In every U.S. presidential election for the past several decades, Armenian-Americans, including this writer, have gone to great lengths to make sure that they supported the candidate that acknowledged the Armenian Genocide during the campaign and, even more importantly, promised to do so after the election.
This was a worthwhile effort as it encouraged political participation by the Armenian American community in the presidential elections and transformed the Armenian Genocide into a national campaign issue. There were, on occasion, heated debates among Armenia’s as to which candidate had the strongest record on the Armenian Genocide and which one was most likely to carry out his campaign promise.
But, alas, almost all of the presidential candidates, be they Democrats or Republicans, after benefiting from the Armenian community’s lavish campaign contributions and their votes, either forgot about this subject altogether or issued annual commemorative statemen’s on April 24, substituting various euphemisms for the word genocide. For example, Presidents Clinton and Bush, when they were candidates, promised in writing that, if elected, they would officially acknowledge the Armenian Genocide. Not only did they fail to keep their word upon election, but went ahead and vehemently opposed and obstructed the adoption of non-binding commemorative congressional resolutions that intended to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide.
As another presidential campaign is underway now and a few states have already held their primary elections, once again members of the Armenian-American community have started asking the same old question: Which candidate has acknowledged the Armenian Genocide and which one is most likely to utter the words Armenian Genocide after he or she becomes President?
I suggest that this year Armenian Americans adopt a new approach. U.S. Presidential candidates should no longer be asked to promise that, if elected, they would say "Armenian Genocide." To begin with, such a request gives the false impression that the genocide is not recognized already and that a candidate’s or a future president’s uttering of this word will make a significant difference in the pursuit of the Armenian Cause. Do American-Jewish groups demand that presidential candidates promise to say "Jewish Holocaust" after the election? Of course not. Such a request would automatically raise a question as to why the next president needs to confirm that the Holocaust occurred. The same argument would apply to the Armenian Genocide.
After decades of struggle for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide by parliamen’s of scores of countries, twice by the U.S. House of Representative in 1975 and 1984, by the European Parliament, a United Nations human rights committee, and hundreds of Genocide and Holocaust scholars, why would Armenian Americans put such an overwhelming record of acknowledgment in doubt by asking a US president to acknowledge it?
Furthermore, a very prominent U.S. President, Ronald Reagan, did acknowledge the Armenian Genocide back in 1981 in a Presidential Proclamation. What would Armenia’s gain if another president simply repeated what has already been said by his or her predecessor more than 25 years ago?
Armenia’s should treat the Armenian Genocide as an acknowledged fact similar to the Holocaust. And just as no candidate could even think of running for the highest office of the land if he or she denies the Holocaust, the same should be true for the Armenian Genocide.
Due to years of admirable efforts by the Armenian-American community, almost all of the presidential candidates have a clear record of acknowledging the Armenian Genocide (particularly Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards and Rudy Giuliani; less so John McCain, Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney).
Of course, Armenia’s would not be opposed to having presidential candidates reaffirm the Armenian Genocide. Candidates realize that such supportive statemen’s would benefit their own campaigns as Armenian Americans would back them for simply telling the truth.
What requests should Armenia’s present to U.S. presidential candidates? In recent weeks, two Armenian American organizations sent questionnaires to all the presidential candidates and asked for their positions on the following issues:
— Commemorating the Armenian Genocide
— Giving more Foreign Aid to Armenia and Artsakh (Nagorno Karabagh)
— Placing restrictions on U.S. aid to Azerbaijan
— Lifting of the Turkish blockade of Armenia
— Self-determination for Artsakh
— Presidential Visit to Armenia
— Appointment of qualified Armenian-Americans to governmental positions
I would add one more issue: Denouncing violations of Armenian minority rights in Turkey.
Once the candidates confirm their positions on these issues, Armenian-American voters can then make an informed decision on whom to support in the next presidential election.