BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
In recent years, it has become somewhat fashionable to pooh-pooh, demean, argue against, or perceive conspiracies in efforts to obtain recognition of the Genocide by the United States.
I, too, may have contributed to this mindset to some extent by advocating and promoting greater focus on the need to seek reparations and return of our lands.
People have different reasons for contending that we are “wasting” our energy on recognition efforts. Some argue that passage of resolutions in 1975 and 1984 by the House of Representatives, President Ronald Reagan’s 1981 proclamation, and the 1951 Genocide reference by the U.S. government in a filing with the World Court constitute recognition. Others want more attention and effort directed at supporting the two Armenian republics. Fringe folks concoct, and assert the existence of, improbable conspiracies wherein our advocacy groups “abuse” the Genocide to “make” money, using this ludicrous argument to further their own destructive agenda or vendetta. A few are simply “tired of” all the effort we have put in to achieving recognition.
But at a recent panel discussion held in UCLA’s law school, one of the speakers, Armen Hovannisian, an attorney active in the Armenian Bar Association and ARF made a very illuminating point. When lawsuits involving potential reparations for Genocide era losses have been brought by Armenians to the U.S. courts, in all but a few, early, cases, they have lost. The underlying cause of this is the very fact that we do not have explicit, unambiguous, recognition by the U.S. government.
And, even if the above examples might have been considered that kind of recognition, they have been eclipsed by the fact that subsequent congresses and presidents have not taken a position when presented with the opportunity, thus creating doubt. The courts are latching on to this and avoiding the issue.
The way the courts are doing this is through the use of “preemption” – a legal concept in the U.S. Constitution. Preemption says that foreign policy is the domain of the federal government. Therefore, if the federal government has not said there was an Armenian Genocide, then the courts are not in a position to act as if there was one. That also means that the states may not act as if there was one. That’s why the California law allowing descendants of those who had bought life insurance from various western companies to sue for the payouts was found unconstitutional.
Ergo, if we want to even begin to receive restitution through the courts, the Genocide recognition must remain on our agenda until it is formally received. This does not mean that other issues of concern and importance should not be pursued, especially reparations and lands. Much work needs to be done to prepare the hearts and minds of not only non-Armenian supporters of our issues, but even among ourselves. This does not mean that we should not work on the critically important issues confronting the two Armenian republics, or our Diasporan communities’ needs, or even the massive life-difficulties faced by Armenians still living under Turkish oppression.
It simply means the U.S. Genocide recognition is more timely and necessary than ever; that it is not a passé issue; that it must be a significant part of any agenda of items pursued by our lobbying groups.
I am now profoundly convinced of the importance of securing unambiguous, explicit, recognition by the U.S. government, both executive and legislative branches.
I ask you to consider this matter seriously and at great length. I ask you to unreservedly join hands to achieve this long-delayed goal.