–Record Audience on Hand as System Of A Down is Recognized for Ground-breaking Genocide Recognition Efforts
WASHINGTON–DC–Forty members of the US Senate and House of Representatives joined with over 500 Armenian Americans from across the country last week–at the Armenian National Committee of America’s (ANCA) annual observance of the Armenian genocide–in a powerful display of bipartisan support for American recognition of the Armenian genocide.
"Armenian Americans join with Armenia’s around the world in expressing our appreciation to each of our Congressional friends who took part in this solemn remembrance of the Armenian genocide," said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. "We join with them in recommitting ourselves to ending the denial of this crime–first in America and then in Turkey–and–ultimately to ending the longstanding denial of justice to the Armenian nation."
In addition to the strong Congressional turnout–the program featured the diplomatic representatives of Armenia and Karabagh–Armenian Church leaders–leading figures in the Washington–DC foreign policy community–and a broad range of ethnic and human rights activists.
Broad Bipartisan Participation Marks 12th Annual Capitol Hill Observance of Armenian Genocide
The two-hour Capitol Hill Observance of the Armenian genocide featured the participation of a diverse group of Congressional leaders from across the country. New Jersey Senators Frank Lautenberg (D) and Robert Menendez (D) joined perennial attendee–Maryland Senator Paul Sarbanes (D-MD) in marking the occasion with moving speeches commending Armenian American activism on this key human rights concern.
Among the members of the Congressional leadership taking part in the program were House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-CA) and Mike Pence–Chairman of the powerful Republican Study Committee. Chief Deputy Majority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) met with a group of over 25 Richmond ANC members during the day–but could not attend the observance. Also taking part were John Larson–Vice-Chairman of the Democratic Caucus–and Joe Crowley (D-NY)–the Chief Deputy Minority Whip.
Featured prominently in the program were the authors of Armenian genocide legislation–George Radanovich (R-CA) and Adam Schiff (D-CA). The Armenian Caucus was represented by Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ)–who founded the 158-member body more than a decade ago. Carolyn Maloney–the Co-Chairwoman of the Hellenic Caucus was on hand as well and offered powerful words of remembrance.
Members of the International Relations Committee who participated in the observance were Eliot Engel (D-NY)–Darrell Issa (R-CA)–Betty McCollum (D-MN)–Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI)–Donald Payne (D-NJ)–Brad Sherman–and Diane Watson (D-CA). Representative Ben Cardin–who serves as the Ranking Member on the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the US Helsinki Commission)–also took part.
Members of the Foreign Operations Subcommittee–the panel that writes the foreign aid bill–that took part were Ranking Member Nita Lowey (D-NY)–Mark Kirk (R-IL)–John Sweeney (R-NY)–and Steve Rothman (D-NJ).
Additional participants included Representatives Howard Coble (R-NC)–Jim Costa (D-CA)–Barney Frank (D-MA)–Rush Holt (D-NJ)–Mike Honda (D-CA)–Sue Kelly (R-NY) –James Langevin (D-RI)–Dan Lipinski (D-IL)–Edward Markey (D-MA)–James McGovern (D-MA)–James Moran (D-VA)–Joe Schwarz (R-MI)–Mark Souder (R-IN)–John Tierney (D-MA)–Chris Van Hollen (D-MD)–Zach Wamp (R-TN)–and Curt Weldon (R-PA).
Attendees also included several key Armenian American officials including John Jamian–the Department of Transportation’s Action Maritime Administrator–Joe Bogosian–the Federation Aviation Administration’s Assistant Administrator for International Aviation; and Rolling Hills Estates–CA Councilman Frank Zerunyan; as well as Alecko Eskandarian–the star forward for the DC United soccer team–and David Alpay–the star of Atom Egoyan’s film "Ararat."
System Of A Down Receives ANCA ‘Voice of Justice’ Award
Among the most moving elemen’s of the program was the presentation of the ANCA’s ‘Voice of Justice’ Award to Serj Tankian and John Dolmayan of the Grammy Award-winning band System Of A Down. Serj Tankian and John Dolmayan–took part in the observance on the final evening of their three-day advocacy tour of Washington–DC. They also participated in an April 24 rally outside the Turkish Embassy–the April 25 Capitol Hill screening of excerpts from Carla Garapedian’s powerful new film "Screamers," and a series of Congressional meetings and media interviews.
