The leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee – the two Congressional panels that conduct oversight of U.S. foreign policy – joined with more than two dozen of their legislative colleagues today at a Capitol Hill remembrance of the Armenian Genocide, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA). The annual observance featured, for the first time ever, a speech by a Turkish human rights leader calling for American recognition of the Armenian Genocide and an end to Turkey’s denial of truth and justice for this crime against humanity.
The Armenian Genocide remembrance, organized by the Congressional Caucus on Armenian issues, in coordination with the Embassy of the Republic of Armenia, the Office of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic and Armenian American organizations, was held before a standing-room-only crowd in the historic Gold Room of the RayburnHouseOfficeBuilding. Dr. Ara Chalian, a regional and national ANCA leader, from Philadelphia, moderated the event, which, in addition to Chairman Menendez and Chairman Royce, included remarks and participation by Rhode Island Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse and Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey, Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ), as well as, Representatives Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), Judy Chu (D-CA), David Cicilline (D-RI), Katherine Clark (D-MA), John Conyers (D-MI), Jim Costa (D-CA), Danny Davis (D-IL), Janice Hahn (D-CA), Jim Langevin (D-RI), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Jim McGovern (D-MA), Linda Sanchez (D-CA), Adam Schiff (D-CA), Brad Sherman (D-CA), Jackie Speier (D-CA), John Tierney (D-MA), and Dina Titus (D-NV). Remarks were also offered by Armenian Ambassador to the U.S. Tatoul Markarian and Representative of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic Robert Avetisyan. Bishop Anoushavan Tanielian, vicar general of the Eastern Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America and Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, Legate of the Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church, offered the spiritual messages of the evening.
“We are deeply gratified that Ragip Zarakolu’s courageous message was heard this evening in the halls of the U.S. Congress,” said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. “The powerful words of a respected Turkish dissident – along with those of Chairman Menendez, Chairman Royce, and nearly two dozen other federal legislators – sent a strong signal to Ankara and its allies here in Washington about our community’s principled stand and enduring commitment to truth and justice.”
Dr. Chalian, in introducing Mr. Zarakolu, said: “It is his courageous message of truth and justice – not the official genocide denials of Turkish government – that should be encouraged and empowered by President Obama. Sadly, even as Mr. Zarakolu, a Turkish citizen, traveled across an ocean to speak to us today, representatives of our own White House and State Department are prohibited from even setting foot in this room to hear his message of truth and justice. One more tragic example of our White House accepting Ankara’s gag-rule on the Armenian Genocide. So, while we do regret the lack of courage on this issue coming from our own White House, we can celebrate the surplus of courage that Mr. Zarakolu has brought with us from Turkey and that he will share with us today.”
In his keynote address, Mr. Zarakolu stressed: “They [the Turkish Government] are busy making public opinion by absurdization – making a human tragedy absurd. Is it a genocide or isn’t it a genocide? Unfortunately, the American government became a part of that ‘play.’ I am so sorry. These policies give courage for authoritarianism all around the world. Sure, the United States is a good friend of Turkey, but if it is a real friend of Turkey, they must act differently. They must support democratization in Turkey, and the real democratization in Turkey can begin by facing the history, our history, the reality of 1915.”
Chairman Menendez announced, during his remarks, that the panel he chairs will hold an April 10th vote on the Armenian Genocide Resolution, S.Res.410. He went on to underscore that: “To me, to all men and women of good will, I would think there is a simple statement – genocide is genocide, and you cannot call it anything else but that and you need to have a recognition of that. Next year when we mark a century – a hundred years ago that the Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turkey, it seems to me that with most of the survivors gone – but with a few left – it is incredibly important for us to lead globally at this time.”
In his speech, Chairman Royce, noted that he served in the California legislature when the first Armenian Genocide was adopted, and announced that this year, “On the 24th of April, I will be in Yerevan with a bi-partisan delegation to recognize the Armenian Genocide.” Chairman Royce continued to explain that “In terms of the consequences in human affairs, a genocide like this, so vast and so deep, was then to be followed by the attempt to extinguish not only a population but their memory in terms of their church property, in terms of their artifacts.” To that end, Chairman Royce cited the need for Congressional passage of the recently introduced Return of Churches Resolution (H.Res.4241), which would mandate the State Department to put together a list of confiscated religious properties and demand the return of those properties by the current Turkish Government.
Following the Capitol Hill Armenian Genocide Observance, Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ) noted, “Tonight, we commemorate the 99th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, and remember the lives of the one and a half million Armenians who were needlessly slaughtered by Ottoman Turks between 1915 and 1923. This anniversary, nearly a century later, gives us an opportunity to acknowledge the atrocities committed against the Armenian people for exactly what it was—genocide. As we join together to renew our commitment to prevent and end injustices where they exist, Turkey must also come to terms with its own history and prevent a shroud of denial from covering up one of the most horrific tragedies in world history.” Fellow Co-Chair Michael Grimm (R-NY) concurred, noting, “The only way to truly honor the countless victims of the Armenian Genocide and build a world that rejects hatred is to remember and commemorate the sacrifices of these innocents. Our remembrance ensures that we never permit or tolerate such atrocities ever again. I hope that my colleagues on both sides of the aisle will join me in commemorating those lost in the Armenian Genocide, and thank their descendants and successors for honoring the sacrifice of their forebears through the many labors and ambitions that helped make this great nation what it is today.”