Monday, March 30th, 2015

Representative Adam Schiff


One hundred years ago, the Ottoman Empire in its dying throws
undertook a systematic effort to exterminate the Armenian and Assyrian
people. They did so through a campaign of mass killing and displacement
which saw 1.5 million Armenians killed and millions more forced to
flee from their ancestral homes.

At the time, there was no word to describe an effort to eliminate
an entire people, though American officials in the region had no
difficulty describing the horrors they witnessed. The American
Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire Henry Morgenthau reported that,
"I am confident that the whole history of the human race contains no
such horrible episode as this. The great massacres and persecutions of
the past seem almost insignificant when compared with the sufferings
of the Armenian race in 1915."

It wasn't until 1943 when Raphael Lemkin coined the term "genocide"
that we had a word to describe the magnitude of the crime committed
against the Armenians. As Lemkin said at the time, he had in mind the
experience of the Armenians under Ottoman rule when he invented the
term, which, appallingly, was needed many times in the 20th Century to
describe the Holocaust, the Cambodian Genocide, the Rwandan Genocide,
and more.

The Turkish effort to eliminate the Armenian people failed, as
evidenced by the proud nation of Armenia and the millions of members
of the Armenian diaspora in the United States and around the world.

But there is hardly an Armenian household that does not carry the
memory of family members who were lost in the carnage. Even today,
there remain a handful of survivors who lived through the horrors of
the Genocide as children to make a new life for themselves.

Particularly while these survivors are still among us, I feel a deep
obligation to fight against the denial of the Genocide which sadly
remains the policy of the Turkish government.

The hundredth anniversary of the Genocide is also a time to recall one
of the most generous outpourings of compassion and support in American
history. Hearing of the scale of the humanitarian crisis, the Near
East Relief Foundation was formed to provide assistance and relief.

>From an initial goal of providing $5 million, the Foundation
would ultimately raise over $100 million -- or about $1.7 billion in
today's dollars. The Foundation's work saved the lives of millions of
victims of the Genocide, including over 130,000 orphans. Nearly 1,000
Americans traveled overseas to build orphanages, vocational schools,
and food distributions centers. The Foundation's success relied on
the generosity of every day Americans who learned of the plight of
the Armenian people and other genocide victims thousands of miles away
and who were moved to contribute. The Near East Relief Foundation was
a precursor to countless non-governmental humanitarian organizations,
and its work continues to this day.

Last month, I joined with over 40 of my colleagues to introduce
the Armenian Genocide Truth and Justice Resolution, a resolution
recognizing the Genocide that took place from 1915 to 1923. The
resolution also calls upon the President to work with the Turkish and
Armenian governments to bring about reconciliation based upon the full
acknowledgement of the historic fact of the Armenian Genocide. This
resolution states in simple and plain language the historic facts of
the Genocide and the degree to which Genocide denial on the part of
the Turkish government continues to hamstring the chances for peace
and stability in the region.

Sadly today, on the very same lands of Syria that were the killing
fields for hundreds of thousands of Armenians, ISIL threatens to
exterminate religious minorities, including Armenians. By recognizing
the Genocide, the President and the Congress proclaim that our
government will not forget those lost and we will not stand silent
in the face of crimes against humanity.

Ellie Wiesel once wrote that denial of genocide is the last chapter
of genocide. In this respect, the Armenian Genocide continues to
traumatize its victims even 100 years later. America must play its
part in helping to close this still open wound.

Rep. Adam Schiff represents the 28th Congressional District of
California, which is the largest Armenian-American constituency in
the United States.