WASHINGTON—The halls of Congress echoed with calls for American remembrance of the Armenian Genocide earlier this month at the annual commemoration of this crime, organized by the Congressional Armenian Caucus, with the support of Armenian American organizations including the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
The April 9th solemn observance, held in the historic Hart Senate Office Building, drew a capacity crowd of Armenian American community leaders and Congressional supporters who called for passage of recently introduced Armenian Genocide legislation – S.Res.150 in the Senate and H.Res.296 in the House – which resolve that it is the policy of the United States to:
n Commemorate the Armenian Genocide through official recognition and remembrance;
n Reject efforts to enlist, engage, or otherwise associate the U.S. Government with denial of the Armenian Genocide or any other genocide; and
n Encourage education and public understanding of the facts of the Armenian Genocide, including the U.S. role in the humanitarian relief effort, and the relevance of the Armenian Genocide to modern-day crimes against humanity.
Among the legislators who took part in the remembrance were Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chairs Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), and Jackie Speier (D-CA), Vice-Chair Adam Schiff and Representatives Judy Chu (D-CA), Katherine Clark (D-MA), Jim Costa (D-CA), TJ Cox (D-CA), Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), Brad Schneider (D-IL), Brad Sherman (D-CA), and Peter Visclosky (D-IN).
The Mistress of Ceremonies for the Capitol Hill Armenian Genocide commemoration was veteran Capitol Hill staffer Elise Kenderian Aronson. Joining Congressional leaders in offering remarks were His Excellency Varuzhan Nersesyan, Ambassador of Armenia to the U.S., His Excellency Robert Avetisyan, Republic of Artsakh Representative to the U.S., former U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Evans, and Maria Martirosyan, the Co-Chair of the Congressional Armenian Staffers Association. Joining in the solemn commemoration was Maryland General Assembly delegate Lorig Charkoudian. His Eminence Archbishop Anoushavan Tanielian, Prelate of the Armenian Apostolic Church of Eastern U.S., offered a moving invocation for the evening, while His Eminence Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, Legate of the Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church of the Eastern U.S., offered the closing prayer. Homenetmen Armenian Scout Troup #1918 was among the broad cross-section of Armenian American community organizations in attendance at the annual commemoration program, which also included the participation of Fr. Sarkis Aktavoukian, pastor of the Soorp Khatch Armenian Apostolic Church of Bethesda, Maryland and parishioners from area churches, including St. Mary’s Armenian Apostolic Church.
Excerpts from Congressional remarks and those of dignitaries is provided below:
Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ): “Recognition of the Armenian Genocide is so important for Armenia and Armenians – but it’s also important for the world, for humanity. […] Genocides continue and often-times are forgotten, and the purpose of the perpetrators is to make sure that nobody remembers. And so, when we speak out and say we want to memorialize the Armenian Genocide once again (and I say, once again, because it has been done by Congress in the past), we are making the case for genocide recognition in general.”
Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL): “This is the year it’s going to happen. […] We must recognize this terrible Genocide that occurred from 1915-1923. It happened to the Assyrians as well, 1.5 million Armenians and close to a million Greeks.” Rep. Bilirakis spoke passionately about his recent visit to Turkey to document ongoing religious persecution including threats to turn the Hagia Sophia into a mosque and the ongoing closure of the Greek seminary on the island of Halki. “I had the opportunity to visit some of the religious minorities there [Turkey] and they are being persecuted, folks. We must never forget them.”
Rep. Jackie Kanchelian Speier (D-CA): “It is time for us to do it [pass Armenian Genocide legislation] – not just to set the record straight about history, but to say to our sometimes friends in Turkey ‘you have to own up to the truth.’ We all have to own up to the truth.” Rep. Speier later would call on international entrepreneur and celebrity Kim Kardashian to tweet to President Trump to properly recognize this crime in his April 24th presidential statement.
Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA): “Turkey claims to be a democracy. Turkey claims to be a worthy ally of the United States. But Turkey will never be a modern country, Turkey will never be another country’s reliable ally until Turkey recognizes the first genocide of the 20th century. […] Who would want to be allies with a Germany that was denying the Holocaust? Who would want to be allies with the U.S. claiming that there was no slavery in our country? It is time for Turkey to come of age, and the only thing that would make me happier than passing the Armenian Genocide in the House, is to see the Turkish Ambassador accept it.”
