U.S. Senators and Representatives joined together Wednesday evening at a U.S. Capitol observance hosted by the Congressional Armenian Caucus, making bipartisan calls upon the President and Congressional leaders to reject Turkey’s gag-rule against honest American remembrance of the Armenian Genocide, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Dave Trott (R-MI) led the charge, announcing that he has, as a retiring Member of Congress, made a single, departing request of the House Leadership. “I told Speaker Ryan and I told Leader McCarthy the one thing they can do for me would be put on the House floor for a vote, our resolution (H.Res.220) calling what happened in 1915 a genocide,” said Rep. Trott, who was greeted by a standing ovation by Members of Congress and attendees. H.Res.220, a genocide prevention measure that draws upon the lessons of genocides committed against the Armenian, Greek, Assyrian and Chaldean populations by the Ottoman Turkish Government from 1915-1923, currently has over 115 cosponsors.
“We want to thank all the Senators and Representatives who joined in today’s Capitol Hill observance of the Armenian Genocide, particularly Congressman Trott, who announced today that his singular, personal request of Speaker Ryan, before they both retire at the end of this year, is an up-or-down vote on the Armenian Genocide Resolution,” said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. “He knows what we all know, which is that Members of Congress – allowed to vote their conscience – would overwhelmingly adopt this human rights measure. We’ve passed the tipping point. We have the votes. All we need now is the opportunity.”
Rep. Trott’s strong message was echoed by a broad array of legislators from both houses of Congress, including Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ), ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), as well as the following Representatives: Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Vice Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA), Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, and Jim Costa (D-CA), Ted Deutsch (D-FL), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Todd Rokita (R-IN), Linda Sanchez (D-CA), Brad Sherman (D-CA), senior Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, and Chris Smith (R-NJ), Chairman of the Helsinki Commission.
Rep. Smith described the absence of a forthright U.S. policy of Armenian Genocide affirmation as a “bipartisan fail. There’s bipartisan support, as evidenced by the members you’ve heard today, and it is time we did this.” Rep. Smith went on to explain, “this is the only genocide of the 20th century in which the nation that was decimated by genocide has been subjected to the ongoing outrage of a massive campaign of denial, openly sustained, by the same authority. Sadly this objective matter of justice and historical record has been distorted by the Turkish government over the years into some sort of anti-Turkish slander. I reject, and all of us here reject, the gross distortion of that purpose.”
Condemning Turkey’s ongoing denial of the Armenian Genocide, Chairman Ed Royce noted, “As we have seen, since the days immediately following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire until today, there have been those who have worked to deny the genocide and silence its witnesses. Truth does not stand in the company of caveats, euphemisms or qualifications. It stands fearlessly and unapologetically on its own – and so should the U.S. record on the Armenian Genocide.”
Fellow House Foreign Affairs Committee member, Rep. Brad Sherman noted that “the only thing worse than bowing to a bully is bowing to a bully that is a paper tiger. Turkey will not mature into a democracy, into a friend, into a country we want to be friends with until it comes to terms with its own past.”
Senator Menendez, who successfully led the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee passage of the Armenian Genocide Resolution in 2014, explained the importance of the U.S. speaking truthfully about this crime. “I believe that American foreign diplomacy, if we can’t stand up for the truth, if we can’t stand up for what history really was, then ultimately we undermine our own foreign policy and our national interests because if you can’t stand up for human rights and democracy, if you can’t be true to history then you can’t be true to yourself as a nation.”
House Intelligence Committee Ranking Democrat Adam Schiff concurred, noting, “It has never been in our national interest to be complicit in the denial of genocide, never. It is not in our interest, it is not in Turkey’s interest, it is not in anyone’s interest around the world,” said Rep. Schiff, who went on to call on President Trump to properly commemorate the Armenian Genocide on April 24th. “We hope that this President will decide, in a few days, to recognize the genocide. If he doesn’t, he won’t be alone among Presidents of both parties who have failed to do so. Now, this is an unpredictable President and this would be a great way to be unpredictable!”
Rep. Costa, who will be participating in the ANCA of Central California hosted commemoration of the Armenian Genocide on Saturday, followed by a wreath-laying at the grave of Soghomon Tehlirian, noted “And then we will look upon the future – the future of recognizing this genocide here in the United States House of Representatives. It’s part of our attempt to ensure that in the future, people remember that sadly, genocide still can occur. And that is part of the reason why we continue this effort.”
