The genocide vote: Now is not the time

Share via

As one whose own family was decimated by the Holocaust, I respond very personally to charges that I would deny the existence of savage acts of inhumanity against a group of people because of ethnic, religious or racial differences -- be they Jews, Darfurians, Rwandans or Armenians.

Yet that’s exactly what I was accused of last week after I sent a letter to Rep. Tom Lantos, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, urging him to withdrawHR 106, which I had co-sponsored earlier in the year. Some Armenian Americans, whose passion I appreciate, have misinterpreted my determination that the time is not right to vote on such a resolution as “denial” of the Armenian genocide. Nothing could be further from the truth.

No question: The debate raging in Washington over the Armenian genocide resolution is personal. Similar resolutions have passed the House twice -- in 1975 and 1984 -- and we are poised to pass another before Thanksgiving. Whether it will be brought to a vote in the Senate remains unclear.


I originally co-sponsored the resolution because I was convinced that the terrible crime against the Armenian people should be recognized and condemned. But after a visit in February to Turkey, where I met with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Armenian Orthodox patriarch and colleagues of murdered Turkish Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, I became convinced that passing this resolution again at this time would isolate and embarrass a courageous and moderate Islamic government in perhaps the most volatile region in the world.

So I agree with eight former secretaries of State -- including Los Angeles’ own Warren Christopher -- who said that passing the resolution “could endanger our national security interests in the region, including our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and damage efforts to promote reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia.”

Timing matters. I asked a leader in California’s Armenian American community just days ago why the resolution was being pushed now. “They didn’t ask me,” he said. It wasn’t his call, and he probably would not have pushed it.

So what is the endgame? I would hope that, regardless of the outcome of the vote, Turkey and Armenia will work toward reconciliation and normalization of relations.

About 70,000 Armenians live in Turkey, and Turkey continues to admit more. Yet Article 301 of Turkey’s Constitution prohibits insulting “Turkishness” -- a disturbing provision that has been used to punish Armenians in Turkey who insist the genocide took place. Surely an act of reconciliation would be to embrace the Armenian population in Turkey and repeal Article 301.

Further, Turkey and Armenia have held recent talks about normalizing relations. They share mutual interests in trade, especially in the energy sector. Now is a good time to engage.


And, of course, there is the need for stability in the region. Turkey shares a border with Iraq, and the need for its continued restraint with the Kurds and for its leadership in promoting stability and resolving the Israel-Palestine issue is obvious. Armenia can help.

In a democracy, groups have the right to protest, and surely I respect the right of California’s large Armenian community (and the L.A. Times’ editorial board) to disagree with my position on the timing of yet a third congressional vote on the genocide. But once that vote occurs, that fabulously talented community can usefully channel its passion and energy into productive next steps toward reconciliation.

Condemning horror is important. But moving through the anger and psychic hurt to positive action is true emancipation.

Jane Harman (D-Venice) represents California’s 36th Congressional District.