Congressman Schiff Urges Floor Vote to Recognize the Armenian Genocide

Mr. Speaker, today, in the Committee on International Relations a remarkable thing happened. Not one but two resolutions recognizing the facts of the Armenian genocide passed out of the committee with strong bipartisan support, indeed with the support of both the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Hyde), the chairman, and the gentleman from California (Mr. Lantos), the ranking member.

One of those resolutions I introduced to recognize the first genocide of the 20th century, the genocide which claimed the lives of 1.5 million Armenian men, women and children. The facts of that genocide are clear. The facts of genocide are incontrovertible. They are bourne out in thousands of pages of documents in our own archives. They are bourne out in the words and the transmitted telegrams of our Ambassador, Henry Morgenthau, at the time.

The only obstacle that the Congress has faced, and it has been a formidable one, in recognizing the Armenian genocide is the resistance of the Republic of Turkey, the well-documented efforts of its powerful lobbyist, and the feeling of some that, by recognizing what all historians have recognized, that we will somehow jeopardize our relations with an ally.

I have never taken issue with the fact that Turkey is an ally to the United States. It is an ally. It is at a strategic crossroads. It is an important member of NATO. At the same time, we cannot equivocate about the murder of 1.5 million people; and the differences that we have had with Turkey, and they have been considerable, over a whole host of issues have not ruptured our relationship.

During the run-up to the Iraq war, many of my colleagues will remember, we sought the permission of Turkey to allow American and Coalition ground forces to enter Iraq through Turkey. The Turkish Parliament voted on that, and they voted against it. That was of enormous significance to this country.

As a result of that, we could not open that second northern front; as a result of that, many melted away to the Iraqi population, many of the insurgents that we now fight with so bitterly. That had enormous consequences, but it did not end the relationship with the United States, and recognition of the historic facts of the genocide will not end the relationship with Ankara, either. There are strong mutual interests at stake which will transcend the recognition of the historic facts.

In the past, American leaders have recognized the genocide. Ronald Reagan spoke eloquently of the facts of the genocide. Winston Churchill in his memoirs documents the murder of hundreds of thousands of Armenians in a crime at the time that was unequaled. Yet here we are, fresh from recognizing, as indeed we should and as indeed we must, the genocide going on in Darfur, but unwilling to recognize the murder of 1.5 million Armenians.

What does that say about American policy? Can our policy be that we will recognize genocide when it is committed by the politically impotent, as in the case of Sudan, but not in the case of the politically powerful as in the case of the Ottoman Empire and its Turkish successors? This certainly cannot be the policy of the United States. We must recognize unequivocally that, beginning in 1915, 1.5 million people were murdered merely because of who they were as a people, the very definition of genocide.

With the passage of these resolutions, with the support of the chair and the ranking member, with the overwhelming support on both sides of the aisle in committee, I hope that we can get a vote on the House floor, something we have not had in more than a decade, so that we can once again reestablish the moral authority and clarity that comes with recognizing genocide, past or present, foe or friend, alike. I urge the Members of this House to join in an effort to call upon the leadership to hear the genocide resolution, and I hope the leadership will heed that call.