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Legislators Mark Genocide in Senate, House Floor Statements

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Diverse Remarks by Legislators Include Calls for Passage of Genocide Resolution and Disappointment with Obama’s Failure to Honor Pledge

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senators and Representatives took to the floors of their respective chambers during the week of April 24 to mark the 97th anniversary of the beginning of the Armenian Genocide and to share with their colleagues the moral imperative to enact legislation condemning this crime against humanity, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).

Jack Reed

These remarks were in addition to the annual Capitol Hill commemoration of the Armenian Genocide, held on April 25, which drew over 20 Members of Congress.

In the Senate, remarks were offered by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.), and Jack Reed (D-R.I.).  Representatives David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Jim Costa (D-Calif.), Jerry Costello (D-Ill.), Robert Dold (R-Ill.), Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), Jesse Jackson Jr (D-Ill.), Sander Levin (D-Mich.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), James McGovern (D-Mass.), Laura Richardson (D-Calif.), John Sarbanes (D-Md.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), and Frank Wolf (R-Va.) offered statements in the House.

Among the more compelling Senate remarks are provided below:

Sen. Jack Reed: Ninety-seven years ago, on April 24, 1915, the Young Turk leaders of the Ottoman Empire summoned and executed over 200 Armenian community leaders and intellectuals, beginning an 8-year campaign of oppression and massacre. By 1923, nearly 1.5 million Armenians were killed, and over a half million survivors were exiled. These atrocities affected the lives of every Armenian living in Asia Minor and, indeed, throughout the world. The survivors of the Armenian Genocide, however, persevered due to their unbreakable spirit, their steadfast resolve, and their deep commitment to their faith and their families. They went on to enrich their countries of emigration, including the United States, with their centuries-old customs, their culture, and their innate decency. To watch Reed’s remarks on YouTube, visit http://youtu.be/lEowgpWm-Xw.

Sen. Carl Levin: Mr. President, this is a week to bear witness. Today, April 24, we mark Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day—the day on which we remind one another of the organized campaign of deportation, expropriation, starvation, and atrocity perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire against its Armenian population, beginning with the detention and eventual execution of hundreds of Armenian community members on April 24, 1915, just as, a few days ago, we marked Holocaust Remembrance Day, bearing witness to the attempt by Nazi Germany to destroy Europe’s Jewish population. Why do we mark these days? Because in recognizing and condemning the horror of these acts, we affirm our own humanity, we ensure that the victims of these atrocities will not be forgotten, and we warn those who believe they can perpetrate similar crimes with impunity that they will not escape the world’s notice. We remind ourselves that we must never again allow such mass assaults against human decency without acting to stop them. And we mark these atrocities because only by acknowledging the violence and inhumanity can we begin the process of reconciling populations who even today are haunted by the damage done decades ago.

Sen. Barbara Boxer:  Mr. President, I rise today to solemnly recognize the 97th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.  In 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations passed the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide based in part on the horrific crimes perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire against the Armenian people between 1915-23.  Yet, in the 63 years that have passed since the Convention was adopted, successive U.S. administrations have refused to call the deliberate massacre of the Armenians by what it was—a genocide.  For many years, I have urged these administrations to right this terrible wrong, and I do so again today, calling on President Obama to acknowledge unequivocally—as he did as a Senator—that the Armenian Genocide is a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence. … There is no room for discretion when dealing with unspeakable crimes against humanity; genocide must be called genocide, murder must be called murder. And every day that goes by without the U.S. acknowledgment of what happened to the Armenian people in the early 20th century undermines the United States’ role as a beacon for human rights around the world.

Among the more compelling House remarks are provided below:

Rep. David Cicilline: Madam Speaker, I rise today to remember the 1.5 million Armenian men, women, and children who were massacred under the Ottoman Empire at the beginning of the 20th century.  Each year, Armenians throughout the world mark April 24 as Genocide Remembrance Day by honoring those who perished from 1915 to 1923, and I join my friends and colleagues in remembering the victims today.  It’s important to raise awareness about the Armenian Genocide not only because it is an undeniable chapter in world history, but also because learning more about this horrific tragedy underscores the importance of eliminating intolerance and bigotry wherever it occurs. To watch Cicilline’s remarks on YouTube, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dl8Prah7Np0.

