By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier
Armenians and Turks around the world wait with bated breath each year to see if the President of the United States would use in his annual April 24 statement the word Genocide to describe the mass killings of Armenians.
Armenians and Turks seem to forget that the United States has not only recognized the Armenian Genocide, but has done so repeatedly at the highest levels: The House of Representatives recognized the Armenian Genocide twice in 1975 and 1984. So did President Reagan in his Presidential Proclamation 4838, issued on April 22, 1981. Most importantly, the United States Government officially recognized the Armenian Genocide in a report filed with the International Court of Justice (World Court) in 1951.
Therefore, after all this recognition, as I have repeatedly stated in my columns, Armenians no longer need additional acknowledgments by the President of the United States or the U.S. Congress.
This year, many were curious if Pres. Trump would issue a statement at all on April 24 and whether he will use the term Armenian Genocide. After 84 members of Congress wrote a joint letter to Pres. Trump and private individuals like Mike Sarian of California contacted high level Trump administration officials urging the President to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide, the White House issued a statement on April 24, declining to call it genocide.
The good news is that, given Pres. Trump’s lack of familiarity with Armenian issues, and not having made any campaign promises to the Armenian community, the Trump administration did not completely ignore the anniversary of the Armenian Genocide and marked this special day with a statement, as was done by several previous presidents. Pres. Trump’s statement mentions the basic facts of the Genocide, describing the Armenian mass killings as “one of the worst mass atrocities of the 20th century. Beginning in 1915, one and a half million Armenians were deported, massacred, or marched to their deaths in the final years of the Ottoman Empire.”
While Armenians are disappointed that Pres. Trump shied away from using the term Armenian Genocide, the Turks have no reason to celebrate. On the contrary, they should be ashamed that the President of the United States is accusing their ancestors of committing “one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century” and refers to the killings of 1.5 million Armenians, which the Turkish government denies to this day!
The bad news, however, is that Pres. Trump issued a statement that does not acknowledge the Armenian Genocide as a genocide. Pres. Trump’s aides have simply copied the texts issued for eight years by Pres. Obama and before him by Presidents Bush and Clinton, including the reference to the Armenian term “Meds Yeghern,” which is not understood by anyone except Armenians, and does not have the legal meaning under international law of the term genocide or ‘tseghasbanoutyoun’ in Armenian. The use of “Meds Yeghern” is simply a clever ploy to avoid the word Genocide. In the past, I have taken the position that if a President cannot acknowledge the Genocide, he should not insult the memory of the Armenian victims and the intelligence of Armenian-Americans by referring to it as ‘tragedy’ and ‘atrocities.’ When Sean Spicer, Trump’s spokesman was asked about the White House’s omission of the term genocide from its April 24 statement, he cynically replied: “it is perfectly in keeping with the language that’s been used over and over again [by previous Presidents].” It is shocking that a Pres. Trump, who takes such pride in speaking out his mind and strongly criticizes the shortcomings of previous presidents, is all of a sudden proud to follow their unacceptable censorship of the Armenian Genocide! Pres. Trump angered a lot of people around the world when he called Pres. Erdogan after the referendum earlier this month and congratulating him on a tainted election that gave Erdogan dictatorial powers! Pres. Trump is scheduled to welcome Pres. Erdogan to the White House in May!
I fully agree with the reactions of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) and the Armenian Assembly of America (AAA) to Pres. Trump’s statement. The ANCA stated: “President Trump has chosen to enforce Ankara's gag-rule against American condemnation and commemoration of the Armenian Genocide. In failing to properly mark April 24th, President Trump is effectively outsourcing U.S. genocide-prevention policy to Recep Erdogan, an arrogant and authoritarian dictator who clearly enjoys the public spectacle of arm-twisting American presidents into silence on Turkey's mass murder of millions of Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, and other Christians.” The AAA stated: “the President's statement fails to stand up for human rights and is inconsistent with American values, and represents the same kind of capitulation to Turkish authoritarianism which will cost more lives."
Cong. Adam Schiff (Dem.-CA), a long-time supporter of the Armenian community, also issued a statement condemning Pres. Trump’s lack of use of the term Armenian Genocide: “Today, we received another disappointing statement from yet another President, refusing to acknowledge the murder of 1.5 million Armenians from 1915-1923 for what it was -- a genocide. President Trump now joins a long line of both Republican and Democratic Presidents unwilling to confront Turkey, and by refusing to do so, he has made the United States once again a party to its campaign of denial. How can we speak with the moral clarity we must about the genocidal campaign by ISIS against religious minorities in Syria and Iraq, if we are unwilling to condemn the first genocide of the last century? If the President will not speak out, the Congress must, and I join my colleagues -- Democrats and Republicans -- in calling on the House to take up the Armenian Genocide resolution.”
With all due respect to Cong. Schiff, the Armenian-American community does not need one more House resolution on the Armenian Genocide, on the top of the two resolutions already adopted in 1975 and 1984. What Armenians around the world demand is justice -- compensation for their enormous losses, return of their confiscated private and communal properties, and liberation of the occupied Armenian territories. This is what a future House resolution must demand, not more genocide recognition.
Finally, I am very pleased that WikiLeaks tweeted on April 24 to its 4.6 million followers one of my previous columns on Hillary Clinton rejecting the suggestion of her top campaign aides to issue a statement on the Armenian Genocide before last year’s presidential elections.