WASHINGTON–The National Council of the Churches of Christ, a broad-based coalition representing over 100,000 congregations, has called on Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to work for passage of the Armenian Genocide Resolution, H.Res.252, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
In a powerfully worded letter, dated May 20, 2009, the Council’s General Secretary, Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, restated the organization’s 2007 resolution that found it “unacceptable” that the U.S. government continues to refuse to use the term genocide to describe the events of 1915. The highly regarded church leader then urged, as a step toward true Armenia-Turkey healing, that all parties, the White House and Congress included, use “the proper term under international law to classify the event for what it was: a genocide.”
The Council’s President, Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, has publicly noted his own deep disappointment with President Obama’s avoidance of the word genocide in his April 24th statement. “I speak on this issue as a person who lost 50 percent of my family to the Armenian genocide in Turkey,” Aykazian said in a letter to Kinnamon and the NCC Governing Board.
Since its founding in 1950, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA has been the leading force for ecumenical cooperation among Christians in the United States. The NCC’s member faith groups from a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African American and Living Peace churches include 45 million persons in more than 100,000 local congregations in communities across the nation.
The full text of the Council’s letter is provided below.
National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA
475 Riverside Drive, Suite 800
New York, NY 10115-0050
Office of the General Secretary
May 20, 2009
Hon. Nancy Pelosi
Office of the Speaker
H-232, US Capitol
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Speaker Pelosi:
I am writing to support passage of H.R. 252, calling upon the President to ensure that the foreign policy of the United States reflects appropriate understanding and sensitivity concerning issues related to human rights, ethnic cleansing, and genocide documented in the United States record relating to the Armenian Genocide, and for other purposes.
In November 2007, a National Council of Churches resolution found it “unacceptable” that the United States
government had yet to use the word “genocide” to describe the events of 1915. This omission is in large measure due to international politics unrelated to those events. Despite a consensus of world governments and historians, the government of the Republic of Turkey rejects the use of “genocide” and forbids its friends and allies to use the word.
But history is clear. On April 24, 1915, authorities of the Ottoman Empire arrested some 250 Armenian religious and community leaders in Constantinople (modern day Istanbul). Immediately afterward, the Ottoman army forced hundreds of thousands of Armenians from their homes and forced them to march without food or water from Turkey to the Syrian desert. Massacres of men, women and children, accompanied by rape and sexual abuse, were reported by survivors and their descendants. When it was over, 1.5 million were dead. The meticulously organized and systematic executions, elements of an Ottoman policy of extermination also aimed at others in the region, has been sadly declared by historians as the first of the twentieth century genocides.
Nearly a century later, the pain of these events is unabated in Armenian hearts and in the hearts of all people. Nothing can take the memories away, but the view of the National Council of Churches USA and its member communions – including the Diocese of the Armenian Church in America – is that the events of 1915 will
continue to fester until all people acknowledge the verdict of history that they are a twentieth century genocide.
On Armenian Remembrance Day, April 24, 2009, the President of the United States sought to put the event in its appropriate historic context. Although as a candidate Mr. Obama had termed the atrocities a “genocide,” his statement as president avoided the word. The President wrote:
Ninety four years ago, one of the great atrocities of the 20th century began. Each year, we pause to remember the 1.5 million Armenians who were subsequently massacred or marched to their death in the final days of the Ottoman Empire. The Meds Yeghern must live on in our memories, just as it lives on in the hearts of the Armenian people.
Mr. Obama also declared that his previously stated views of the events of 1915 had “not changed,” and his use of the Armenian words for genocide – “Meds Yeghern” – were a welcomed clarification of U.S. policy. The President also stated an obvious truth: “History, unresolved, can be a heavy weight.”
The National Council of Churches welcomes the President’s efforts to help resolve this terrible episode of history. But it is also our view that this resolution cannot take place unless all parties use the proper terms under international law to classify the event for what it was: a genocide. We urge that future statements of the President and U.S. government officials use the word as an essential step toward reconciliation and healing.
We believe the passage of House Resolution 252 will be an important means of taking this crucial step.
With all best wishes, I am