In accepting the award on behalf of System Of A Down–drummer John Dolmayan noted that–"This is a very personal cause for us. We are honored to be here to represent Armenia’s and also United States citizens. We consider ourselves very fortunate to bring this cause forward to people who may not necessarily have had a chance to understand or learn anything about the Armenian genocide. We also feel it’s important to bring up issues that are taking place right now–such as the Darfur genocide. As Armenia’s–I would like to challenge you to do what you can to help these poor people that are suffering the way we did almost a hundred years ago."
Armenian Ambassador; MKR Representative; Clergy Join Armenian American leaders in Urging World Recognition of Armenian Genocide
Master of Ceremonies–Glendale–California City Clerk Ardashes Kassakhian–opened the observance by inviting His Eminence Oshagan Choloyan–Prelate of the Armenian Apostolic Church of the Eastern US–to offer a prayer and opening remarks. The Archbishop noted that–"We gather today with survivors and members of Congress to remember the truth–because increasingly truth is being violated by falsehood. To this day the Genocide of the Armenia’s is denied not only by the perpetrators–but also by our own government here in Washington. The same government in whose archives are thousands upon thousands of documen’s that attest to the annihilation of the Armenia’s. The denial of our government is the most difficult for us to comprehend and fills our hearts with grief because denial is another assault–another genocide. The words of Martin Luther King–Jr. resonate in our souls–‘In the end we will remember not the word of our enemies–but the silence of our friends.’"
Kassakhian then introduced each of the twenty-eight members of Congress who offered remarks–as well as honored speakers–including Armenia’s Ambassador to the United States Tatoul Markarian–Mountainous Karabagh Republic (MKR) Representative in the US Vardan Barseghian–and ANCA Chairman Ken Hachikian. He also introduced ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian–who made the ‘Voice of Justice’ award presentation to System Of A Down.
In his remarks–Ambassador Markarian stressed that–"Recognition of the Armenian genocide cannot be negotiated away–delayed–or conveniently forgotten. . . . The recognition of the Armenian genocide remains–and will remain–on our foreign policy agenda. We will advance it vigorously and with a conviction that this will also help to normalize Turkish-Armenian relations–and bring more security and stability to our region. We will continue to work with our friends and partners towards this goal in Europe–and in particular in the United States."
Vardan Barseghian–on behalf of the government of the Mountainous Karabagh Republic–vowed to "educate the world about what happened to us. We will rally support and we will seek justice–until the perpetrators and deniers are condemned and held responsible. And most importantly we will do everything in our power to insure that similar tragedies do not befall Armenia’s or any other nation." He added that–"Turkey’s irresponsible denial of genocidal facts paves way to new atrocities and crimes against humanity."
ANCA Chairman Ken Hachikian–in his remarks–urged the Armenian American community to greater levels of activism–specifically asking all in attendance to insist that the Administration demand that Turkey acknowledge its responsibility for the Armenian genocide–fully repent–and restore to the Armenian nation the fruits of its crime.
In his closing remarks–Kassakhian reminded those in attendance that–"Today–in these very halls of Congress–our friends have spoken loud and clear. They have said in one voice–that there will be no silence until there is justice. They have told their colleagues by being here today–in front of us–that we will never forget and their will never be silence until there is justice."
Excerpts of Congressional Speeches offered at the annual Capitol Hill Armenian Genocide Observance follow:
Senator Paul Sarbanes (D-MD): "I come every year because I think that the issue you place on the national and international agenda is of great importance… If there should be any question raised about the occurrence of this genocide–it is beyond my understanding… If other nations can speak the truth then our nation must speak the truth on this issue… The Senate [Armenian genocide] resolution has my strongest support."
Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ): "There are those who argue that Turkey is an ally–and maybe it is. But–at the end of the day–even an ally should permit us to have our own policy to recognize what history says happened?that 1.5 million Armenia’s perished. That should be the reality we take as a position for the country. When Hitler asked "who remembers the Armenia’s?" I answer that we remember the Armenia’s–the next generation of the Armenia’s–and all of us who believe in human rights. And this country remembers the Armenia’s–and that is why we are here today."
Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ): "We have to remember that genocide was originally discovered in those years [1915-1923]… and make sure to support legislation to recognize the Genocide–making sure that it is known as an Armenian event and do everything we can to get it passed."
Representative David Dreier (R-CA): "We are strongly committed to doing everything we can to making sure there is clear recognition of the Armenian genocide–and that is exactly what I’ve said to two Turkish Prime Ministers."
Representative Frank Pallone (D-NJ): "It is so important for you to be here and to show up. The only way a message is going to be sent is if more and more people come out and show up… The effort to deny the Genocide continues and that’s why it’s so important to be out there in large numbers to counter their actions."
Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA): "I long for the day when we not only come to commemorate the Genocide–but to celebrate the passage of Genocide resolutions… Let’s not let any of our Armenian parents–grandparents–aunts–and uncles down… let’s recognize the Armenian genocide now!"
Representative George Radanovich (R-CA): "It’s particularly exasperating this year–we have a bill out of committee ready to go to the floor–yet we are finding it difficult to move it further and I think after 12 years I wonder and I tire but I know you have been waiting 91 years and it gives me hope we will soon be recognizing the Genocide. Keep working and have faith and America will recognize it."
Representative John Sweeney (R-NY): "Without a full acceptance–we have denial–and with denial we perpetuate terrible episodes in history–threatening humanity and mankind–and impede on the march of freedom and liberty. I don’t intend on allowing that to happen! I pledge and vow to you as one of your own to keep the fight up and keep on working hard."
Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ): "The truth has curative power and reconciliation powers and we thank you for that effort of getting the truth out."
Representative Mark Kirk (R-IL): "When we learn the lesson of the Armenian genocide–we say ‘never again,’ which is very easy to say in a speech in Washington. But I’ve been there [as a US soldier serving in Bosnia] when we’ve meant ‘never again,’ where we took action as the only superpower on the planet to stop a crime. So now when we look at what’s happening today–we have a powerful moral lesson that we have learned from the people of Armenia–the one that we have to carry into the classrooms and television sets."
Representative James Langevin (D-RI): "If we do not recognize the Armenian genocide it will happen again and again and again."
Representative John Larson (D-CT): "I’m often amazed at the ceremonies and annual pilgrimages people make on behalf of their beliefs and their cause. And for those that seek to remember or understand Armenia all you have to do is look around this room it’s written on your faces–it’s carried in your hearts."
Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY): "It is time for the American government to officially recognize what happened 91 years ago and join the other countries of the world with official recognition… We must always stand up and speak the truth to counter any denial."
Representative Barney Frank (D-MA): "It is extraordinary given what the Armenian people were subjected to–given the fight that still goes on–given the unfair obstacles still put in the way of Armenia–given the importance of reminding the world of this genocide–that you have compassion–wisdom–and commitment to universal values that lead you to your efforts for stopping the atrocities taking place in Darfur."
Representative Dan Lipinski (D-IL): "If you look at all the members who have spoken here and those who are still waiting to speak this is a very unique situation. On any other day these Members may have nothing in common–but this is what happens when you come together for truth… You have done a great job in bringing this to everyone’s attention in this country and I commend you and urge you to keep it up."
Representative Edward Markey (D-MA): "It’s time for President Bush to adhere to his campaign promise and tear down that wall of denial and recognize and honor the Armenian genocide."
Representative Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI): "We must pierce the myth of this indispensable relationship [between the US and Turkey]… No relations can be built upon a lie… If we are going to have friends and allies in the world that the United states can depend on–there must be honesty both within our relationship and in the United States itself."
Representative Donald Payne (D-NJ): "What is going on now–because your movement is getting stronger–your voices are getting louder–your issues are being heard–there is a disinformation–it’s always been there but now it’s more organized… So now we have to keep the pressure on keep the fight on. Genocide anywhere is wrong."