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA): “No one needs to explain to Jews or Armenians how hurtful it is when people deny genocide. It is a contemporary injury. […] It is therefore so important that we not view this in its mere historical context, as important as that is, but as a present injury, a contemporary injury that Elie Wiesel described as a ‘second killing.’ There is a moral imperative here that should give us a sense of urgency.”
Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA): “Regardless of what Turkey has to say, we know that 104 years ago the systematic elimination of the Armenian people took place and we should never forget that. I believe the U.S. Congress will go on record – sooner rather than later – as we continue to grow our bi-partisan support.”
Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA): “When we look at genocide, it is not just about looking back, but it’s about looking forward and making sure that we don’t repeat the atrocities of the past.” Describing a recent trip to Selma to participate in a civil rights pilgrimage, Rep. Clark noted that she was particularly moved by the statement ‘If we don’t look at what was, we can never have what ought to be,’ explaining that “we have to remember and honor what happened, so that we never repeat those lessons.”
Rep. Peter Visclosky (D-IN): A member of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Visclosky pledged to work to restore aid levels to Armenia and shared his specific support continued de-mining assistance to the Republic of Artsakh in remarks offered at the annual Capitol Hill Armenian Genocide Commemoration. Rep. Visclosky explained that the “second most important man in his life” was former Assyrian Armenian Congressman Adam Benjamin, who held his seat in the late 1970’s and early 80’s. Rep. Benjamin’s family were survivors of the Assyrian and Armenian Genocides from 1915-1923
Rep. TJ Cox (D-CA): As a nation that values the freedom of speech and assembly, we must admit that this genocide occurred and Turkey must do the same. It is our responsibility to ensure that future generations never forget the critical moment in history – that we continue fighting for its official recognition in our nation. This is why I am just so proud to have joined my colleagues in introducing this Congress’ resolution recognizing and memorializing the Armenian Genocide.”
Eastern Prelate Archbishop Anoushavan Tanielian: “On this 104th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, we commit ourselves to the future and we call upon all people to join together to prevent future acts of inhumanity. We remember the past not as an act of revenge but as a way of reinforcing the collective memory of all humankind. We remember with the hope and faith that remembering will help to bring attention to similar atrocities being committed today.”
Ambassador Varuzhan Nersesyan: “Turkey had futile hopes that after the centennial of the Armenian Genocide in 2015, Armenians would give up the struggle for the international recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Today I am here to say, no matter how many years will pass, we will continue to remember and strive for the international recognition of the Armenian Genocide. We have enough patience and determination to do so.”
Robert Avetisyan: “We hope that the United States, as a champion of human rights, liberty, and dignity, as a home to millions of our compatriots will continue to be allies in this fight and recognize the Armenian Genocide.” Mr. Avetisyan honored the memory of the 1.5 million victims of the Armenian Genocide and generations lost as a result of that crime during the Capitol Hill Armenian Genocide Commemoration. He went on to express gratitude to the U.S. and countries around the world who have recognized this crime and served as safe haven for survivors.
Elise Kenderian Aronson: “Now more than ever, we must keep our collective quest for justice alive and thriving. Despite the fact that the President of the United States has continued to remain silent in his first term in office, the long-standing and strong support we will see this evening from so many of our important advocates in Congress, will send a clear message that we will not rest and cannot rest until the systematic atrocities committed against our ancestors 104 years ago are recognized for what they were – Genocide.”
Maria Martirosyan: “During this time of remembrance, I am especially proud of the roughly 30 Armenian Americans who work for Congressional Member offices and Committees on both the House and Senate side.
These staffers, many of whom are descendants Armenian Genocide survivors, work each day at the nation’s capitol to help members of Congress pass legislation and shape the future of the greatest democracy of the world.” Martirosyan is an alumnus of the ANCA Hovig Apo Saghdejian Capital Gateway Program, encouraged Armenian Americans interested in pursuing a career on Capitol Hill to consider the Congressional Armenian Staffers’ Association a resource.