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March 21, 2007

Schiff Presses Secretary of State Rice on Armenian Genocide Recognition

Washington, D.C. – Today, at an Appropriations hearing before the Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs,  Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) pressed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on her opposition to recognizing the Armenian Genocide carried out by the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1923.  In his pointed questioning, Schiff repeatedly asked the Secretary of State if she believed that the murder of 1.5 million Armenians could be characterized as anything other than a genocide.  The Secretary did not directly respond.

“I was disappointed that Secretary of State Rice was unwilling to acknowledge the plain facts of the Armenian Genocide,” said Schiff.  “We cannot maintain the moral force we need to take action against the genocide going on in Darfur, if the Administration continues to equivocate about the genocide against the Armenians.”

Rep. Schiff was recently appointed to serve on the House Appropriations Committee in the 110th Congress and is a member of its Commerce, Justice, and Science Subcommittee, the State Department and Foreign Operations Subcommittee, and the Select Intelligence Oversight Panel.  He also serves on the House Judiciary Committee and its Subcommittee on the Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property. He represents California’s 29th Congressional District, which includes the communities of Alhambra, Altadena, Burbank, East Pasadena, East San Gabriel, Glendale, Monterey Park, Pasadena, San Gabriel, South Pasadena and Temple City.

The exchange between Rep. Schiff and Secretary Rice follows.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF:  Thank you, Madam Chair.

Madam Secretary, welcome.  

About a week or so ago, Madam Secretary, you and Secretary Gates  sent a letter to some of the chairs of committees here on the Hill opposing recognition of the Armenian genocide.

This concerned me for a number of reasons, not the least of which that I don't see how we can have the moral authority that we need to condemn the genocide going in Darfur if we're unwilling to recognize other genocides that have taken place, if we're unwilling to recognize the first genocide of the last century, where 1.5 million people lost
their lives.

We're all well aware of how the Turkish lobby and Turkey has, either implicitly or explicitly, threatened because it doesn't want the genocide recognized and its own difficulty in coming to grips with that chapter of Ottoman history.

So I'm not going to ask you about that, but I do want to ask you, is there any -- do you have any doubt, in your mind, that the murder of 1.5 million Armenians between 1915 and 1923 constituted genocide? Is there any doubt about that, in your mind?

SECRETARY OF STATE CONDOLEEZZA RICE:  Congressman, I think that these historical circumstances require a very detailed and sober look from historians and what we've encouraged the Turks and the Armenians to do is to have joint historical commissions that can look at this, to have efforts to examine their past and, in examining their past, to get over their past.

But I will tell you, Congressman, I don't think that it helps that process of reconciliation for the United States to enter this debate at that level.  I just don't think it's helpful.

SCHIFF:  Madam Secretary, your comments, you think that there should be some kind of debate or discussion about the genocide suggests that you have a question about whether genocide occurred.

Is that correct?

RICE:  Congressman, I believe that this is something that Turks and Armenians are best to address through their own processes of coming to terms with their history.

Lots of people have had to come to terms with their history...

SCHIFF:  Yes, and, Madam Secretary, we have to come to grips with our own history.

RICE:  Yes.

SCHIFF:  And we did.

RICE:  I personally am well aware of that.

SCHIFF:  But, Madam Secretary, you come out of academia.

RICE:  Yes.

SCHIFF:  Is there any historic debate outside of Turkey?  Is there any reputable historian you're aware of that takes issue with the fact that the murder of 1.5 million Armenians constituted genocide?

RICE:  Congressman, I come out of academia, but I'm secretary of state now and I think that the best way to have this proceed is for the United States not to be in the position of making this judgment, but rather for the Turks and the Armenians to come to their own terms about this.

Lots of people are coming to terms with their history in Asia, in Europe people have had to come to terms with their own history and that's...

SCHIFF:  Madam Secretary, we have no reluctance to recognize genocide in Darfur.  We have no reluctance to talk about the Cambodian genocide or the Rwandan genocide or the Holocaust.

Why is it only this genocide?  Is it because Turkey is a strong ally?  Is that an ethical and moral reason to ignore the murder of 1.5 million people?  Why is it we don't say, "Let's relegate the Holocaust to historians" or "relegate the Cambodian genocide or Rwandan genocide ?"  Why is it only this genocide that we should let the Turks acknowledge or not acknowledge?

And, Madam Secretary, Hrant Dink, who was murdered outside of his office, is not a testimony to Turkish progress.  The fact that Turkey brought a Nobel-winning author up on charges of insulting Turkishness because he talked about the murder of the Armenians doesn't show great efforts of reconciliation of Turkey.

Why is it only this genocide we're incapable of recognizing?

RICE:  Congressman, we have recognized and the president recognizes every year in a resolution that he himself issues the historical circumstances and the tragedy that befell the Armenian people at that time.

We do recognize it.  But I don't -- if you'll just allow me.  I do not see that this situation is going to get better in the sense that it allows Turks and Armenians to move on to deal with their present unless we are able to let them deal with their past as to the murder that you...
SCHIFF:  Madam Secretary, because I'm going to run out of time.

You recognize more than anyone, as a diplomat, the power of words.

RICE:  Yes.

SCHIFF:  And I'm sure you supported the recognition of genocide in Darfur, not calling it tragedy, not calling it atrocity, not calling it anything else, but the power and significance of calling it genocide .

Why is that less important in the case of the Armenian genocide?

RICE:  Congressman, the power here is in helping these people to move forward.  After the murder that you talked about, Turks went into the streets to embrace Armenians and to say that this is not the way that Turks behave.

The foreign minister himself has called into question the issue of arresting people for Turkishness.  I do think that there is an evolution that is going on in a Turkey that is democratizing and democratizing before our very eyes and where Turks will be able to deal better with their history.

But I do believe that people are better left to try and deal with this themselves if they're going to be able to move forward.

We have to ask ourselves, "What is the purpose here," and I think the purpose is to acknowledge, of course, the historic tragedy, but the purpose is also to allow Turks and Armenians to be able to move forward.

And, yes, Turkey is a good ally and that is important.  But more important is that like many historical tragedies, like many historical circumstances of this kind, people need to come to terms with it and they need to move on.

We've done that in our own country.  People have done it in Europe.  People have done it in Asia and I think...
SCHIFF:  Madam Secretary...


RICE:  ... the best to have them move forward together.

LOWEY:  Thank you, Mr. Schiff.


REP. LOWEY: The secretary has agreed to stay for a few more minutes, so if you'll be brief, Mr. Schiff and Ms. Lee.

Mr. Schiff.

REP. SCHIFF: Thank you, Madame Chair. Just one final comment on the subject we visited earlier, and then I have a question on a different matter. I think rather than urging the Congress to ignore the Armenian genocide or urging us in effect to abide by Turkish Section 301 not to offend or insult Turkishness, I think it's more productive to be urging Turkey to recognize the genocide and also work on the relationship between the U.S. and Turkey so that it can survive our clear statement of the truth.

Iran hosts conferences of historians on the Holocaust. I don't think we want to get in the business of encouraging conferences of historians on the undeniable facts of the Armenian genocide.