Representative Steve Rothman (D-NJ): "What is the harm in denying the truth? Is there any harm in denying the truth? As human beings we know that this does cause a physical destruction to the body when one denies the truth. Just as I believe that applies to individuals–I believe that it applies to countries and humanity. And so when the world denied the Armenian genocide and continues to deny it–not only did that lead to the Holocaust but it has contributed to the atmosphere in which the world has witnessed the deaths of 400,000 in Darfur. You notice that there are some similarities in the way the Ottoman Empire persecuted the Armenian population and what is going on in Darfur? The forced exile–the systematic deprivation of food and water–and murder through starvation… Denying the truth about genocide is really a second killing–a double genocide. We as Americans cannot stand by when the truth continues to be denied."
Representative Sue Kelly (R-NY): "It makes no sense that we cannot officially recognize the Genocide–acknowledge it–ask for an apology and go beyond the issue–allowing the whole region to move together. This cannot happen unless there is an apology!"
Representative Brad Sherman (D-CA): "When will Turkey be part of the modern world if it does not recognize the past? Where would Germany be if it denied the Holocaust? Where would America be if we said slavery didn’t exist and the native America tribes just drifted away peacefully. Every country needs to recognizes its past in order to move forward to the future. And that is why I have co-sponsored every resolution in the last ten years in the House of Representatives to recognize the first genocide of the last century. But we have seen it again and again. Our International Relations committee passes the resolution–we reformulate the resolution and get it through the Judiciary committee instead. We move that bill through that Committee and then the House leadership won’t let it come up to a vote. It’s time to raise our voices to even higher levels and say its time for this to come up for a vote. Why is the Congress hiding from its responsibilities?"
Representative John Tierney (D-MA): " All of you do us a great service in reminding us the issues that are important to the Armenian community and for us to attend to those issues. Truth about what happened 91 years ago and the fairness of the issues for which you fight are things we need to continually remember. The truth is that it was ‘genocide.’ We have to end man’s inhumanity to man–and we can only do that by acknowledging what has happened in the past–and swearing that we should never remain silent as it happens now in Darfur."
Representative Mark Souder (R-IN): "I commend you for your efforts to keep this alive and I hope you get a hard vote."
Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD): "The lesson of the Armenian genocide is that evil things are not just done by the bad people who perpetuate the crimes–but in a way are allowed to happen by the good people who are not taking the necessary action. The failure of the United States Congress to pass an Armenian Genocide Resolution sends exactly the wrong signal to people around the world about accountability. We have to send the signal that we are going to hold people accountable and the failure to do that has been a stain on the conscious of Congress and the United States."
Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA): "I understand it is a responsibility of mine in Congress to stand for your people and for the plight of your nation… I told the President of Azerbaijan that we wanted to be friends with Azerbaijan but that we will not do it at the expense of Armenia and the Armenian community. We want the dignity of Armenia to shine strong in the Caspian region. You have our support and bipartisan support by members of Congress to make sure we never forget the terrible atrocities that occurred 91 years ago and that we never forget the plight of the Armenian people."
Representative Mike Honda (D-CA): "A country is only as great as its ability to recognize its past–recognize its mistakes–apologize and move on. The diaspora isn’t looking for blood and vengeance–I believe you are looking for reconciliation and recognition so that we can all move forward in this world to insure that future acts of genocide shall cease."
Representative Joe Schwarz (R-MI): "I am a student of history and have been interested in Armenian history for many years. One of the goals for Congress and for American foreign policy should be a strong and independent Armenia within the community of the Transcaucasus. We should not let the Azeris–the Georgians–the Russians–the Turks impinge on the bright and prosperous future of Armenia… The United States must recognize the Armenian genocide so that we can get on with the healing."
Representative Diane Watson (D-CA): "I come to support you and join with my colleagues in saying that California already has a resolution supporting the Genocide of the Armenia’s–so we are already ahead of the game. And we want it to spread across this nation–all 50 states–that they then will correct the people out there that would like to deny. Let them know that history speaks for itself–and that the genocide is real… We are going to try to convince our colleagues–regardless of the Turkish influence that appears in these halls–and win out in the end."