RECOGNIZING THE 81ST ANNIVERSARY OF THE ARMENIAN GENOCIDE



The SPEAKER pro tempore. Under a previous order of the House, the gentleman from Michigan [Mr. Levin] is recognized for 5 minutes.

Mr. LEVIN. Mr. Speaker, April 24, 1996 marks the 81st anniversary of one of the world's most tragic events-the genocide of the Armenian people by the Young Turk government of the Ottoman Empire. The Genocidal process which began in the 1890's came to a peak in 1915 when the Turkish government began to wipe out the Armenian population of Anatolia, their historic homeland.

The process continued in 1918 and 1920 when Turkish armies invaded the Armenian Republic in the Caucasus in a heartless attempt to eradicate the remnant of the Armenian people who had taken refuge in a newly freed homeland. The final act of genocide was committed in Smyrna in 1922 when the Turkish Nationalist armies burnt the beautiful coastal city on the Mediterranean and drove its Armenian and Greek population into the sea in full sight of American and other European warships.

In all, over 1.5 million Armenians perished and over 500,000 more were left homeless and driven into exile.

While the Sultan's government, that of Damat Ferit Pasha, directly after World War I held war crime trials and condemned to death the chief perpetrators of that heinous crime against humanity, the vast majority of the culpable were set free. From that day to the present, successive Turk governments have denied the Armenian Genocide and have attempted to spread doubt in the world community.

However, at the time, the United States had consular and embassy officials stationed in strategic locations in the Ottoman Empire and all these officials, including our Ambassador, Henry Morgenthau, reported the intent, the technique, and the results of Ottoman Turkey policy in detail to our own State Department. The records of these officials, demonstrate what the official records of all the European powers revealed-including Turkey's allies Germany and Austria-that the genocide was a deliberate act on the part of the government to destroy a native ethnic and religious minority whose only crime was to be different.

All victims of man's inhumanity to man have the right to have their fate known and recorded. The survivors have the right to mourn the victims. And the world has the responsibility to see that the crime of genocide does not go unpunished, at the very least to the extent that the perpetrators are held up to universal opprobrium.

Genocide cannot be allowed to be a policy of state. A crime unpunished and unrepented is a crime which can and will be repeated. Even today, as I speak, the present Turkish Government is enforcing a blockade of Armenia blocking American humanitarian assistance from reaching that country. This aid, supported by this congress, is prevented by the present government of Turkey from being transported to Armenia by land. Such a violation of fundamental principles of humane conduct cannot be allowed to continue.

Take, for example, the Yessaian family, whose story is recorded in the book, "Out of Turkey," which is distributed by Wayne State University Press. Only six members out of a family of 37 survived the Genocide, and of six, four had left Turkey prior to the onslaught. One of these survivors is alive today and can recall the heart wrenching experience of seeing his mother and his relatives perish before his very eyes. He still experiences nightmares to this very day.

Suren Aprahamian, also a survivor, has written his memoirs "From Van to Detroit: Surviving the Armenian Genocide," which was published in Ann Arbor, MI. He was among the few survivors of an extended family of over 40 and was forced to watch as old men, women, and other children died one by one due to hunger, thirst, slaughter, and exposure.

Hundreds of other tragic stories of survivors have been preserved on oral history tapes which are on file at the Armenian Research Center of the University of Michigan-Dearborn, directed by another of my constituents, Dr. Dennis R. Papazian. These hundreds of stories, recited by innocent victims, provide a human dimension to the chilling horror of this cataclysm.

Finally, Mr. Speaker, there are still many living survivors in my district. The memory of their tragedy still haunts them. They participate each year in commemoration ceremonies fighting against hope that the world will not forget their anguish. Fighting against hope that the present-day Turkish Government will show signs of remorse for a crime committed be their ancestors. Fighting against hope that the United States Government will again show signs of sympathy as it did in 1915-1920.

To me, Mr. Speaker, the Armenian Genocide in not just a footnote in history. It is something that many of my constituents feel very deeply about. It is an issue above politics and partisanship. It is a question of morality.

I am painfully aware of other recent and current acts of genocidal activities being carried on around the world. What began as an exception in the Armenian case, and which then shocked the civilized world, seems to becoming almost commonplace. It is my belief that when governments are allowed to deny genocide with impunity, and its perpetrators escape punishment, it only encourages this dreadful virus to spread further in the international body politic.

Our Nation's strong support for human rights for all people is more important than ever as we witness the systematic extermination of innocent people caught up in ethnic and religious conflict.

We cannot let the Armenian Genocide be forgotten. To do so would be to doom future generations to the same course. Only through remembering the past, and condemning genocide, can we stop such acts of hatred, cruelty and violence from happening again, again, and again.

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From page H3791 of the April 24, 1996, issue of the Congressional Record (Vol. 142, No. 54). Boldface added for emphasis.