The efforts of Near East Relief, the unprecedented American campaign of international humanitarian assistance which saved and sustained hundreds of thousands of Armenian Genocide survivors from 1915 – 1930, was spotlighted this week at a Capitol Hill briefing hosted by the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Rep. Jim Costa were joined by public policy leaders and a bipartisan group of Senate and House Congressional staff for the unique presentation by Maurice Kelechian, a member of the ANCA Western Region’s ‘America We Thank You: An Armenian Tribute to Near East Relief,’ who has spent decades researching archives around the world to document this unprecedented American humanitarian aid effort.
Kelechian offered detailed insights into the broad tapestry of U.S. government, religious, civic and individual participation in support of Near East Relief – from all 48 states – which raised today’s equivalent of over $2.7 billion to save Armenians, Assyrians, Greeks and other minorities in the Near East region during and after the Armenian Genocide. Established by Congressional mandate and supported by three consecutive U.S. Presidents, the landmark relief campaign would serve as a model for a host of American international and humanitarian efforts including The Marshall Plan, Truman’s Point-4 program, The US Peace Corps, US Agency for International Development (USAID), and United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Now known as the Near East Foundation, the organization continues its life-saving work in countries around the world.
“In 1915, when the U.S. Congress created the Near East Relief organization, the Genocide went from being part of Armenian history to also being a part of American history,” commented Rep. Costa, whose office helped coordinate the event. “As a longtime advocate, I will continue to work with my colleagues in Congress on a full acknowledgement of the Armenian Genocide.” Rep. Costa went on to offer a “heartfelt thank you to the ANCA for its steadfast dedication to fostering public awareness in support of a united and independent Armenia.”
“It’s astounding how few people in this country or anywhere else know about this organization [Near East Relief] and its history,” noted Congressman Schiff at the conclusion of the presentation. “That’s why I think that this ‘America We Thank You’ effort is so pivotal, because it is a wonderful way to help educate the public about the Armenian Genocide through the prism of American relief efforts.”
Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Frank Pallone concurred, noting, “It’s a fact that the United States Government has been very much out front on Armenian Genocide recognition in the past. So it’s important to talk about the history in the context of this era, when our foreign policy, and policy in general, was much more oriented towards what was right, what was justice, what was humane.”
“The incredible outpouring of assistance through Near East Relief – and the U.S. Government’s lead role in that effort – should be a point of pride for all Americans, and a reminder of an era when our Armenian Genocide policy reflected our collective morality,” said ANCA Government Affairs Director Kate Nahapetian. “This centennial year, America can once again become a beacon of truth and justice on this key human rights issue, by speaking clearly and unequivocally about the Armenian Genocide, as we expand international efforts to secure justice for this crime.”
Kelechian and Nahapetian joined ‘America We Thank You’ Co-Chairs Vanna Kitsinian, Esq. and Hermineh Pakhanians for a series of over 10 Congressional meetings regarding Near East Relief efforts, timed just 100-days prior to the international commemoration of the centennial of the Armenian Genocide on April 24, 2015. Each Congressional office received an in-depth fact sheet about the heroic efforts of their state, as reported in local newspapers and archives, to assist in this unique campaign.
“The response to the NER story has been remarkable,” commented Kitsinian, following her meetings. “Many Members of Congress and staff have read about the Armenian Genocide but none of them knew the details and depth of their own community’s participation in this relief effort. For 15 consecutive years, America was dedicated to the mission of saving the Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians and others – and when we present the Congressional letters and share how every aspect of society was mobilized – from celebrities to politicians to Presidents to ambassadors – they are truly amazed,” concluded Kitsinian.
The ANCA Western Region launched the “America We Thank You: An Armenian Tribute to Near East Relief” campaign in March, 2014, to recognize the outpouring of generosity by the American people in the immediate aftermath of the Armenian Genocide (1915-1923) and to highlight the efforts of Near East Relief in rescuing and providing assistance to hundreds of thousands of men, women and children who were victims of the Genocide.
In 2015, the committee will mark the centennial of the Near East Relief efforts through various events and programs to express its gratitude to the American people for establishing and continuing the tradition of being the most generous nation.
“The ‘America We Thank You’ effort is a labor of love for our committee members, who are constantly finding new and innovative ways to share the Near East Relief story with the Armenian community and the American public at large,” said Pakhanians. “Whether presenting to students in their classrooms or meeting with legislators in Washington, DC and state capitols – our education mission will continue, in tribute to the NER visionaries who saved our nation.”