Rep. Pallone reflected on the broader Congressional Armenian Caucus agenda of expanding U.S.-Armenia ties and supporting the Republic of Artsakh’s freedom. “We were very fortunate in the Armenian Caucus, with all of your support, to be able to have an exchange this year where some of us went to Armenia in September during Independence Day and a delegation of MP’s from Armenia came here and we talked about the things we can do. We talked about the double taxation treaty, we talked about the Millennium Challenge Corporation. There are many ways we can help, not only in terms of humanitarian assistance but development assistance.”
Rep. Gabbard, who joined Rep. Pallone in Armenia and Artsakh last September, explained, “Going to visit Artsakh struck me personally. I’m a veteran, currently still serving in the National Guard. I’ve seen first-hand the cost of war and understand that those who experience the horrors of war are most passionate in their fight for peace. As a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, I am continuing to work toward many of the goals with the Armenian Caucus that we identified during that trip.”
Rep. Eshoo, who is of Armenian and Assyrian descent and took her second trip to Armenia last fall, noted “there is incredible progress being made. I want to pay tribute to anyone who has done anything to assist the country of Armenia to prosper, to grow, not only in the 20th century but into the 21st century – to see the schools that have been built, to see the broad depth of the education of young people, it really took my breath away.”
Dr. Alina Dorian, an internationally respected public health expert and advocate who has worked for decades to strengthen and expand public health programs in Artsakh served as Mistress of Ceremonies for the evening.
Dorian, who also serves as the principal of the Rose and Alex Pilibos Armenian School, described the Azerbaijani pogroms against the Armenian populations in Sumgait and Baku, Azerbaijan’s April 2016 four-day war against Armenia and Artsakh, Turkey’s ongoing denial of the Armenian Genocide and repression of its minority communities today as a continuation of the crimes of 1915. “The Armenian Genocide was not just a huge horrific atrocity – a snapshot in time – but a ongoing, living breathing atrocity,” said Dorian, who went on to remind all in attendance that they join in commemorations every year because “we decided to serve; we wanted to empower; and we believed in the ‘home of the brave.’”
Clerical leaders Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, Legate of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church and Bishop Anoushavan Tanielian, Vicar General of the Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church Eastern US offered the opening and closing prayers, respectively. “We ask [God] to shine your light into the dark corners of the world to expose cruelty and injustice wherever it inflicts people. So that the genocide experienced by the Armenian people 103 years ago, will never be repeated anywhere on the face of the Earth,” said Archbishop Aykazian. “Bless the United States of America and the Republic of Armenia. Grant them, and us, the vision that will help us work for justice heeding the words of President John F. Kennedy, that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own,” said Bishop Tanielian.
Among those offering keynote remarks were His Excellency Grigor Hovhannissian, Ambassador of the Republic of Armenia and the Honorable Robert Avetisyan, Artsakh Representative to the U.S.
“The Armenian Caucus has been Armenia’s best friend in Washington ever since we became independent, now 27 years ago, and cemented these incredible relations that we have with the United States,” said Ambassador Hovannisian. “Against formidable odds, against the geopolitics, and all the other reasons, the Armenian Caucus was there to help Armenia become what it is today: a viable, self-confident country, that also sees its responsibility in today’s fight against genocide and genocidal intent.”
“People in Turkey and the United States, including politicians, incidentally, everywhere, they know themselves, they know personally that genocide happened. They know they have witnessed the events. Our fight now is to keep pushing to make sure that our energy breaks all those obstacles,” said Avetisyan.
Joining in the commemoration were former U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Evans and Mrs. Donna Evans, and representatives of In Defense of Christians, Hellenic American Leadership Council, A Demand for Action, and other friends and allies from human rights groups and the Greek, Assyrian and Kurdish communities. ANCA National Board Chairman Raffi Hamparian and Board Member Steve Mesrobian were joined by ANCA Western Region Government advocate Leonard Manoukian, who, along with Dorian have been participating in two days of meetings with Congressional leadership to advance ANCA legislative priorities in support of Armenia and Artsakh.