‘I feel like I got played.’ Politics derails Armenian hopes for genocide recognition

Crowds gather at the Turkish consulate in Los Angeles to mark the 102nd anniversary of the Armenian genocide.
Crowds gather at the Turkish consulate in Los Angeles to mark the 102nd anniversary of the Armenian genocide.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

It seemed like the moment Paul Jamushian had been waiting for his whole life.

On Oct. 29, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 405 to 11 in favor of a resolution to recognize the killing of 1.5 million Armenians more than a century ago as a genocide. Quick approval by the Senate appeared possible.

But the 80-year-old Jamushian, whose parents survived the slaughter by Ottoman Turks, will have to keep waiting.

Politics had once again intervened — this time the incursion by Turkey into northeastern Syria last month and a White House visit Wednesday by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.


“I feel like I got played,” said Jamushian, who lives in Fresno. “It makes me angry.”

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who has coauthored resolutions to recognize the Armenian genocide since 2006, requested the unanimous consent of the Senate on Wednesday to pass the latest attempt.

“The United States Congress cannot stand idly by and let the truth of genocide be silenced,” he told fellow senators. “We must commit ourselves to learning the painful history of the Armenians as we seek to build a better world for our own and future generations.”

That’s when Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who had joined Erdogan’s meeting with President Trump, objected and blocked the request, arguing that senators shouldn’t “sugarcoat history or try to rewrite it.”

“I do hope that Turkey and Armenia can come together and deal with this problem,” he said.

Turkish authorities refuse to call the massacre a genocide because they claim that the killings were not systematic and that people of all religious and ethnic backgrounds, including Turkish Muslims, died during World War I.

The new development did not kill the resolution, but it will stretch out the process by which the Senate considers it.


The latest effort in the House grew out of widespread bipartisan anger with Turkey over its recent actions in Syria, including the killing of Kurds who helped the United States take back large swaths of territory from Islamic State militants.

“Given that the Turks are once again involved in ethnic cleansing the population — this time the Kurds who live along the Turkish-Syrian border — it seemed all the more appropriate to bring up a resolution about the Ottoman efforts to annihilate an entire people in the Armenian genocide,” Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank) said recently.

When the House passed the resolution last month, it was the first time in more than three decades that Congress had labeled the slaughter genocide.

In 1975 and again in 1984 the House passed resolutions that referenced the killing of Armenians as genocide and set aside April 24 as a day of remembrance for victims of all genocides. And in 1981, President Reagan issued a proclamation about the Holocaust in Nazi Germany and in it also mentioned the genocide of the Armenians.

But in the decades that followed, efforts in Congress to pass a resolution that singularly recognizes the Armenian killings as genocide has failed. Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush argued that such measures could hamper U.S. interests in the region. Both President Obama and Trump have stopped short of calling the slaughter a genocide.


Legislation on the topic has been introduced each year. The furthest the Senate has gone was in 2014 when its Foreign Relations Committee passed a resolution that failed to win wider approval.

Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Washington-based Armenian National Committee of America, said he remains confident that the Senate will pass the resolution.

“We can’t predict where Trump’s views will be on Turkey in one week or one month,” he said.

“We feel we would get overwhelming support of the Senate, but we need it to come to the floor so members can vote on it,” he said. “My message to Graham is that if you have a problem with the resolution, then allow it to come to the floor and then vote no, but don’t block other members of the Senate.”

Donald E. Miller, author of “Survivors: An Oral History of the Armenian Genocide,” said he isn’t surprised Graham blocked the resolution.

“Turkey has spent millions lobbying against recognition of the genocide,” he said in an email. “The American Congress and multiple presidents capitulate to this pressure because of Turkey’s strategic location and the presence of U.S. military bases on Turkish soil. Historical fact has little to do with political pressures — and money.”


Initially, the Armenian community thrived under Ottoman rule. But toward the end of the 19th century, as the Ottoman Empire began to collapse and World War I began, its rulers came to view Armenians as traitors.

Ottoman Turks started killing and expelling Armenians in what is now Turkey starting in 1915. By the early 1920s, more than a million Armenians were dead and many more displaced.

Today, scholars and historians widely agree that what happened to Armenians was a systematic killing and should be recognized as a genocide. More than 40 states — including California — and 20 countries have recognized the deaths as genocide, as has the Los Angeles Times and many other newspapers.

Southern California is home to the largest Armenian community outside Armenia; an estimated 200,000 Armenians live in Los Angeles County alone and every year thousands of people march throughout the streets of Los Angeles to demand that the killings be officially recognized as genocide.

For Armenian Americans such as Jamushian, the passage of a congressional resolution would hold symbolic resonance.

His mother came to the United States in 1921 and lived in Fresno until her death in 2012. She was 4 at the start of the killings and always had a hard time talking about what happened to her.


“She had dagger wounds in her stomach and at the base of her head,” he said. “She was left for dead.”