At the end of October, the House of Representatives voted 405-11 to recognize the horrific genocide of more than 1.5 million Armenian Christians at the hands of the Turkish government in 1915. A systematic mass expulsion/deportation of Armenians across Turkey’s eastern provinces saw hundreds of thousands of men murdered (some crucified) with women and children sent into the desert to die of starvation.
These mass killings have been recognized by 49 of our 50 states and more than 30 nations, but our government has yet to formally acknowledge these facts for fear of angering our Turkish NATO ally. For decades, America has been intimidated into silence in exchange for our using Incirlik Air Base. In fact, Turkey not only denies this genocide but also treats it as a criminal offense if anyone questions official governmental denials.
Recent tensions such as the Turkish purchase of Russian weapons; the arrest of an American pastor; and the bloody Turkish incursion into Syria against our staunch Kurdish allies have provided a convenient path to finally speak truth to power. Parallels of past and present are striking: Turkey sees the Kurds as likely terrorists, the same charge they falsely brought against the Armenians in 1915. What Turks did to Armenians more than a hundred years ago seems, according to Kurdish leaders, exactly what they now seek to do to the Kurds.
History might well repeat itself. As Speaker Nancy Pelosi stated: “Recent attacks by the Turkish military against the Kurdish people are a stark reminder of the danger in our own time. That is why it is critical, year in and year out, to reaffirm our dedication to recognizing the Armenian genocide and to placing the U.S. Congress firmly on the side of honesty in our history.”
While largely symbolic to many, this congressional declaration has deep relevance to Armenians and their sympathizers. Armenian genocide survivors and their descendants have forged a strong diasporic community, making notable cultural, religious and civic contributions across North America and Europe. Today more than 2 million Americans are of Armenian descent. What’s most amazing about this resolution is that it took so long for our nation to take this stand. What’s also amazing is that 11 lawmakers voted against it and three voted only as “present.”
Other than a few dissenters, this was a bipartisan vote: At one point, Republican Congressman Michael McCaul of Texas crossed the floor, hugged Speaker Pelosi and joined her resolve in proposing sanctions if necessary: “I truly believe this will send another signal to [Turkish President] Erdogan to stop ethnic cleansing, to stop this aggressive behavior.” Hopefully, this same spirit will proceed to the Senate and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will call for a vote.
Turkish officials have already dismissed the resolution as grandstanding. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has stated a country “who has stains of genocide, slavery and colonialism in their history has no right to give lessons to Turkey.” The final word on the need to recognize the horrors of history comes from an unlikely source. As the Nazis prepared for the genocide of Europe’s Jews, Adolf Hitler in 1939 stated: “Who after all speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”