Mr. President, speak truth to the Armenian genocide
Dear Mr. President:
Last week, the Pope caused an international incident by speaking the truth.
At a Mass at Saint Peter’s Basilica celebrated for Christians of Armenian heritage, Pope Francis spoke plainly about the Armenian Genocide, the extermination of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire 100 years ago. When Pope Francis said that “concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it,” it set off a sad but predictable reaction by a Turkish government that has made the denial of the Armenian Genocide one of its defining national characteristics.
Within hours of the Pope’s remarks, Turkey recalled its ambassador to the Vatican and its minister for European Relations was so incensed that he did not limit his criticism to the Pope, but lashed out at the entire nation of Argentina as well, the Pope’s place of birth.
The Pope’s remarks were moving and courageous, and they were in the best tradition of his faith’s commitment to peace and justice. And, as you understand from your own experience on this issue, his remarks were also undeniably accurate.
One hundred years ago, as the Ottoman Empire was in its dying throes, it began a systematic effort to exterminate the Armenian, Assyrian and Christian people during World War I. They did so through a campaign of mass killing and displacement that saw 1.5 million Armenians killed and millions more forced to flee from their ancestral homes. There is no serious historical debate that the Turkish government set out on a campaign to kill and displace its minority Armenian population, and that its actions amounted to the crime we now call “genocide.” In fact, the coiner of the word “genocide,” Holocaust survivor Raphael Lemkin, specifically cited the campaign of murder against the Armenians as an example of why he created the term.
Your administration has now said that you will again refrain from using the word “genocide” to describe the campaign to exterminate the Armenian people. I urge you to reconsider.
As a senator, you spoke eloquently of the Armenian Genocide, and promised to be the type of president who speaks “truthfully about the Armenian Genocide and responds forcefully to all genocides.” Your commitment was reflective of the reality that we cannot speak credibly about human rights today — whether it is the mass killings in South Sudan or the campaign of brutality by the Islamic State against religious minorities in Syria and Iraq — if we pick and choose which atrocities we are willing to recognize or allow ourselves to be complicit in a campaign of genocide denial.
America’s silence on the first genocide of the last century is a bitter irony, considering that American diplomats from the period, including our ambassador Henry Morgenthau, were some of the chief chroniclers of what the ambassador termed the “Destruction of the Armenian race.” Our country also did more than any other to alleviate the suffering of the victims of the genocide.
Learning of the millions of Armenians who had fled into destitution and despair, Americans reacted with a level of generosity never before seen in the world. In response to the carnage, the Congress passed and President Calvin Coolidge signed legislation establishing the Near East Relief Foundation, a public-private humanitarian relief effort that would go on to raise the modern equivalent of $2.7 billion in funds to build orphanages, provide food and shelter, and ensure the survival of the Armenian people.
I recognize, of course, that many will urge you to refrain from anything that might antagonize an important ally in the fight against Mideast extremism. They will argue that “now is just not the right time.” In fact, genocide deniers been making this argument long before the world was plagued by the likes of the Islamic State. The reality is that Turkey will do what it considers to be in its national interest in the fight against terror, no more and no less and regardless of whether we commemorate the genocide.
As we have already seen, and despite your best efforts, Turkey has taken only modest steps to stem the flow of foreign fighters into Syria, to halt revenues from the sale of Syrian oil from going back to Islamic State fighters, or to assist Kurds and other minorities at risk across the border. Our willingness to be complicit in Ankara’s campaign of silence will have little impact on Turkish actions against the Islamic State, but will say a great deal about whether we are willing to speak the truth about genocide to friend and foe alike.
Mr. President, you are a man of great principle and one who does not make commitments lightly, and certainly not on a subject as weighty as genocide. Our government’s silence over the genocide is a continuing wound to the Armenian people and all others who have suffered such cruelty, an injury that cannot heal without recognition. As Pope Francis implored, “it is necessary, and indeed a duty, to honor their memory, for whenever memory fades, it means evil allows wounds to fester.”
On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, and on behalf of the families of the millions who were lost, I ask you to call the deliberate campaign to annihilate the Armenian people what it was, genocide.
Source: Los Angeles Daily News
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