Resolution sponsors praise Obama’s record on Genocide

Letter comes ahead of president’s April trip to Turkey

by Emil Sanamyan

Published: Saturday March 14, 2009

Rep. Adam Schiff (D.-Calif.) at microphone, with Rep. George Radanovich (R.-Calif.), left, and Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D.-N.J.), discussing the Armenian Genocide resolution in January 2007. Armenian Reporter

Washington - Key sponsors of the anticipated congressional resolution affirming the U.S. record on the Armenian Genocide have written to President Barack Obama to recall his "courage" as a senator and a presidential candidate "in characterizing properly the slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians from 1915-1923 as genocide" and stressing the importance of "formal American recognition."

The March 10 letter to Mr. Obama, co-signed by Reps. Adam Schiff (D.-Calif.), George Radanovich (R.-Calif.), Frank Pallone, Jr. (D.-N.J.), and Mark Kirk (R.-Ill.), noted that "no president in the postwar era has come into office with a stronger understanding of the historic facts of the genocide." (See full text below.)

The four members of Congress are currently seeking additional co-sponsors for a congressional resolution affirming the U.S. record on the Armenian Genocide.

The letter comes a week after other congressional supporters of the resolution, particularly Rep. Brad Sherman (D.-Calif.), downplayed the likelihood that Mr. Obama would use the word "genocide" in the annual presidential message to Armenian-Americans delivered around April 24, the day of commemoration of the Armenian Genocide. (See story.)

Additionally, President Obama plans to visit Turkey just weeks before April 24. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made public the president's intention during her own trip to Ankara on March 7. (See editorial.)

The president is expected to attend the April 6-8 Istanbul summit of the Alliance of Civilizations initiative launched recently by Spain and Turkey with the blessing of the United Nations. The visit is seen as part of Mr. Obama's policy to reach out to the Muslim world.

That trip would cap a tour that includes three other stops. On April 2, Mr. Obama will be in London for the summit of the world's 20 leading economies (including Turkey); he will next go to the NATO summit held on April 3-4 in Strasbourg and the U.S.-European Union summit in Prague on April 5.

No "clarity" after Clinton trip

Speaking on March 2 at the Armenian Assembly of America conference in Washington Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said he spoke with Mrs. Clinton before her trip and that a "lot still remains unclear" about the Obama administration's intentions on the Armenian Genocide issue. The issue was not raised publicly during Mrs. Clinton's trip.

Instead Mrs. Clinton and Turkey's Foreign Minister Ali Babacan issued a joint statement that among other things stressed the need "to promote peace, stability, and prosperity in the south Caucasus, including through U.S. support for the efforts of Turkey and Armenia to normalize relations and joint support for the efforts of the Minsk Group to resolve the Nagorno Karabakh conflict."

A day after the visit, Mr. Babacan told Turkey's NTV station that "I still see a risk [of U.S. affirmation of the Genocide]. Mr. Obama made the promise five times in a row," Agence France Presse reported on March 8.

He added that "the new American administration understands Turkey's sensibilities better today," warning that "a bad step by the United States would only worsen the process" of reconciliation between Armenia and Turkey.

On March 10-13, Mr. Babacan's deputy undersecretary Unal Cevikoz arrived in Washington for follow-up meetings at the State Department and Capitol Hill.

Text of the letter

The following is the text of the letter from four members of Congress to President Barack Obama.

March 10, 2009

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President,

As we approach the upcoming 94th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide on April 24, we want to thank you for the courage you have always shown in characterizing properly the slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians from 1915-1923 as genocide. No president in the postwar era has come into office with a stronger understanding of the historic facts of the genocide, or with a greater track record of speaking plainly on this terrible chapter in the past.

As a United States Senator, your record on the Armenian Genocide was clear and unequivocal. In 2005 and 2006 you joined many of your colleagues in asking President Bush to refer to the slaughter of Armenians as genocide, noting that "[i]t is in the best interests of our nation and the entire global community to remember the past and learn from these crimes against humanity to ensure that they are never repeated."

In 2006 you wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in the wake of the recall from Yerevan of Ambassador John Evans for using the term "genocide" to describe the events of 1915-23. In your letter you described the official U.S. position on the genocide as "untenable" and reminded the Secretary that "the occurrence of the Armenian genocide in 1915 is not an ‘allegation,' a ‘personal opinion,' or a ‘point of view.' Supported by overwhelming evidence, it is a widely documented fact."

In questions submitted to Ambassador-designate Marie Yovanovitch last year, you pressed her on the issue of genocide recognition, specifically asking her what steps she would take to recognize the genocide and what actions the Department of State was undertaking to press for Turkish recognition of the crimes committed by their Ottoman forebears. Last April, in a statement printed in the Congressional Record, you pledged to "continue to push for the acknowledgement of the Armenian genocide."

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