an important exercise since our heartfelt attachment to the “cause” can sometimes let our emotions go elsewhere. Much has been written about the significance of the Congressional resolutions on the recognition of the Genocide. Most of us are aware that some representatives of the US government have acknowledged the Genocide on at least four occasions. The Armenian Genocide was referenced in the US ratifications of the UN Genocide Treaty in 1951. Ironically, Turkey has also ratified the document. In the 1970s and 80s, two non-binding resolutions were passed in the House of Representatives. Finally, President Reagan referred to the Armenian Genocide in 1981.
The current victories are significant because it is the first time that both the House and the Senate have passed resolutions that clearly state the official recognition. I have heard many Armenians say the United States now has officially recognized the Armenian Genocide. Despite the 49 states, the House and the Senate, official recognition is not yet complete. Normally when the House and Senate pass separate but comparable resolutions or bills, they enter into a joint conference to reconcile any differences and complete a single document. This would then be passed to the President for signature. This will not happen with H.Res.296 and S.Res.150.
In public statements by the ANCA and AAA, this was a conscious strategy for two primary reasons. First to build a solid and clear foundation of legislative support in the House and the Senate. For this reason, they are separate resolutions. The second reason was to prevent the opportunity for them to be ignored or rejected by the executive branch. This is an iterative process where you establish and secure a base and move to the next challenge. This strategy secured a clear base in the full Congress for the first time and now establishes the executive branch as the next challenge rather than enabling them to reject the work of Congress. This strategy worked. We just completed another milestone in the marathon of justice. This does not diminish the importance of this unprecedented accomplishment. We have established an irrefutable recognition with overwhelming support by BOTH branches of the legislative arm of this country. This is a remarkable accomplishment when considering the long evolution of this work and illustrates our understanding of the political process. What our community must appreciate is the professional Armenian advocacy groups that have orchestrated this victory by investing years in cultivating legislative relationships through past resolutions, caucus activity and other advocacy issues. This is time consuming and requires patience that at times shows modest public progress, but also delivers the majority victory of December 12. I would like to suggest that all Armenians take the time to listen to Aram Hamparian’s (ANCA) or Anthony Barsamian’s (AAA) detailed explanation of how we accomplished the Senate victory. It will give us all an appreciation for the process and the need for strategy.
We should be grateful that the House resolution passed with an overwhelming majority (405-11) and the Senate version passed unanimously (think about that for a minute). It was not that long ago that several US politicians would question the veracity of the Genocide. Through advocacy and education, that eventually evolved into agreement, but ”it’s not the right time.” There is no doubt that several leaders in Congress fought hard and long for its passage, but this effort succeeded in part because of the current political environment. Significant bipartisan opposition to the administration’s Syrian and Kurdish policy and disgust with Turkey’s behavior created a “perfect storm” for the resolution to come to the floor. In the world of Washington politics, getting an issue to the floor for a vote is the key. Let us also keep in mind that in both chambers, discussions on economic sanctions to Turkey have been active and substantive.
To put this in context, I would like to briefly address why we advocate for US recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Many Armenians, driven by the frustration of rejection, have become cynical about the value of recognition. The most fundamental motivation is connected to the “forgotten” nature of our tragedy. The world moved on in the decades after the Genocide; Armenia did not have a sovereign voice and the diaspora was consumed with recovery. In the 1960s, the recognition process began in the diaspora as a means of beginning the journey to justice. It started with Uruguay in 1965. It has become a passion of the diaspora—the direct descendants of the victims. Aside from its political value, it is a silent promise made to our broken family trees. It is, however, more than a ‘feel good’ moment. As citizens, we all want our country to be on the right side of this issue. When reviewing our recognition evolution, it is critical to remember that the end point is not recognition. It is a means to enable the eventual goal of justice through restitution and reparations. Armenians should ask for no more or less than others who have suffered the indignity of genocide. The word is used so often by us that at times it may fail to describe the vile nature of the crime. Listen to Senator Bob Menendez’ emotional commentary in the moments after the S.Res.150 passage. The long-term strategy has been to gather a strong plurality of the world’s nation to formally recognize the Armenian Genocide that will either pressure Turkey in accepting its guilt and/or begin international legal proceedings. This began prior to the establishment of the sovereign state of Armenia, and now the responsibility rests in a diaspora/Armenia collaboration that must be well integrated.
We need to remind ourselves to pause from the marathon for just a moment to celebrate. It is important to cherish major accomplishments, and this one qualifies. Once we absorb its importance, it will inspire us to continue just as a cool drink of water for a marathoner on his push to the end. With the legislative arm of the United States making a demonstrative statement of recognition, attention will be focused on the challenging executive branch to complete federal support. This will happen eventually. The truth will prevail.
Turkey is not having a good year on the world stage. Their decades-long strategy of denial in America is collapsing. Their ability to use their influence to block passage of Congressional policy has ended. We have all lived the days of frustration where resolutions would have passed if they were brought to the floor and failed simply because they were not voted on. This is not just a victory for justice, but it is a very clear message to Turkey. The overwhelming vote in both houses of Congress says that influence peddling and denying the truth are over. The House and Senate are plenty motivated. The visual impact of the Syrian withdrawal leaving our Kurdish allies vulnerable has created unprecedented anger leading into sanction discussions and serious NATO questions. The Turks are political foxes—sly and elusive. Erdogan publicly has an offensive answer for everything, but don’t kid yourself. He hears the walls of denial crumbling. Turkey has spent millions of dollars in this country with high end public relations firms and lobbyists to sell its lie. It worked for an extended time until the Armenian advocacy movement, fortified with the truth, turned the tide. One by one, the Armenians gained the formal support of major nations.
This is what you have to do to build the road for justice when the world moved on and forgot us. Turkey offers tantrums, predicts dire consequences and predictably recalls its ambassadors every time a nation stands for the truth. But at the end of the day, it is another nation on the Armenian side of the ledger. Turkey has always been able to count on the United States, the most powerful nation on this earth, to be on their “official” side. They are not happy with the acknowledgment of atrocities and massacres every April, but satisfied that the “Genocide” word is not used. We know the growing sentiments of the American people, the states and most politicians, but global interests have prevented the official federal recognition we have waited for. The journey is not complete, but we just passed a major milestone with the recognition of the legislative branch of our federal government. I believe the executive branch will follow soon. They are politicians, and one day the politics of the public will outweigh the geopolitical considerations. It just happened in the House and the Senate. The Turks know this is going to happen, and I believe they are preparing various contingencies despite the hard line rhetoric. What would you do if you lied to your people for over 90 years? Buy time and have a plan B!
The House and Senate actions give our people a victory on the road to full redemption. It also gives us political currency. I imagine the State Department will have to broaden its perspective given the new reality. Just as Azerbaijan’s behavior gives the world a clear indication of why self determination for Artsakh is justified, the duplicitous nature of Turkey as it relates to NATO and the United States is not in America’s interests.