The Chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee and great Philhellene, Senator Bob Menendez, asked recently the Biden Administration to officially recognize the Ottoman Empire’s genocide against the Armenian people.
Senator Menendez sent a letter to President Biden, along with 37 other of his Senate colleagues.
The first decision point for President Biden could come on Armenian Remembrance Day on April 24, 2021 around which vigorous lobbying by the Armenian diaspora, Congress, and the Turkish government over whether to label the 1915 atrocities a genocide will once again culminate.
President Obama stopped short of an explicit acknowledgment in 2015, as he did not want to anger Turkey, which recalled its ambassador from Washington in 2007 over a congressional committee’s recognition of the genocide.
The Armenian Genocide was the systematic mass murder and ethnic cleansing of around one million ethnic Armenian Christians from Anatolia and nearby regions by the Ottoman government during World War I.
During its invasion of Russian and Persian territory, Ottoman paramilitaries massacred local Armenians; massacres turned into genocide following the catastrophic defeat in the Battle of Sarikamish, which took place in January 1915. The defeat was blamed on Armenian treachery.
In the minds of the Ottoman leaders, isolated indications of Armenian resistance were taken as evidence of a coordinated conspiracy. However, this was not based on facts.
Armenian soldiers in the Ottoman Army were disarmed pursuant to a February order and later killed. In April 1915, the Ottoman authorities rounded up, arrested, and deported hundreds of Armenian intellectuals and community leaders from Constantinople.
The Congressional letter to Biden
The letter that was sent to President Biden has as follows:
”Dear President Biden:
We write today to strongly urge you to officially recognize the truth of the Armenian Genocide. In the past you have recognized the Armenian Genocide as genocide, including in your Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day statement during the 2020 campaign. We call on you to do so again as President to make clear that the U.S. government recognizes this terrible truth.
From 1915 to 1923, the Ottoman Empire systematically sought to eliminate the Armenian population, killing 1.5 million Armenians and driving hundreds of thousands more from their homeland. We join the Armenian community in the United States and around the world in honoring the memory of these victims, and we stand firmly against attempts to pretend that this intentional, organized effort to destroy the Armenian people was anything other than a genocide. You have correctly stated that American diplomacy and foreign policy must be rooted in our values, including respect for universal rights. Those values require us to acknowledge the truth and do what we can to prevent future genocides and other crimes against humanity.
In December 2019, after decades of obstruction, the Senate unanimously passed a resolution affirming the facts of the Armenian Genocide. The House also overwhelmingly passed its own resolution recognizing the facts of the Armenian Genocide in 2019. We appreciate that in your April 2020 Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day statement you pledged “to support a resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide,” but Congress has already made its position clear. It is time for executive branch to do so as well.
As you said in your Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day statement last April, “It is particularly important to speak these words and commemorate this history at a moment when we are reminded daily of the power of truth, and of our shared responsibility to stand against hate — because silence is complicity.” Administrations of both parties have been silent on the truth of the Armenian Genocide. We urge you to break this pattern of complicity by officially recognizing that the Armenian Genocide was a genocide.”
The Senators who signed the letter to the President were John Cornyn (R-TX), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Mitt Romney (R-UT), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Rob Portman (R-OH), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Susan Collins (R-ME), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Ed Markey (D-MA), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Jack Reed (D-RI), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI.), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Bob Casey (D-PA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Gary Peters (D-MI), Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Angus King (I-ME), Tina Smith (D-MN), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR).
Responding to a question of the Greek newspaper Kathimerini, the spokesperson for the White House Jen Psaki said that the Biden administratio is committed to promoting human rights and ensuring that such atrocities are not repeated. ”A crucial part of this is recognizing the story,” the spokesperson noted.