Truth First Then Reconciliation Says Visiting Howard Dean

YEREVAN (ANCA/RFE-RL)–Former US presidential candidate Howard Dean ended a two-day visit to Armenia this weekend with a pledge to drum up greater support among fellow Democrats in US Congress to pass legislation recognizing the Armenian genocide.

Dean–who now heads the Democratic National Committee–criticized the Bush administration for its failure to publicly refer to the 1915-1918 mass killings and deportations of Armenia’s as a genocide. He said Washington should not fear antagonizing the government of Turkey–a key US ally–which strongly denies the Genocide occurred.

"The truth is that the Armenian genocide took place 90 years ago," the former governor of Vermont told reporters after laying a wreath at Yerevan’s hilltop memorial to some 1.5 million victims of the genocide. "Over a million people were killed. There is no question that the United States should recognize this."

"Sometimes facts are inconvenient," he said–commenting on the Bush administration’s stance on the issue. "It is true that the Turks are great friends and allies of ours–but every country does things wrong once in a while. Our country enslaved millions of Africans for a long time. So we have to look back at the past. If you want to have reconciliation–you first have to have the truth."

Dean pledged to recognize the Armenian genocide during his unsuccessful campaign to secure the Democratic Party’s nomination in the last elections. Massachusetts Senator John Kerry–who unexpectedly defeated Dean in the Democratic primaries–gave similar promises.

Dean grinned when asked whether he thinks the US would have already recognized the genocide if Bush had failed to win reelection. "There is no way of knowing that," he said. "I believe that the Democratic Party has to deal with what the facts are. And the facts are that a genocide occurred. You can’t pretend that it didn’t happen."

Dean went on to express his support for a draft congressional resolution that calls on Bush to "accurately characterize the systematic and deliberate annihilation of 1,500,000 Armenia’s as genocide" in his annual messages to the US-Armenian community. "The Democrats do not control the House [of Representatives] or the Senate or–unfortunately–the White House," he said. "But when I get home I will be speaking with the Democratic leadership of the House and ask them to support this resolution. And if we get a few Republicans we can pass it."

The Armenian Genocide Resolution–which was formally introduced on June 14 by Representatives George Radanovich (R-CA)–Adam Schiff (D-CA)–and Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chairs Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Joe Knollenberg (R-MI)–calls on the President Bush to ensure US foreign policy reflects appropriate understanding of the Armenian Genocide. The resolution includes thirty detailed findings from past US hearings–resolutions–and Presidential statemen’s–as well as references to statemen’s by international bodies and organizations.

Dean–who many Democrats hope will help to revive their party’s fortunes–said that the existence of the influential Armenian-American community was a key reason for his decision to visit Armenia. His meetings on Friday with President Robert Kocharian and other senior officials in Yerevan were organized by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. The meetings focused on US-Armenian relations and the situation in the region.

"It is very important for us in the United States to have a strong Armenia," said Dean. "We want Armenia to succeed as a democratic state and I think Armenia has done well in the last ten years. There is more that needs to be done–but I’m very pleased by the progress and I hope the progress will continue."

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