Saturday, April 11, 2009

Recognizing the Armenian Genocide

Each year on April 24, Armenians around the world set aside a day called Genocide Remembrance Day (Medz Yeghern) to specifically remember an event that much of the world would rather forget – the deliberate and systematic slaughter and forced deportation of hundreds of thousands of Armenian Christians by the Ottoman Empire (present day Turkey) from 1918 to 1923. Many estimate that at least half of the Armenian population (numbered at 2 million in 1915) was killed. As is often the case where ethnic and religious identity are virtually inseparable, it is difficult to determine the extent to which religious intolerance played a part in the atrocities that took place. However, many Armenians were reportedly spared if they converted to Islam.*

In 2002, the Canadian Senate adopted a motion acknowledging this period as “the first genocide of the twentieth century.” Two years later, the House of Commons adopted a motion (Bill M-380) that “acknowledges the Armenian genocide of 1915 and condemns this act as a crime against humanity.”

The use of the word “genocide” was deliberate and one that most countries and their leaders have avoided using because of the political consequences behind the term. I am thankful that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has affirmed Canada’s recognition of the Armenian Genocide although it is sometimes not easy “for the foreign service of Canada” to accept. On April 19, 2006, the Prime Minister issued a statement reaffirming and supporting the motions of the Senate and the House of Commons, despite strenuous protests from Turkey.

One the campaign trail last year, Barack Obama made the following statement:

I also share with Armenian Americans – so many of whom are descended from genocide survivors - a principled commitment to commemorating and ending genocide. That starts with acknowledging the tragic instances of genocide in world history. As a U.S. Senator, I have stood with the Armenian American community in calling for Turkey's acknowledgement of the Armenian Genocide. Two years ago, I criticized the Secretary of State for the firing of U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, John Evans, after he properly used the term "genocide" to describe Turkey's slaughter of thousands of Armenians starting in 1915. I shared with Secretary Rice my firmly held conviction that the Armenian Genocide is not an allegation, a personal opinion, or a point of view, but rather a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence. The facts are undeniable. An official policy that calls on diplomats to distort the historical facts is an untenable policy. As a senator, I strongly support passage of the Armenian Genocide Resolution (H.Res.106 and S.Res.106), and as President I will recognize the Armenian Genocide.

May I urge our American readers to contact Present Obama and urge him to fulfill this promise?


* e.g. Richard G. Hovannisian, The Armenian genocide: history, politics, ethics: 159, 169, 180, 187; Peter Balakian, The burning Tigris: the Armenian genocide and America's response: 253; Lorna Touryan Miller, Survivors: 176; Jeri Freedman, The Armenian Genocide: 27.


Anonymous said...

Former US President Ronald Reagan issued Proclamation 4838 on April 22, 1981 officially recognizing the killing of Armenians as Genocide.

..."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." ...

Glenn Penner said...

Good point. Thanks. I have corrected the blog to reflect this.