President Reagan was the last US president to properly commemorate the Armenian Genocide
WASHINGTON–DC–The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) mourns the passing of former US President Ronald Reagan and extends its deepest condolences to the Reagan family as the nation prepares to lay the respected statesman to rest this Friday.
"We join with all Americans in mourning the loss of President Reagan and in sending our condolences to his wife and family," said ANCA Chairman Ken Hachikian. "We will remember President Reagan as the last US President to properly commemorate the Armenian Genocide–the US leader who initiated humanitarian aid to the survivors of the 1988 earthquake in Armenia–and a leader who believed deeply–throughout the dark years of the Cold War–in the independence of Armenia."
Ronald Reagan began his years in politics a close friend and supporter of Armenian American interests. As California Governor from 1966 through 1974–Reagan reached out to the Armenian American community and joined in their annual commemorations of the Armenian Genocide. Most notably–in 1969–Reagan joined His Holiness Khoren I–Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia–a host of state and local dignitaries and over 10,000 Armenian Americans at the Armenian Genocide Memorial in Montebello–where he gave a rousing 15-minute speech honoring the victims of that crime against humanity. "I am proud and appreciate this opportunity to participate in this event," said Gov. Reagan. "Today–I humbly bow in memory of the Armenian martyrs–who died in the name of freedom at the hands of Turkish perpetrators of Genocide."
Following his election to the presidency in 1980–Reagan distinguished himself as the last US President to properly acknowledge the Armenian Genocide as "genocide." In Proclamation 4838–issued on April 22–1981 to proclaim April 26-May 3 as "Days of Remembrance of Victims of Holocaust," Reagan stated–"Like the genocide of the Armenia’s before it–and the genocide of the Cambodians which followed it and like too many other such persecutions of too many other peoples–the lessons of the Holocaust must never be forgotten." Later in his first term–the Reagan Administration–at the urging of Secretary of State George Schultz and Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger–retreated from this stand and opposed successive Armenian Genocide Resolutions in 1985 and 1987.
Armenian Americans will also remember President Reagan as a primary force in encouraging the US Senate to ratify and implement the United Nations Genocide Convention. Adopted by the United Nations in 1948–the Convention languished on the Senate docket for some 40 years–despite the heroic efforts of Wisconsin Senator William Proxmire (D) and later Rhode Island Senator Claiborne Pell (D) to obtain passage of the measure. In 1986–President Reagan urged the Senate leadership to take up the bill–and after a number of modifications–the Convention was signed into law by Reagan in 1988.
Congress is currently considering legislation (H.Res.193 and S.Res.164) marking the 15th anniversary of the implementation of the Genocide Convention. Introduced in the Senate in June–2003 by Senators John Ensign (R-NV) and Jon Corzine (D-NJ)–S.Res. 164 currently has 39 cosponsors. Its companion House measure–H.Res.193–led 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)–was adopted unanimously by the House Judiciary Committee in May–2003–and has 111 cosponsors. The resolution cites the importance of remembering past crimes against humanity–including the Armenian Genocide–Holocaust–Cambodian and Rwandan genocides–in an effort to stop future atrocities. Support for the measure has been widespread–with a diverse coalition of over 100 ethnic–religious–civil and human rights organizations calling for its passage–including American Values–National Organization of Women–Sons of Italy–NAACP–Union of Orthodox Rabbis–and the National Council of La Raza.
In the last days of his second term–President Reagan led a US effort to help the victims of the devastating December 7–1988 earthquake in Armenia. Reversing a 40-year standing policy that lasted throughout the Cold War–President Reagan airlifted several planeloads of humanitarian assistance to Soviet Armenia within weeks of the tragedy. In his December 25 radio address to the American people–Reagan stated that–in the time of tragedy–"the real differences that divide us and will continue to divide us fall away." He went on to note the tremendous outpouring of US assistance in light of the Armenian earthquake. "From the United States the response has been staggering," he said. "Relief workers–tens of millions of dollars in private contributions–food–clothing–a cascade of good will–and fellow feeling."
President Reagan was given a state funeral on Friday–June 11.