WASHINGTON–Members of Congress, speaking to anti-genocide activists from around the nation at a Capitol Hill program hosted by the Armenian National Committee of America and Genocide Intervention Network, urged continued civic education and advocacy to bring about the types of U.S. action and international response needed to end the cycle of genocide.
The activists were gathered in Washington, DC for three-days of Congressional meetings as part of Capitol Hill Advocacy days held from March 12th to 14th. They were joined by local activists from the Greater Washington area.
The event also drew constituents from California, Oregon, Idaho, Arizona as well as Texas.
"It was an amazing experience and I look forward to Texahyes continuing their regular participation in these advocacy days," said Nathalie Kolandjian, a student at the University of Texas, Austin. "These issues are very important to us and it is crucial to remind our representatives that there is an active Armenian American community back home that cares," she added.
"Our participation during this week of advocacy has given members of our community an insight into the Washington political environment," noted Armen Donigian a participant San Diego. "This was a positive step in growing the relationship between San Diego Armenian Americans and their local Congressional district offices," he added.
Nine House Members, among them Representatives Jim Costa(D-CA), Rush Holt (D-NJ), Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), Betty McCollum (D-MN), James McGovern (D-MA), Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Laura Richardson (D-CA), and John Tierney (D-MA), joined the citizen activists, many offering poignant remarks regarding the importance of vigilance in recognizing past genocides, even as the world works to stop the current genocide in Darfur and prevent future genocides.
"What you do in keeping that issue [the Armenian Genocide] alive, making sure that all of us stay involved in it and that we don’t let it slide to the back burner is exceedingly important," noted Rep. John Tierney in his opening remarks for the evening.
Rep. Patrick Kennedy concurred, noting that, "Armenia has always met our values but they’ve been discarded in favor of Turkey, for expediency purposes, and that’s something that we’ve always got to fight against because it goes against our values as a nation."
Many Members of Congress expressed frustration at the Turkish government’s worldwide campaign of genocide denial, citing the Turkish threats used to delay the full House’s consideration of the Armenian Genocide Resolution (H.Res.106) following its passage last October in the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "I am sad to say that Congress didn’t have the backbone to stand up to a well-financed lobby by the Turkish government and do the right thing, but we’re going to come back, and come back, and come back until we do the right thing," noted Rep. McGovern. "This isn’t over so anyone who thinks it is, is wrong."
Rep. Napolitano concurred, noting that "If they [Turkish lobbyists] want to challenge me, fine, challenge me. But I’ll back it up with whatever I know, and I know this [the Armenian Genocide] to be a fact and the truth. That’s why I am very, very supportive and continuing to work on this."
Rep. Richardson, who cosponsored H.Res.106 within weeks of joining Congress in a special election, stated, "I’ve made a commitment to support [H.Res.106] and you can keep me on that list until we get this done."
Commenting on the often-repeated refrain that it is not the right time to recognize the Armenian Genocide, Rep. Costa noted that, "the timing will never be ‘right’ and therefore we must continue. We must continue these efforts because, eventually, Turkey will have to deal with the reality of its history… It’s important to recognize the Armenian Genocide because, sadly, man’s inhumanity to man continues."
Rep. McCollum summed up Congressional and anti-genocide advocate concerns alike, stating "I’m very proud of the leadership that your community has taken with what is happening in Darfur… You’re an inspiration for all of us to be here to stand up for what is best in human beings when they try to save one another’s lives and stand up for basic human rights. That’s what your movement is all about and the only way we can do that, as a former history teacher, is by recognizing our history. You can’t go forward until you know where you’ve been."
Earlier in the day, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), in a speech delivered on the House floor, commented on the importance of efforts like those of the ANCA and GI-net. "As we dedicate ourselves today to ending the cycle of genocide, it’s important to realize that education is a crucial step in preventing future horror. Groups like the Armenian National Committee of America and others work hard to raise this critical awareness, and I pray that the monstrous horrors of yesterday and today are all the lesson we ever need to end the cycle of death and suffering."
ANCA and GI-Net Leaders Highlight Close Turkey-Sudan Ties
In their remarks at the event, ANCA Chairman Ken Hachikian and GI-Net Executive Director Mark Hanis highlighted the insidious connection between the Sudan and Turkey regimes, and their ongoing denial of genocide.
Hanis noted that the "increased cooperation between the two countries serves to highlight the connections between genocides of the past and those of the present. There are stark similarities between the rhetoric of both Turkey and Sudan, as they continue to deny genocide by declaring that the atrocities are not allowed in their culture, that there are others to blame, or that the deaths of thousands are simply the consequences of war. As we all know, the reality is quite different… By passing the Armenian Genocide Recognition Resolution and continuing to fight for an end to the Darfur Genocide, we can make more than an empty promise but a commitment we can keep."
Hachikian took the Administration to task for its inaction in the face of genocide. "The last phase of genocide is denial and part of that denial is aiding and abetting those who refuse to acknowledge it. Right now, unfortunately, we find the U.S. government in that position," explained Hachikian. "This is not a problem of the past, it’s a problem of the present. It’s a problem that is occurring as we speak today over in Darfur and, unless we do something about it, this cycle of genocide will continue. We all have a moral responsibility to step forward."
Anti-Genocide Advocacy Makes the Difference
More than 100 anti-genocide activists representing over 25 states participated in the second annual ANCA / GI-Net "End the Cycle of Genocide" Advocacy days on Capitol Hill, meeting with over 100 Congressional offices and sharing educational materials on the Armenian Genocide and Darfur Genocide in each and every Senate and House office.
"These people joining us are truly saviors in this issue, fighting day in and day out for Genocide recognition and prevention," said ANCA Eastern Region Executive Director Karine Birazian, mistress of ceremonies at the Capitol Hill Observance.
Activists urged Members of Congress and staff to continue support of Armenian Genocide legislation (H.Res.106 and S.Res.106) and to back several Darfur Genocide related issues, including effective implementation of the Sudan Accountability and Divestment Act and a comprehensive regional strategy to protect civilians, facilitate humanitarian access, end violence, and contribute to a peace process in Chad and Sudan (H.Res.1011 / S.Res.470). More than ten Senators and Representatives joined as cosponsors of the Darfur legislation following the Congressional meetings, including Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Representatives Trent Fran’s (R-AZ), Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX), Stephen Lynch (D-MA), Bobby Rush (D-IL), Chris Shays (R-CT), Pete Stark (D-CA), Tom Tancredo (R-CO), and Maxine Waters (D-CA).