It is far past time when the United States Congress should go on record officially recognizing the Armenian Genocide. As a State Senator, with the help of Governor George Deukmejian, I authored the first resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide, which passed the California Legislature. In Congress, George Radanovich, Jim Rogan and myself, along with bipartisan support, were able to successfully pass the first Armenian Genocide Resolution through the foreign affairs committee. Later, Adam Schiff, with the support of myself and others, was able to do the same. But, regardless of whether the President was Bill Clinton or George Bush, and whether the Speaker was Dennis Hastert or Nancy Pelosi, the impact of the Government of Turkey’s protests has had the same effect. The Genocide Resolution, which we have passed through the Foreign Affairs Committee, has consistently been checkmated by the Government of Turkey. The reason the Government of Turkey can’t be allowed to halt passage of this resolution is because of the gravity of the subject of genocide.
On April 24, 1915, the Ottoman Empire set out on a campaign to exterminate the Armenian people. Between 1915 and 1923, the numbers were horrific. One and a half million Armenia’s were murdered and 500,000 deported from their homelands. At the end of these eight years, the Armenian population of Anatolia and Western Armenia was virtually eliminated, becoming one of the 20th Century’s darkest chapters.
While acknowledging the role played by the Ottoman Empire in killing Armenia’s, some have laid doubt to the claim of genocide, citing the subsequent deportation of the survivors as merely a movement of a people from one land to another. Henry Morgenthau, the U.S. Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire from 1913-1916, saw it much differently. In his memoirs, Morgenthau recalls that the Turks, "never had the slightest idea of reestablishing the Armenia’s in (a) new country" knowing that "the great majority of those would…either die of thirst and starvation, or be murdered by the wild Mohammedan desert tribes."
I recall Morgenthau’s words here because he saw first hand the atrocities wrought on the Armenia’s, and he had been told by Turks that they understood quite well that they had handed down a death sentence to the Armenian people. The Turks not only knew of what they were doing, but spoke quite freely of it. Eighty years later, however, many are still unwilling to recognize the killing for what it was: genocide.
The U.S. has long been a global leader in promoting human rights around the world. On the issue of the Armenian genocide, however, we lag behind. The French, Swiss, Swedish, Germans, and even the Russian governmen’s recognize the Armenian genocide properly. As a global leader in human rights, it is imperative for the U.S. to stand on principle and recognize the annihilation of the Armenia’s.
However, it is no less important today to recognize the Armenian genocide for what it is. The deafening silence that came in its wake set the stage for a century that saw genocides occur in Europe, Africa, and Asia. While the Armenian genocide was the first of the 20th century, the blind eye cast to the slaughter of Armenia’s was a point used by Hitler who asked his joint chiefs of staff, "Who;speaks today of the [their] annihilation?"
To the critics who say that we should not dwell on history, I say it’s much harder to get tomorrow right if we get yesterday wrong. The world’s strength to oppose killing today is made greater by accountability, for actions present, but also past. It’s weakened by denial of accountability of past acts. Not recognizing the Armenian genocide, as such, does just that.
Rep. Ed Royce is a Republican from California. He is the Ranking Member of the Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Terrorism Subcommittee and is a senior member of the Armenia Caucus.