BY MITCH KEHETIAN
Throughout the years, Armenian Americans have sought recognition of the 1915 to 1923 genocide that swept through Turkish occupied Western Armenia – but international power politics blocked every move.
Readers of my personal editorial expressions got to know me as “the mustachio Armenian” thanks to my friend, the late Neal Shine – editor of the Detroit Free Press. So, today’s comments fit the international scene, with an admission that I might come across as being DNA biased. When the House of Representatives voted a near unanimous vote for a resolution recognizing the 1915 to 1923 carnage that killed 1.5 million Armenians – and sent thousands to their deaths in forced marches into the torrid hot sands of the Der Zor desert in northern Syria – only 11 opposed. It was a victory for justice recognition with House Democrats and Republicans joining forces in the resounding vote.
Armenian Americans cheered. Finally, the most powerful nation in the world was going to practice what we preach to others, justice for my ancestors.
But, justice was not at the altar for my massacred grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.
Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and Senate majority leader, brushed aside the House vote to deny 99 other senators a chance to endorse or oppose the House resolution, including Michigan’s Democrat Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters.
Did Graham act on his own, or did he get a phone call from the White House to block a vote in the upper chamber?
Had the Senate backed the House vote it would have gone to President Donald Trump.
In 1969, I spent two weeks in historic Armenia. Just a handful still in the interior, as if this nation never existed. I invite Trump and Graham to join me for a pilgrimage to see for themselves before they utter “leave it to the historians.” Maybe they’ll stop playing politics to build more “towers” over the restless, voiceless souls of my ancestors.
After meeting with Turkish President Recep Erdogan at the White House, it was apparent Trump had embraced his ally as a political friend – the same Turkish leader who denied the Ottoman leaders enacted the genocide to erase the Armenians on the land they had lived on for centuries, while the Seljuk and Ottoman Turks were still living in central Asia.
By refusing to place the House resolution before the full Senate, Graham would protect Trump from having to veto a Senate-House approved genocide vote.
Some folks ask why Turkey still denies the Armenian genocide and why Armenians still raise the issue after 100 years. Simply, because present-day, so-called, Turkey says it never happened. Others say, “Leave it to the historians.” After World War II, the United Nations assigned Raphael Lemkin, a renowned history professor of Polish-Jewish origin to define the term genocide. In his conclusion, Lemkin said that the massacre of the Armenians was an act of “genocide.” Historian and author Arnold Toynbee defined the genocide as “Murder of a Nation.”
Why does Turkey still deny what happened 100 years ago?
The crime against humanity, like first degree murder, has no expiration of time or years, and includes reparations and seizing territorial land – as the Turks did to Western Armenia by depopulating the land of its rightful owners.
Present-day Armenia, a mere fragment of the boundaries of the country, as designated by President Woodrow Wilson, has little to entice Trump’s business world.
While he dodges taking a stand for the first Christian nation in the world, Trump may pay the price in the 2020 election. We can see him losing Michigan’s prime electoral votes, as well as several other states he barely won over Hillary Clinton to win the presidency via the Electoral College route, after being swamped by Clinton in the popular vote.
In Michigan alone, the Armenian American vote is estimated to be more than 25,000. Trump also won Pennsylvania and Florida by a scant margin.
Will his pro-Turkish stand agitate enough Armenian voters to pull the switch in favor of Joe Biden, if he’s the Democrat nominee?
Biden announced formally in November that it’s time for the United States to recognize the Armenian genocide.
As an added factor, it has been learned that the son-in-laws of Trump and Erdogan have organized a global business partnership.
Following Trump’s announcement that he was pulling our troops out of northern Syria, Erdogan sent his tank led troops into Syria against the Kurds. Talk about a betrayal of an ally that helped Trump claim we had broken the backs of the Islamic terrorists.
Is there any hope Trump can avoid an anti-Trump Electoral College debacle vote by Armenian Americans?
Yes. On April 24, 2020 he can proclaim it as Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day and call the leaders of Turkey and Armenia to visit Washington to resolve a century old human rights-territorial issue. It was on that day the planned genocide ignited in Istanbul.
We need to remind voters that, when Barack Obama was seeking the presidency he said,”[When] I’m president I will recognize the Armenian genocide. I’ll be that kind of president.” Well after winning his first term he took off to address the Turkish parliament for being a great NATO ally and friends with America. He then visited Egypt, where he proclaim that we, Armenians, are “not a Christian nation, we have many religious faiths.”
Prior to the Obama Administration, President Bill Clinton called Illinois Congressman Dennis Hastert to put off a House vote on the Armenian genocide bill working its way through the House. Years later, Hastert was imprisoned, for several years, over a sexual abuse allegation.
Mitch Kehetian is a retired editor of The Macomb Daily and former trustee at Central Michigan University.