In October, Turkey and Armenia signed a document called the “protocols,” which were intended to pave the way for the countries to begin a reconciliation process that would open their borders, establish diplomatic relations and perhaps tackle the biggest obstacle between them, the issue of the Armenian Genocide of 1915.
Many Armenian Americans expressed outrage at this proposed agreement because it calls for a “historical commission” that would likely examine the Armenian Genocide, which they feel is a ruse by Turkey to deflect growing international pressure for recognition and further their decades-old campaign to distort and deny the facts of the Armenian Genocide.
The fear of the Armenian American community began coming true in April, when President Obama used the potential of the protocols as a way to avoid his campaign promise of January 2008. In that pledge, Obama said, “America deserves a leader who speaks truthfully about the Armenian Genocide and responds forcefully to all genocides. I intend to be that president.” Sure enough, in his first year in office, Obama caved in to hollow threats from Turkey, avoiding the word “genocide” in the White House’s annual commemoration message.
Often, we see our leaders compromise the nation’s core values for the sake of relations with another country. We seem to do this for a fleeting gain with regimes that run counter to our principles. Our history is riddled with situations that have backfired, forcing us to ultimately clean up the mess because of shortsighted policies — Iraq and Afghanistan being the latest examples.
With the efforts of Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) and many members from the California congressional delegation, including bipartisan support, once again there is a resolution before our lawmakers that seeks to be truthful about our own American history by recognizing the Armenian Genocide.
Rep. Howard Berman (D-Valley Village), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has scheduled a committee vote on House Resolution 252 for March 4. If passed by committee, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would be poised to bring the resolution to the floor for a vote.
Viewing this resolution as an issue for the Armenian American community would be a mistake. While the resolution recognizes the horrific experiences of the 1.5 million victims of the Armenian Genocide, it also honors American values and how ordinary Americans stand up to help the greater good. Just like we’ve sent help to Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake there, in the early 20th century, Americans stood up and sent needed help to survivors of the Armenian Genocide, without which the devastation would have been far worse.
Among the details recognized in HR 252 is that on Feb. 9, 1916, 94 years ago this week, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution resolving that “the president of the United States be respectfully asked to designate a day on which the citizens of this country may give expression to their sympathy by contributing funds now being raised for the relief of the Armenians.” President Wilson concurred and encouraged the formation of the organization called Near East Relief, chartered by an Act of Congress, which ultimately contributed $116 million from 1915 to 1930 to aid survivors, including 132,000 orphans.
While HR 252 pays tribute to these important American contributions, it also sends a clear message to the president: The change we want is for our country’s policies to have integrity by reflecting the truth. If, for the sake of having relations, we have complicity with a country like Turkey, which has made political sport out of lying about and denying genocides, we will have forsaken every American and human principle. And that is unacceptable. Among the messages being sent to Washington with recent special elections around the nation, this needs to be one of them.
Get in touch ZANKU ARMENIAN is a Glendale resident and a corporate communications professional. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.