Rep. Schiff Delivers Open Letter to President Obama on House Floor – “Call the Armenian Genocide What It Was – Genocide”

WASHINGTON,
D.C. –

Today, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the lead sponsor of the Armenian
Genocide Truth and Justice Resolution
 in Congress, spoke on the House
Floor and delivered an open letter to the President of the United States,
Barack Obama, urging him to recognize the Armenian Genocide in his final year
in office in advance of the 101st anniversary of the Armenian
Genocide. The commemoration of the genocide will take place on Sunday,
April 24.

Watch the speech, or read
the text below (as delivered):

Dear
Mr. President:

In
2009, less than a year after assuming the Presidency, you accepted the Nobel
Peace Prize. You began your acceptance of this honor by acknowledging that it
was bestowed, at the “beginning, and not the end, of my labors on the world
stage.” You spoke on that day with eloquence and conviction about fundamental
human rights – rights that are endowed not by accidents of birth like
nationality or ethnicity or gender, but by our common humanity. And the
principles that you articulated have indeed guided and defined your presidency.

In
your foreign policy, you have emphasized the rights of ethnic and religious
minorities worldwide and put these causes closer to the center of our foreign
policy. You have extended aid to refugees fleeing horrific violence. You
established the Atrocities Prevention Board to coordinate and monitor our
efforts to prevent mass atrocities and genocide.

And
in a few days, you will have a chance to add to your legacy.

On
April 24th, the world will mark 101 years since the systematic extermination of
1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1923. The facts of the
slaughter are beyond dispute. And I know you are well-acquainted with these
horrors visited upon the Armenian people, having spoken eloquently about them
as Senator.

I
have sat with survivors of the Genocide. Men and women, their numbers dwindling
year after year, and heard them recall the destruction of their lives and their
families and all they had known.  As children, they were forced from their
homes and saw their families beaten, raped, and murdered. They fled across
continents and oceans to build lives in our nation.

Mr.
President, for them and for their descendants, the word “genocide” is sacred
because it means the world has not and will not forget. To deny genocide on the
other hand, is profane. It is, in the words of Elie Wiesel, a “double killing.”

This
April 24th will be your final opportunity to use the presidency to speak
plainly about the genocide. In past years as President, you have described the
campaign of murder and displacement against the Armenian people as a “mass
atrocity,” which it surely was. But, of course, it was also much more, and you
have avoided using the word genocide even though it has been universally
applied by scholars and historians of the period. In fact, as you know better
than most, the Ottoman Empire’s campaign to annihilate the Armenian people was
a prime example of what Rafael Lemkin was trying to describe when he coined the
very term “genocide”.

I
know that as you consider your words this year, you will hear the same voices
as in the past who will tell you to hold your tongue and speak in euphemisms.
They will say that the time is not right or that Turkey is too strategically
important or that we should not risk their ire over something that happened a
century ago.

Mr.
President, regardless of what you say on April 24th, there can be little doubt
that Turkey will do exactly as it has always done in its relations with the
United States – and that is whatever Turkey believes to be in its
self-interest. Many of our European allies and world leaders, including Pope
Francis, have recognized the genocide, yet they have continued to work closely
with Turkey, because that has been in Turkey’s interest. The same will be true
after U.S. recognition of the Genocide.

I
dearly hope, as do millions of Armenians descended from genocide survivors
around the world, that you take this final opportunity to call the Armenian
Genocide what it was – Genocide. To say that the Ottoman Empire committed this
grotesque crime against the Armenians, but that their campaign of extermination
failed. And that, above all, we will never forget and we will never again be
intimidated into silence.  Let this be part of your legacy, and you will
see future Administrations follow your example.

When
you spoke in Oslo, more than 7 years ago, you closed your remarks by returning
to the counsel of Dr. Martin Luther King and said, “I refuse to accept the idea
that the ‘isness’ of man’s present condition makes him morally incapable of
reaching up for the eternal ‘oughtness’ that forever confronts him.“

Mr.
President, confronting painful, difficult but vital questions “is” who you
are.  Help us be the America we “ought” to be, that beacon of freedom and
dignity that shines its light on the darkness of human history and exposes the
vile crime of genocide.

Sincerely,

Adam
Schiff

About Armenian Assembly of America

Established in 1972, the Armenian Assembly of America is the largest Washington-based nationwide organization promoting public understanding and awareness of Armenian issues. The Assembly is a non-partisan, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt membership organization.

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