WASHINGTON–Armenian Americans from throughout the Greater Washington DC area struck a blow to Armenian Genocide denial this week with protests at the White House and Turkish Embassy calling for proper U.S. and Turkish Government recognition of the murder of 1.5 million Armenians from 1915-1923 as ‘genocide,’ reported the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) Washington “Ani” Chapter.
From Friday, April 23rd through Saturday, April 24th, the worldwide commemoration day of the Armenian Genocide, the AYF Washington Ani Chapter led a 24-hour vigil in front of the White House, urging President Obama to honor his campaign pledge to recognize the Armenian Genocide. The effort began with a press conference which included the participation of Africa Action Campaigns Director Briggs Bomba, AYF Ani Chapter representative Shogheeg Apkarian, ANCA Eastern Region Director Garo Manjikian, and ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian.
“We are here today to tell President Obama that a morally bankrupt genocide policy is unacceptable,” said Apkarian in her remarks. “That real action is necessary to end the Genocide in Darfur once and for all. That euphemistic language to describe the brutal murder of 1.5 million Armenian men, women, and children by the Ottoman Turkish government from 1915-1923 is an insult. An insult to the victims. An insult to the survivors and their descendants. An insult to American Foreign service officers who risked their lives to document and stop what U.S. Ambassador Henry Morgenthau called ‘race murder,'” continued Apkarian.
Following the press conference, and throughout the night, the AYF members were joined by Greater Washington, DC area community members and youth from the local Homenetmen chapter, St. Mary’s ACYOA and University of Maryland Armenian Students Union with mouths covered in red tape signifying Turkey’s gag rule on U.S. recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Throughout the 24 hours, youth took turns to read from the official telegrams found in the U.S. National Archives sent by Ambassador Henry Morgenthau and U.S. consuls who witnessed the horrors of the Armenian Genocide first hand from 1915-1923. Thousands of tourists stopped to listen to the reading of the genocidal accounts, including many student groups and teachers, stopping to learn more about this crime against humanity and inquiring about educational resources to include the topic in their class curriculum.
As the clock struck midnight and April 24th arrived, the White House vigil participants spoke with their counterparts in Canada – a group of 95 ARF-YOC members on a four-day trek from Montreal to Ottawa to mark the 95th anniversary – honoring the victims and survivors of this crime against humanity and collectively recommitting to the international campaign to end genocide denial. A similar conversation was held with AYF Western U.S. Representatives – working late into the night in preparation of the 10,000 plus protest in front of the Turkish Consulate in Los Angeles, CA.
On Saturday, April 24th, White House vigil participants joined with over 300 local activists in front of the Turkish Embassy protesting the Turkish Government’s denial of the Armenian Genocide and calling for justice. The Armenian American protest was met with Turkish counter-protesters – who blasted Turkish music in a shameful celebration of the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians. Following their disgraceful performance, Turkish protesters entered the Turkish Embassy compound, where, according to Turkish news sources, they were warmly greeted by Turkish Ambassador to the U.S. Namik Tan. The Washington Turkish scene came in stark contrast to images from Ankara, Turkey, where an April 24th seminarorganized by Armenian and Turkish scholars discussed reparations for the Armenian Genocide.
Following the demonstration, Armenian Americans gathered at the Armenian Embassy to hold a Requiem Service in memory of the Genocide victims, presided by Rev. Fr. Sarkis Aktavoukian of Soorp Khatch Armenian Church and Rev. Fr. Hovsep Karapetyan of St. Mary Armenian Church. His Excellency Ambassador of the Republic of Armenia Tatoul Markarian and Nagorno Karabagh Representative Robert Avetisyan offered remarks as Washington DC Homenetmen Scouts stood at attention. Following the service, attendees gathered at Soorp Khatch Armenian Church for an expanded Requiem service and Madagh, prepared by the Soorp Khatch Armenian Church Ladies Guild, and an evening of Armenian patriotic songs, sung by Kris Arabian and accompanied by Anthony Deese.
The text of complete remarks by Shogheeg Apkarian at the AYF’s White House press conference follows.
AYF Washington ‘Ani’ Chapter Statement At The 24-Hour Armenian Genocide Remembrance Vigil
The White House
April 23-24, 2010
“The Armenian Genocide is not an allegation, a personal opinion, or a point of view, but rather a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence. The facts are undeniable. As a senator, I strongly support passage of the Armenian Genocide Resolution, and as President I will recognize the Armenian Genocide.” These are President Obama’s own words just months before his election.
And just four days prior to his historic victory, the Obama campaign would emphasize the future President’s commitment to genocide recognition once more.
“Barack Obama strongly supports passage of the Armenian Genocide and will recognize the Armenian Genocide.” This was the change in U.S. genocide policy we had been waiting for. To end the decades of U.S. complicity in Turkey’s denial of the Armenian Genocide and to finally bring America back to the right side of this core human rights issue.
And yet, within months of his election – in the face of intense lobbying by the Turkish Government and a misguided State Department bureaucracy which has made capitulation to Turkey a fetish – the President caved in to genocide denial.
Suddenly “undeniable facts” became a matter of personal opinion. A clear statement of Genocide affirmation was replaced with euphemistic language and calls for Armenia – Turkey dialogue.
Dialogue which has been riddled with Turkish Government pre-conditions.
Dialogue designed to call into question the very existence of the Armenian Genocide.
So today, a year and a half into President Obama’s presidency, instead of change we see more of the same failed U.S. policies on the Armenian Genocide. We see Secretary Clinton using a so-called “historical commission” envisioned as part of Armenia-Turkey
dialogue to oppose Armenian Genocide legislation.
And sadly, President Obama’s bankrupt policy on genocide does not end with the Armenian Genocide.
Indicted war criminal, President Omer al-Bashir was thrilled to hear Mr. Obama’s special envoy for Sudan, Maj. Gen. Scott Gration’s prediction that the recent elections in Sudan would be “as free and as fair as possible” .
Sudanese journalists and local civil society groups have all found these elections to be deeply flawed but all the Obama Administration could muster after the fact is a reference to “serious irregularities.”
Have we not learned from the past? Have we not seen that silence in the face of Genocide or its denial only serves to embolden future dictators to carry out similar crimes? The happy pictures of Turkish President Gul and Sudan’s Omer al-Bashir, who has found safe-haven many a time in Turkey during his foreign travels?
We are here today to tell President Obama that a morally bankrupt genocide policy is unacceptable. That real action is necessary to end the Genocide in Darfur once and for all. That euphemistic language to describe the brutal murder of 1.5 million Armenian men women and children by the Ottoman Turkish government from 1915-1923 is an insult. An insult to the victims. An insult to the survivors and their descendants. An insult to American Foreign service officers who risked their lives to document and stop what U.S. Ambassador Henry Morgenthau called “race murder.”
And so, as a reminder, during our 24-hour vigil – as we call on President Obama to end Turkey’s gag-rule on Armenian Genocide recognition – we will be reading the telegrams and reports that U.S. foreign service officers sent to the State Department from 1915-1923 – detailing the horrors of the Armenian Genocide. A first hand account by our representatives in Turkey – documented in our own U.S. archives. Their message will be our message.
Stand for truth, Mr. President. Stand for justice. And End the Cycle of Genocide.