Affirming the United States record on the Armenian Genocide

Washington, Oct 29, 2019

  • Rep. Chris Smith managed the debate of H.Res. 296, which recognized the Armenian Genocide that took place after World War I and resulted in the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians.

The following are excerpts of remarks by U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), Republican manager of debate of H.Res. 296 on the Floor of the House of Representatives, on October 29, 2019:

When the term genocide was created in 1944 to describe the systematic destruction of an entire people, its author Raphael Lemkin explained the term by saying, ‘‘it was the sort of thing Hitler did to the Jews and the Turks did to the Armenians.’’

On ordering the invasion of Poland in 1939, Adolf Hilter said: “[w]ho, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

In the year 2000 and again in 2015, I chaired two congressional hearings on the Armenian Genocide.

In 2000, the House was moving to pass a resolution by Congressmen Radanovich and Bonier—H. Res. 398.

After hearing fact-based eloquent testimonies from Congressmen James Rogan and David Bonier followed by the State Department, history professors, and then witnesses from both the Armenian and Turkish side, my subcommittee successfully marked up H. Res. 398 for consideration by the full committee.

Ambassador Marc Grossman testified at the hearing that President Bill Clinton was against the Armenian Genocide resolution.  That opposition proved to be very significant.  As we were moving with the highest expectations towards passage, President Clinton’s National Security Advisor Sandy Berger took the extraordinary step of admonishing Speaker Hastert not to bring it to the floor.  He caved.  The resolution never even got a vote.

In 2007, Chairman Tom Lantos tried again, and successfully reported a resolution out of committee sponsored by Congressmen Schiff and Radanovich—H. Res. 106.

That too never made it to the floor.

That changes today.

The Affirming the United States record on the Armenian Genocide—H. Res. 296 is a sense of Congress resolution that:

  • commemorates the Armenian Genocide through official recognition and remembrance.  The resolution notes that “the United States has officially recognized the Armenian Genocide, through the United States Government’s May 28, 1951, written statement to the International Court of Justice regarding the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, through President Ronald Reagan’s Proclamation No. 4838 on April 22, 1981, and by House Joint Resolution 148, adopted on April 8, 1975, and House Joint Resolution 247, adopted on September 10, 1984;
  • rejects efforts to enlist, engage, or otherwise associate the United States Government with denial of the Armenian Genocide or any other genocide; and
  • encourages education and public understanding of the facts of the Armenian Genocide, including the United States role in the humanitarian relief effort, and the relevance of the Armenian Genocide to modern-day crimes against humanity.

On the issue of humanitarian relief,  Anthony Barsamian and Noubar Afeyan of the Armenian Assembly of America wrote an op-ed in The Hill in 2017 and pointed out that: “…no nation did more than America. The formation of the Near East Relief fund in 1918 occurred at the urging of Ambassador Henry Morgenthau, Sr., to prevent the complete destruction of the Armenian population. The U.S. government responded, incorporating by an act of Congress in 1919 the Near East Relief (NER), which provided humanitarian relief to the far-flung nation of Armenia.

“Between 1915 and 1930, NER administered $117 million assistance…Nearly 1,000 men and women served overseas during that time, and thousands more volunteered to help build scores of orphanages, vocational schools, and food distribution centers, saving the lives of over a million Armenian, Greek and Syrian refugees, including 132,000 orphans scattered across the region from Tbilisi to Constantinople. Near East Relief was an act of unprecedented philanthropy, which American historian Howard M. Sachar noted “quite literally kept an entire nation alive.”

Yet today, the Armenian Genocide is the only genocide of the 20th century where survivors have been subjected to the ongoing outrage of a massive, well-funded aggressive campaign of genocide denial, openly sustained and lavishly funded by a state authority—the Government of Turkey.

And the Turkish Government underwrites a disgraceful disinformation campaign to confuse the historical record.

My 2015 hearing marked the 100th year since the beginning of the genocide and I appropriately entitled it: “A Century of Denial—The Armenian Genocide and the Ongoing Quest for Justice”.

As Pope Francis said at his Mass marking the 100th year since the genocide: ‘‘Concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it.’’

The facts of genocide were reported throughout the world as they were happening, corroborated immediately afterward by survivors and even some perpetrators, and have been amply documented by historians and in a book, I’ve read by the U.S. Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire at the time Henry Morgenthau.

In 1915, there were about 2 million Armenians living in what was then the Ottoman Empire. They were living in a region that they had inhabited for 2,500 years.

By 1923 however, well over 90 percent of these Armenians had disappeared. Most of them—an estimated 1.5 million—were slaughtered.

Most of them were death-marched into the desert or shot and many women were raped.   The remainder—the remnant—was forced into exile.

U.S. Ambassador Morgenthau wrote: “When the Turkish authorities gave orders for these deportations, they were merely giving a death warrant to a whole race, they understood this well, and in their conversations with me, they made no particular attempt to conceal the fact.”

The Encyclopedia of the Armenian Genocide states: “During the march many Armenians were killed indiscriminately by Ottoman forces, which left a trail of corpses along the route of the march.  To break the will of the marchers, the killings were performed with swords, resulting in great bloodshed.  Marchers who survived these attacks faced starvation, as no provisions for food were made: many elderly and infirm marchers died in this way during the march.  The significantly reduced numbers of marchers who finally made it into the Syrian desert were put into concentration camps located between the towns of Jerablus and Deir ez-Zor, and then released into the scorching desert with no food or water to certain death.”

At the Center of Holocaust, Human Rights and Genocide Education (Chhange) ) exhibit at Brookdale Community College in Monmouth County, New Jersey, many remembrances and life and death stories are preserved including one survivor—Arakel Hovanessian—who said: “life was a matter of trying to survive…Every morning a cart would come around and take away the sick and the dead to be dumped into a common grave…They had taken my brother because he was a little sick.  My crying and weeping were of no avail; especially because I was sick and petrified of being put on the cart.”

Despite having ratified the Genocide Convention in 1950, the Turkish Government has waged a deceitful campaign of denial and has done so over a course of decades using a variety of means to bully, intimidate and punish Turkish citizens who dared to acknowledge the genocide committed by the Ottoman government beginning in 1915.

The definition of the crime of genocide is found in Article II of the Genocide Convention which states is part:

“…genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: 

(a) Killing members of the group; 

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; 

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part …”

Despite Turkish Government threats, 28 countries and 49 U.S. states including my own state of New Jersey have passed a law, resolution or declaration recognizing the Armenian Genocide.

Over the years, several U.S. Presidents have acknowledged the cruelty and carnage—but President Ronald Reagan called it the Armenian Genocide.

President Ronald Reagan said:  “Like the genocide of the Armenians before it, and the genocide of the Cambodians which followed it — and like too many other such persecutions of too many other peoples — the lessons of the Holocaust must never be forgotten.”

Finally, special thanks to the tenacious leaders of the Armenian National Committee of America and the Armenian Assembly—and the Armenian diaspora—for encouraging Congress to step up and pass this resolution. 

After a century of denial, obfuscation and lies, it’s time to affirm and reiterate the truth of the Armenian Genocide and honor the victims, survivors and their families.