BY SETO BOYADJIAN, ESQ.
Last week, on April 23, President Barack Obama issued his annual “Armenian Remembrance Day” statement. This was his last statement in his final year in office as President. This was also his last chance to take a courageous stand on his erstwhile conviction that what happened to Armenians in 1915 was GENOCIDE.
The statement now serves as a monument to Obama’s political failure on the issue of Armenian Genocide. Sadly, the statement also serves as a manifestation of Obama’s breach of his duty under the U.S. Constitution.
In his statement Obama invites Americans to reflect on the “first mass atrocity of the 20th century”. But he is adamant in not using the correct terminology of this “mass atrocity” – i.e. Armenian Genocide. However, he hastily reminds us, that “I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view has not changed.” For the past eight years in office, this worn-out cliché has become the symbol of Obama’s double-talk and double-standard when it comes to the Armenian Genocide.
In this context, Obama’s statement is a political and moral failure, because now he has joined the ranks of Armenian Genocide deniers. In Obama’s case, the only difference with his denial is that it is a denial by non-denial.
Regrettably, Obama’s denial also causes a detrimental impact on the safety, security and survival of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. Obama insists to “reaffirm our ongoing commitment to a democratic, peaceful, and prosperous Armenia.” Obama’s commitment is as hollow as a sounding-brass, because: 1) when he remains silent on the Armenian Genocide, 2) when he encourages Turkey as it threatens and blockades Armenia, and 3) when he shows indifference toward the ongoing Azerbaijani aggression, Obama only emboldens Ilham Alyev and Azerbaijan who, with Turkey’s blessing and participation, are bent to “finish” what Ottoman Turks began against the Armenian nation in 1915. Such a course paves the way to Genocide in the making. Alas, President Obama’s denial by non-denial leads our country into becoming an accessory in that criminal process.
On the home front, Obama’s statement smacks of serious contravention of a President’s constitutional responsibility. Adding a new contour to his euphemism, Obama hails Raphael Lemkin as a “human rights champion”, who “helped bring about the first United Nations human rights treaty.” Obama and his advisors at the National Security Council and the State Department know far too well that Rapahel Lemkin was not a mere “human rights champion” and that the Genocide Convention is not a mere “human rights treaty”.
Raphael Lemkin coined the term ‘genocide’ in 1944 to describe the massacre of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire. He described the crime of Genocide as the “systematic destruction of a whole national, racial or religious groups. The sort of thing that Hitler did to the Jews and the Turks did to the Armenians.” He defined this crime in terms of international law and worked relentlessly for its passage by the United Nations. In 1948, the U.N. unanimously adopted this law titled as the Genocide Convention. During the U.N. deliberations, the Ottoman massacres of the Armenians and the Nazi massacres of the Jews were considered as precedents to the law on Genocide.
Under the U.S. Constitution, the executive power is vested in the President who, among other powers, is responsible for implementing and enforcing the laws enacted by Congress. Article II of the Constitution entrusts the President with the responsibility to execute and enforce the laws created by Congress.
From the perspective of American jurisprudence, the Armenian Genocide is a legal issue. More often than not this fact is overlooked. The Armenian Genocide relates to an international crime codified by the U.N. as the Genocide Convention.
The U.S. was the first to vote in favor of the U.N. Genocide Convention. The U.S. government officially reaffirmed the legality of the Armenian Genocide in its written statement filed with the U.N. International Court of Justice (ICJ). This statement is incorporated in the May 28, 1951 ICJ Report titled: “Reservations to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.”
In its official statement, referring to the background for the adoption of the Genocide Convention, the U.S. government held: “The Roman persecution of the Christians, the Turkish massacres of Armenians, the extermination of millions of Jews and Poles by the Nazis arc outstanding examples of the crime of genocide.” (ICJ Report, p. 25)
The U.S. government further explained: “…the Genocide Convention is not an organizational treaty. … It is a short and relatively simple instrument embodying, it is true, some important compromises, but consisting essentially of a definition of an international crime, genocide… Its basic purpose and major commitment is to put and end to genocide.” (ICJ Report, p. 42)
The foregoing explanations and reservations form the basis of the U.S. acceptance of the Genocide Convention. As an international treaty, the U.S. Senate ratified the Genocide Convention in 1986. During the Senate debates, numerous Senators referred to the Ottoman massacres of Armenians as Genocide. The full Senate secured the passage of the ratification resolution by a vote of 83 to 11. Thus, the U.S. Genocide Convention became the law of the land. By reference and by the intent of the Senate, the Armenian Genocide is part of the U.S. Genocide Convention, which is now the law of the land.
To implement this law of the land, in 1988 the Senate passed the U.S. Genocide Convention and Implementation Act. This Act is now codified under the title of Genocide in 18 U.S. Code, Section 1091.
The U.S. Government statement to ICJ and the Senate deliberations on the U.S. Genocide Convention considered the Armenian massacres as genocide. The legality of the Armenian Genocide cannot be any clearer. Both the executive and the legislative intent affirmatively agree on this issue. It is the President’s duty to abide by, execute and enforce the U.S. Genocide Convention. That duty imposes on the President to refer to the massacre of Armenians as Genocide.
Obama’s refusal to refer to the “mass atrocity” as Armenian Genocide is a contravention of the law of the land of our country. Our President is simply denying the official position of our government on the U.N. Genocide Convention and the genocide law created by the Senate. In that process, he is placing himself in violation of U.S. law.
Simply stated, our President is in breach of his constitutional responsibility in the execution and enforcement of a law enacted by U.S. Congress. The argument that the issue is a “political question” or that it is “preempted by federal power to administer foreign affairs” should fail as a defense.
The question is: As Americans, what are we to do about our President’s constitutional breach?
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