Confronting genocide

FOR 70 years Armenians have observed April 24 as a day to commemorate the mass murder of 1.5 million Armenians by the Turks in this century's first genocide. The important role the United States played at that time, first in attempting to intercede and later in providing relief and refuge to the survivors, is a proud page in US history. This fact, combined with the significance of the Armenian Genocide, makes it particularly fitting for Congress to mark the day as a ``Day of Remembrance of Man's Inhumanity to Man,'' as proposed by House Joint Resolution 192 and Senate Joint Resolution 101. Joint House and Senate passage of such resolutions would normally have been a routine gesture of homage to the dead, to the survivors who found refuge in America, and to those many Americans who tried to relieve the suffering of ``the starving Armenians.'' But it's not that simple. Turkey still refuses to admit a genocide took place, and the US, anxious not to offend its NATO ally, opposes the resolutions. It is an ally to whom US taxpayers (including Armenian-Americans) give nearly $1 billion in aid a year.

State Department records and the US National Archives contain thousands of documents dealing with the massacres and deportations of the Armenians. On July 16, 1915, the US ambassador to Turkey, Henry Morgenthau, had cabled the secretary of state that ``It appears that a campaign of race extermination is in progress under a pretext of reprisal against rebellion,'' the same pretext that Turkish spokesmen use today to justify or cover up the systematic annihilation of men, women, and children.

Armenians now demand that Turkey acknowledge that its government of 1915 planned and carried out a genocide. The conditions created by that ``final solution'' -- the forced removal of Armenians from their 3,000-year-old homeland (now ``eastern Turkey'') by massacre and deportation, and the creation of an Armenian diaspora -- cannot now be invoked by Turkey or others in refusing to discuss Armenian demands. Genocide cannot be accepted as an instrument of state policy, as a ``de facto'' resolution of a problem.

By arguing against passage of such resolutions the administration discourages all Armenian-American organizations that are working through the political system. If Congress defeats the resolutions only because of concerns about the way extremist groups might misuse their adoption, then it is responding to those groups and ignoring the rest of us -- not to mention truth and morality.

The message Congress should be sending is that the US will not be blackmailed into helping Turkey cover up past crimes, and that the US will not ignore the anguish of Armenian descendants, to satisfy any foreign government. Contrary to its assertions, it is the State Department's lobbying against such resolutions that encourages extremism by adding to the feelings of frustration, helplessness, and outrage that Armenians feel in the face of Turkey's cover-up. Genocide is not past until it is confronted.

Passage of these resolutions by both houses of Congress would serve as evidence that peaceful and legal channels are not totally closed to Armenians. Such action would therefore stem a rapidly spreading sense of cynicism, despair, and alienation. More important, it would be a condemnation of the ultimate terrorism, state-perpetrated terror of genocide.

Leo Sarkisian is the public information chairman of the Armenian National Committee, Eastern region.

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