Rep. Jim Costa:  Growing up in Fresno, Calif., the place William Saroyan, a great American author of Armenian descent, called home, I heard the stories of this tragic time between 1915 and 1923. The sons and daughters of survivors, time and time again, told the stories of their families. The facts are clear. What happened 97 years ago can only be called by one name: genocide, the first genocide of the 20th century. Yet after nearly a century, the House of Representatives and current and past American presidents have refused to recognize the Armenian Genocide as such.  We cannot wait for a convenient moment, for it’s not a convenient truth. Man’s inhumanity to mankind never is. Now is the time to pass House Resolution 304 that I am a cosponsor of and formally recognize the Armenian Genocide. To watch Costa’s remarks on YouTube, visit http://youtu.be/6HSGXMNraiM.

Rep. Jerry Costello: Mr. Speaker, I stand to commemorate the Armenian Genocide on the 97th anniversary of its occurrence. It is unfortunate, however, that once again I do so without an official recognition on behalf of the American government.  As I have said in years past, the undeniable genocidal actions by the Ottoman Empire against its Armenian citizens deserve official recognition from the American government. 1.5 million Armenians were killed, the first genocide of the 20th century. As a member of the House Armenian Issues Caucus, I have co-sponsored legislation to affirm the U.S. position on Armenian Genocide and will continue to urge my colleagues in Congress and the Obama Administration to support this position.  As we mourn the lives of those lost, it is important to recognize the resilience and incredible strides the Armenian people have made in recovering from that unspeakable past. I stand in solidarity with the Armenian people and renew my commitment to pursuing a future of reconciliation and peace.

Rep. Robert Dold:  Madam Speaker, about 97 years ago, the government of the Ottoman Empire killed over 1.5 million people during the Armenian Genocide. The Turkish state has never accepted responsibility for the acts of its predecessor government and maintains that the genocide never took place.  For the past 90 years, the Armenian people have sought justice, yet the Turkish government has continued to actively obstruct any attempt to recognize what has happened to the Armenian people.  The United States can help bring closure to this longstanding moral issue by recognizing the Armenian Genocide. To watch Dold’s remarks on YouTube, visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2uButCnKk7o.

Rep. Anna Eshoo:  Mr. Speaker, I rise today to acknowledge and commemorate a solemn occasion of deep personal significance. Today marks 97 years since the infamous episode in which the Ottoman Empire began rounding up and murdering Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople. By 1923, some 1.5 million Armenian women, children, and men were dead from a systematic campaign we now know as the Armenian Genocide, or Great Crime. Their lives ended in the most brutal ways imaginable, subjected to death marches, burnings, rape, and forced starvation. Some 500,000 Armenians who did survive—my own grandparents among them—were forced into exile.  Like others whose families experienced this tragedy first-hand, I did not first learn of the Armenian Genocide in history books. I learned about it from my own grandmother as she recounted the murders of priests and her flight from the only home she knew.  We must be clear: There is no doubt to the fact that the Armenian Genocide took place. There is no credible historian who can dispute it, and there is no evidence that detracts from its horror and magnitude. What’s missing is a moral clarity as penetrating as the facts themselves, and a willingness in this House and in our government to acknowledge the Genocide.

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.: Mr. Speaker, the atrocities committed during this period must never be forgotten. We cannot allow events such as these to be swept under the rug or we face the sad outcome of denying ourselves the ability to learn from the mistakes of our past. We must shape a brighter future for the global community. It is an absolute injustice to the Armenian people, as well as the global community, to refer to this atrocity as anything other than what it was: genocide. And the unfortunate truth is that the Armenian people are not the only ethnic group to be subjected to such an experience.

Rep. Sander Levin:  Ninety-seven years ago, the government of the Ottoman Empire started a ruthless and systematic campaign of genocide against the Armenian people. Beginning with the targeted execution of 300 Armenian leaders, this intentional attempt at extermination ultimately claimed the lives of over 1.5 million people and forcibly exiled another 500,000.  And despite these chilling numbers and a clear historical record of fact, there remains a failure to acknowledge this vast human tragedy for what it truly is: genocide. That is why it is essential that we continue to speak out and solemnly commemorate the Armenian Genocide. Accordingly, I am proud to support a resolution this session of Congress that affirms the U.S. record on the Armenian Genocide and honors its victims and survivors.  By acknowledging this dark chapter of human history, we help protect against the possible creation of a violent culture of impunity. We cannot allow past acts of evil to be erased from our collective consciousness if we are to prevent similar tragedies from occurring in the future.

Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA):  I am very proud to represent the 7th district of Massachusetts because my district includes the community with the third highest percentage of Armenian Americans in the Nation. … Between 1915 and 1923, the Ottoman Empire carried out the deportation of nearly 2 million Armenians from their homes, resulting in the deaths of 1.5 million innocent children, women, and men.  This must never happen again.  In order to prevent future genocides, we must recognize those of the past. For many years the House has had before it a resolution which clearly affirms the United States record on the Armenian Genocide.   I have been a strong supporter and vocal co-sponsor of this resolution in every Congress, and I remain so today.  Almost 100 years have passed since the Armenian Genocide, yet the suffering will continue for Armenians and non-Armenians alike as long as the world allows denial to prevail.

Rep. Jim McGovern:  Every year I have been in Congress, I have marked this solemn anniversary remembering the victims of this genocide and the expulsion of tens of thousands of Armenians from their homes and homeland, and honoring the survivors of one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century. These survivors and their descendants have helped awaken and teach the world to the horrors of genocide and the necessity of standing up to the forces of denial.  This year, however, Mr. Speaker, I come before this House angry and frustrated by the refusal of my own government to recognize and identify the events from 1915 to 1923 as the Armenian Genocide. It doesn’t seem to make a difference if the White House is occupied by a Republican or a Democrat; no one has the political courage to call the Armenian Genocide by name. I am always told that now is not the right time to take such an action.  When will be the right time, Mr. Speaker? When the last survivor, the last eye-witness to the genocide has passed away?

Rep. Laura Richardson: Mr. Speaker, the historical record is clear and the Armenian Genocide is a tragic fact. It must be acknowledged and remembered so that it will never be repeated.  As a member of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues, I know that the refusal of modern-day Turkey to acknowledge one of the worst examples of man’s inhumanity in the 20th century haunts survivors of the Armenian Genocide, as well as their families.  As a Member of Congress from California, which is home to more Armenian Americans than any other state, I believe this is not only an affront to the memory of the victims and to their descendants, but it does a disservice to the United States as it seeks to stand up for the victims of violence today.  The issue of recognizing the Armenian Genocide and helping the Armenian people is neither a partisan nor geopolitical issue. Rather, it is a question of giving the Armenian people the justice they deserve. In doing so, we affirm the dignity of humankind everywhere.

Rep. John Sarbanes:  When faced with the deeply compelling research and scholarship surrounding the Armenian Genocide, it is wholly untenable to assert that the genocide did not occur. Instead, many in Congress offer the protest that recognition would harm our relationship with Turkey and undermine our broader geo-strategic interests. Others suggest weakly that it is just not the right time to push the issue of recognition. The result is the same: the continued failure on the part of the United States to do the right thing. This failure puts salt on the wounds of the Armenian people. But it does more than that. It corrodes the moral standing of our nation as a whole.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen:  Mr. Speaker, I rise today to commemorate the anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.  It was 97 years ago today that over 1.5 million men, women, and children, almost 75 percent of the pre-war Armenian population, were brutally exterminated by the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman authorities arrested and later murdered over 250 Armenian political, intellectual, and religious leaders in Istanbul, beginning a horrific and systematic campaign to wipe a 3,000 year-old community from the face of the earth. … And yet, despite clear evidence that genocide occurred, many officials today refuse to even to use the word genocide when referring to this incident.  By equivocating, they not only dishonor the victims of this atrocity and their descendents, they increase the chance that other crimes against humanity are met with similar equivocation.

Rep. Henry Waxman:  Mr. Speaker, today, we gather to remember the genocide against the Armenian people. Although the generation that experienced these atrocities has passed, their suffering has been prolonged by the continued efforts to silence their cries and deny that a genocide occurred.  When words can help bring comfort to those who suffer, silence isolates and inflicts pain. When time marches forward and history becomes more distant, silence erodes the memory of those who were lost. When affirmation and recognition could prevent such a tragedy from being repeated, silence allows the perpetrators of genocide to assume their actions will meet neither obstacle nor objection. Thus, the ongoing efforts of the Turkish leadership to silence discussion of the Armenian genocide inflict yet another cruelty. … Today, we will not be silent.

Rep. Frank Wolf: This year’s observance of the anniversary of the Armenian Genocide is especially meaningful. In December 2011, the House of Representatives adopted H. Res. 306, which I was pleased to cosponsor. The resolution calls on the secretary of state to urge Turkey to end religious discrimination and return all Christian places of worship and religious artifacts to their rightful owners. Thousands of these sacred sites and artifacts were confiscated by the Ottoman Empire during and after the Armenian Genocide.

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