Bi-Partisan Reps. Commend Obama’s Record on Genocide Recognition

Representatives Adam Schiff (D-CA), George Radanovich (R-CA), Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Mark Kirk (R-IL)

WASHINGTON–In advance of the upcoming 94th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, Representatives Adam Schiff (D-CA), George Radanovich (R-CA), Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) wrote a letter to President Barack Obama commending him on his record of supporting the truth about the Armenian Genocide and urging the President to make a strong statement of recognition on April 24th.

The letter to Obama comes ahead of an expected presidential trip to Turkey, which has warned that such declarations by the United States would damage relations.

"Representatives Schiff, Radanovich, Pallone and Kirk are right on the mark in commending Barack Obama’s clear and unequivocal stand against genocide and its denial," said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. "We join with them in welcoming the President’s pledge to recognize the Armenian Genocide."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on a visit to Turkey last week, said Obama would visit "within the next month or so" in his first trip as president to a Muslim country. During Clinton’s visit, Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said Turkey would consider mediating between the United States and Iran over Tehran’s nuclear program.

The foreign minister also said in a recent television interview that he saw a risk that Obama would describe the Armenian deaths as genocide, because Obama had done this during his campaign. But Babacan said the United States needed to understand the sensitivities in Turkey.

“Throughout his career, President Obama has always demonstrated a profound understanding of history and the moral courage to speak plainly about the horrors of genocide,” said Schiff. “We applaud his strong recognition of the Armenian Genocide as a Senator, and look to him for continued strong leadership on this issue as President.”

Ronald Reagan was the only U.S. president to publicly call the killings genocide. Others avoided the term out of concern for the sensitivities of Turkey, an important NATO ally.

“Over the years, the President of the United States, regardless of political party, has done a great disservice by refusing to properly recognize the Armenian Genocide,” said Radanovich. “As a proud representative of the Armenian American community, and co-author of the Armenian Genocide Resolution, I commend President Obama for his previous commitment to the truth and I eagerly await the fulfillment of his promises to recognize the Genocide as President.”

President Obama said several times during his election campaign that he would recognize the 1915-1917 massacres under the Ottoman Empire as genocide. The United States has previously condemned the killings while not calling them genocide to avoid tensions with Turkey, a NATO member and key Middle East ally.

“As a senator and as a candidate, President Obama demonstrated a clear record of supporting recognition of the Armenian Genocide,” said Pallone. “As Co-Chair of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues, I am hopeful that both the President and Congress will not waiver in their efforts to discuss the past openly and honestly.”

On Jan. 19, in a statement on the importance of relations between the U.S. and Armenia, Obama said, “As a senator, I strongly support passage of the Armenian Genocide Resolution (H.Res.106 and S.Res.106), and as President I will recognize the Armenian Genocide.”

Although there is a wide consensus among genocide and Holocaust scholars that the Armenian Genocide took place, the Turkish state continues to vehemently deny that a state-sponsored campaign took the lives of approximately 1.5 million Armenia’s during World War I.

The Armenia’s, the official Turkish argument goes, were victims of ethnic strife, or war and starvation, just like many Muslims living in the Ottoman Empire. Turkey invests millions of dollars in the United States to lobby against resolutions recognizing the Armenian Genocide and to produce denialist literature.

“Knowing his personal commitment to ending genocide and promoting human rights, we are hopeful President Obama will keep his promise,” Kirk said.

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The full text of the letter is below.

March 10, 2009

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President,

As we approach the upcoming 94th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide on April 24, we want to thank you for the courage you have always shown in characterizing properly the slaughter of 1.5 million Armenia’s from 1915-1923 as genocide. No president in the postwar era has come into office with a stronger understanding of the historic facts of the genocide, or with a greater track record of speaking plainly on this terrible chapter in the past.

As a United States Senator, your record on the Armenian Genocide was clear and unequivocal. In 2005 and 2006 you joined many of your colleagues in asking President Bush to refer to the slaughter of Armenia’s as genocide, noting that “[i]t is in the best interests of our nation and the entire global community to remember the past and learn from these crimes against humanity to ensure that they are never repeated.”

In 2006 you wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in the wake of the recall from Yerevan of Ambassador John Evans for using the term “genocide” to describe the events of 1915-23. In your letter you described the official U.S. position on the genocide as “untenable” and reminded the Secretary that “the occurrence of the Armenian genocide in 1915 is not an %u218allegation,’ a %u218personal opinion,’ or a %u218point of view.’ Supported by overwhelming evidence, it is a widely documented fact.”

In questions submitted to Ambassador-designate Marie Yovanovich last year, you pressed her on the issue of genocide recognition, specifically asking her what steps she would take to recognize the genocide and what actions the Department of State was undertaking to press for Turkish recognition of the crimes committed by their Ottoman forebears. Last April, in a statement printed in the Congressional Record, you pledged to “continue to push for the acknowledgement of the Armenian genocide.”

As a presidential candidate, you were also forthright in discussing your support for genocide recognition, saying that “America deserves a leader who speaks truthfully about the Armenian Genocide and responds forcefully to all genocides.” We agree with you completely.

During your upcoming trip to Turkey and in discussions with your advisors over how to commemorate the events of 1915-23, you will doubtless be counseled by some to continue the practice of avoiding the truth in favor of short-term political expediency. We do not minimize Ankara’s threats of adverse action when you recognize the genocide, or when Congress takes action to formally recognize the genocide, but we believe that our alliance is strong enough to withstand the truth.

Elie Wiesel has described the denial of genocide as the final stage of genocide ‘s a double killing. Sadly, our nation’s foreign policy has, for too long, abetted this denial. As you told Secretary Rice in your letter about the sacking of Ambassador Evans, “when State Department instructions are such that an ambassador must engage in strained reasoning ‘s or even outright falsehood ‘s that defies a common sense interpretation of events in order to follow orders, then it is time to revisit the State Department’s policy guidance on that issue.”

Mr. President, you have demonstrated time and again your understanding of the importance to Armenian-Americans of formal American recognition of the crime that was committed against their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. Their pain is not unlike that of American Jews, who live each day with the memory of the Holocaust, and African-Americans, whose view of themselves has been colored by the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow. But, of course, the importance of speaking unequivocally about a matter as grave as genocide is a human rights imperative affecting us all. Whether it is today’s Sudanese government or yesterday’s Ottoman Empire, the perpetrators of genocide, as well as the victims, must know that the United States will not shrink from confronting the truth.

Sincerely,

ADAM B. SCHIFF
Member of Congress

GEORGE RADANOVICH
Member of Congress

FRANK PALLONE, JR.
Member of Congress

MARK STEVEN KIRK
Member of Congress

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