By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier
Armenia’s President Serzh Sargsyan has invited several world leaders to Yerevan on April 24 to commemorate the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide.
The Presidents of France, Russia, Poland and Belarus have already accepted Pres. Sargsyan’s invitation. The White House has yet to make a public statement on whether Pres. Obama plans to travel to Armenia on this most solemn occasion.
A Century ago, Henry Morgenthau, US Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, described the systematic annihilation of 1.5 million Armenians as “The Murder of a Nation.” Raphael Lemkin, a Polish-Jewish lawyer, told CBS that he coined the term genocide based on the mass crimes committed against Armenians during WWI and Jews during WWII.
Here are 10 reasons why Air Force One should make an auspicious landing in Yerevan’s Zvartnots International Airport on April 24.
1. Pres. Obama would pay tribute to hundreds of thousands of compassionate American citizens for having raised over $117 million -- today’s equivalent of over $2 billion -- to aid destitute Armenians in the aftermath of the Genocide. Initiated by Amb. Morgenthau and supported by Pres. Woodrow Wilson, Near East Relief helped rescue and care for 132,000 Armenian orphans. This massive charitable effort was the first international humanitarian outreach in U.S. history.
2. By visiting Armenia on this occasion, Pres. Obama would be reaffirming the longstanding US acknowledgment of the Armenian Genocide -- a settled historical fact recognized as genocide by:
-- The US Government in a document submitted to the World Court in 1951;
-- The House of Representatives in 1975 and 1984;
-- Pres. Ronald Reagan in a Presidential Proclamation issued on April 22, 1981;
-- 43 out of 50 U.S. states;
-- Two dozen countries, including France, Italy, Russia, Canada, Holland, Vatican, Switzerland, Sweden, Argentina, Lebanon, Greece, Cyprus, Poland, and Venezuela;
-- Several international organizations, including the UN Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities; the European Parliament; and the International Association of Genocide Scholars.
3. The Centennial could well be Pres. Obama’s last opportunity to regain the trust of the Armenian-American community by honoring his solemn pledge as Senator and Presidential candidate to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide.
4. Pres. Obama could lay the foundation for improved Armenian-Turkish relations based on truth and justice, in line with a pending resolution in the House of Representatives, and his previous April 24 statements, declaring that “a full, frank, and just acknowledgement of the facts is in all of our interests.” Pres. Obama’s visit would also encourage Turkish human rights activists to continue their arduous task of assisting the Government of Turkey to reckon with the darkest pages of its past.
5. The U.S. President could take advantage of this visit to urge Turkey to lift the blockade of Armenia, while taking a glimpse at the biblical Mount Ararat just across the closed border.
6. In response to mounting attacks by Azerbaijan on Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh), Pres. Obama could stress Washington’s strong support for a peaceful settlement of this thorny conflict.
7. Pres. Obama’s visit would help balance Armenia’s relations with the West, particularly after its membership in the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union, and in view of Putin’s planned trip to Yerevan on April 24. Armenia has enjoyed close relations with Western Europe and the United States, and has participated in international peacekeeping forces in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo and Lebanon. More recently, the appointment of former Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan as Ambassador to Washington, underscores the importance Yerevan attaches to its relations with the United States.
8. Since Pres. Obama, due to the Ukraine crisis, is not planning to travel to Moscow to take part in the World War II Victory Day celebrations on May 9, he would have the opportunity to meet with Pres. Putin in Yerevan, in a less conspicuous atmosphere.
9. Pres. Obama’s visit to Armenia would be a significant gesture of goodwill toward the Armenian-American community. Last week, 16 major Armenian-American organizations sent a joint letter to the President urging him to participate in the Armenian Genocide Centennial events in Armenia.
10. Pres. Obama would be making a historic first US presidential trip to Armenia, preceded by several high-ranking American officials: Secretary of State James Baker III in 1992; Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in 2001; and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2010 and 2012, when she laid a wreath at the Armenian Genocide Memorial in Yerevan, as all U.S. Ambassadors have done on every April 24, since the country’s independence in 1991.