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Kinnamon urges House to act
on bill to clarify Armenian genocide

New York, May 14, 2009 -- The U.S. government's reluctance to classify the 1915 massacre of 1.5 million Armenians as "genocide" leaves the matter festering in historical limbo, and the staff head of the National Council of Churches has urged the U.S. House of Representatives to set the matter straight.

The Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, NCC General Secretary, has written to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to  recommend passage of House Resolution 252,The bill, introduced by Rep. Adam B. Shiff (D-Calif.) calls upon President Obama "to ensure that the foreign policy of the United States reflects appropriate understanding and sensitivity concerning issues related to human rights, ethnic cleansing, and genocide documented in the United States record relating to the Armenian Genocide, and for other purposes."

The legislation has 120 co-sponsors in the House.

In an April 24 statement on Armenian Remembrance Day, the President distressed Armenian Americans and their friends by avoiding the word "genocide" to describe the events of 1915. Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, NCC President, said he was deeply disappointed by the omission.

"I speak on this issue as a person who lost 50 percent of my family to the Armenian genocide in Turkey," Aykazian said in a letter to Kinnamon and the NCC Governing Board.

"I do not hate Turks, and I don't hate others who have committed similar atrocities, but what we, the Armenians, have always asked for is a simple acknowledgement by the American government of a historical fact ... A simple acknowledgement by the U.S. Government is paramount to appease the souls of the more than 1.5 million people who perished under the Ottoman Empire and the millions more left orphaned and maimed.

"History is clear," Kinnamon said in his letter to Pelosi. "On April 24, 1915, authorities of the Ottoman Empire arrested some 250 Armenian religious and community leaders in Constantinople (modern day Istanbul). Immediately afterward, the Ottoman army forced hundreds of thousands of Armenians from their homes and forced them to march without food or water from Turkey to the Syrian desert. Massacres of men, women and children, accompanied by rape and sexual abuse, were reported by survivors and their descendants. When it was over, 1.5 million were dead.  The meticulously organized and systematic executions, elements of an Ottoman policy of extermination also aimed at others in the region, has been sadly declared by historians as the first of the twentieth century genocides."

The events of 1915 "will continue to fester" until all people acknowledge the verdict of history that they are a twentieth century genocide," Kinnamon said.

Kinnamon acknowledged that Mr. Obama's statement on the genocide was accurate so far as it went. The President wrote: "Ninety four years ago, one of the great atrocities of the 20th century began. Each year, we pause to remember the 1.5 million Armenians who were subsequently massacred or marched to their death in the final days of the Ottoman Empire. The Meds Yeghern must live on in our memories, just as it lives on in the hearts of the Armenian people."

Mr. Obama also declared that his previously stated views of the events of 1915 had “not changed,” and his use of the Armenian words for genocide – “Meds Yeghern” – were noted by many Armenians as a useful clarification of U.S. policy. The President also stated an obvious truth: “History, unresolved, can be a heavy weight.”

The National Council of Churches "welcomes the President’s efforts to help resolve this terrible episode of history," Dr. Kinnamon said. "But it is also our view that this resolution cannot take place unless all parties use the proper terms under international law to classify the event for what it was: a genocide. We urge that future statements of the President and U.S. government officials use the word as an essential step toward reconciliation and healing.

"We believe the passage of House Resolution 252 will be an important means of taking this crucial step."

The full text of the letter to Pelosi can be found here.


NCC News contact:  Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2228 (office), 646-853-4212 (cell) , pjenks@ncccusa.org

 

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