Armenians worldwide joined the international community this week in honoring the life of Republican Senator Bob Dole, who passed away on Sunday. He was 98 years old and had been undergoing treatment for stage 4 lung cancer since February.
The former senator from Kansas died one day before his 46th wedding anniversary with wife, former presidential candidate and senator Elizabeth Dole.
A venerated politician, Senator Dole will be remembered for his long and storied career in Washington, DC, where he spent more than three decades on Capitol Hill and later made several bids for the White House, ultimately representing the GOP in the 1996 presidential election against incumbent President Bill Clinton.
Among the many causes that he championed was the recognition of the Armenian Genocide, which he learned about from Dr. Hampar Kelikian—the Genocide survivor from Hadjin and instrumental surgeon who became a lifelong friend to the recovering World War II veteran and a mentor in his understanding of the atrocities that took place in 1915.
Kelikian’s tragic testimony of his family history primed the future US Senate Majority Leader for what turned out to be a futile legislative fight for a resolution that would have recognized the Armenian Genocide. Much like the millions of Armenians he advocated for throughout his political career, Senator Dole was equally elated on April 24, 2021 when President Joe Biden formally acknowledged the Armenian Genocide in the White House’s annual proclamation. “This is a proud and historically significant moment for the United States, for Armenia, and for Armenians around the globe,” tweeted Dole, “It’s been a long time coming.”
In his tribute to the late senator, former Armenian Ambassador to the US and current Ambassador to the UK Varuzhan Nersesyan said the last time he spoke with Dole was after President Biden’s announcement. “He was happy that it happened during his lifetime,” wrote Ambassador Nersesyan, “He was always at the forefront for the fight for Genocide recognition as well as supporting Armenia and Artsakh,” read his Facebook post.
In the fall of 2015, Senator Dole received the Survivor’s Gratitude Award from the National Commemoration of the Armenian Genocide Centennial (NCAGC). “Only by acknowledging and accepting the past for what it is—however painful—can the world truly begin to work to heal and ensure a future free from genocide,” said Dole.
In addition to his advocacy efforts toward advancing the Armenian Cause, Senator Dole worked hard to build personal and lasting relations with the global Armenian community. Following the tragic December 1988 earthquake which struck 33 years ago this week, Senator Dole and his wife traveled to Armenia to survey the damage firsthand, help organize relief efforts and secure millions of dollars in US aid. “He was always by our side especially during hard times,” wrote President Armen Sarkissian in his condolences to Mrs. Dole.
In October 2011, the Armenian National Committee of America-Eastern Region (ANCA-ER) recognized Senators Robert and Elizabeth Dole with its highest honor, the Freedom Award. Senator Dole had previously received the 2001 ANCA Lifetime Achievement Award. “We join with Armenians worldwide in honoring the life and legacy of Bob Dole – a great American who championed honest US remembrance of the Armenian Genocide,” said ANCA executive director Aram Hamparian in his statement to the Weekly. “We owe Bob Dole a great debt for the legislative battles he fought – the twilight struggle for truth he waged so tirelessly across decades of Senate service – for this work led, thankfully in his own lifetime, to official US recognition of the Armenian Genocide. May God illuminate his soul.”
Senator Dole will lie in state in the rotunda of the US Capitol on Thursday. A celebration of life will be held at the World War II Memorial in Washington, DC on Friday.