On Saturday night, a crowd gathered at a theater in the suburbs of Portland to watch Intent to Destroy, a film about the Armenian Genocide and the continuing denial by the Turkish government of its occurrence.
As my friend and colleague and I took our seats, we realized that we were the only people in the theater that weren't of Armenian descent. As we are both Jewish and members of the Never Again Coalition, my friend and I felt that we had a shared connection with the Armenian community. Both of our peoples have suffered genocide. Both communities continue to speak out about the horrors of genocide and the need to prevent future ones from happening. But something happened as we watch the film. We both realized that descendants of victims of the Holocaust have something that the Armenian community doesn't. Though there are deniers out there, there is a general acceptance in the international community that the Holocaust took place. That over 6 million Jews perished at the hands of the Nazi regime. Following the Holocaust, there were the Nuremberg trials and the UN's Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
But what about the Armenian Genocide? Today marks Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, Meds Yeghern, when 1.5 million Armenians were deported, massacred or marched to their deaths by Ottoman forces. Today, President Trump followed suit with his predecessors - with the notable exception of Ronald Regan - and marked the day without using the word genocide. The Turkish government has continued a campaign of suppression and denial of the genocide. The US , which sees Turkey as a key ally, continues to bow to Turkey's pressure to downplay the genocide.
As I looked around the room, I realized that this community of Armenian-Americans had been denied something so important. The Turkish government's denial and the United States' failure to acknowledge the genocide, has taken something from the Armenian people. For how can a people be allowed to fully grieve without acknowledgement for the horrific crimes that were committed?
Raphael Lemkin, the Polish lawyer who coined the term genocide, repeatedly stated that the Ottoman crimes against Armenians was key to his beliefs about the need for legal protection of groups. The spirit of Raphael Lemkin is very much alive in legislation that is before Congress now.
The Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act would improve the ability of the US government to respond to emerging genocide and mass atrocity issues around the world by implementing three key measures:
- Supporting the Atrocities Prevention Board (APB), which brings together all major US government agencies to share intelligences and work together in coordinating the approach to emerging atrocities.
- Mandating training for Foreign Service offices based at US embassies around the world to recognize warning signs of atrocities in order to alert the US government as early as possible to allow for swift/early intervention and peace-building support.
- Institutionalizing the Complex Crises Fund - the only fund of its kind. It allows for flexible funding between US budget cycles for rapid response to emerging atrocities.
We can and should continue to demand that the US government acknowledges that what happened to the Armenians beginning on April 24, 1915 was genocide. We should all thank the 100 members of Congress who signed a letter to President Trump this week asking him to do just that. But we must also work to prevent future genocides from happening.
We also encourage you to contact your Senators and Representatives and call on them to support the Elie Wiesel Act. In Oregon we are very lucky to have the support of Senators Merkley and Wyden as well as Representatives Bonamici, Blumenauer, and DeFazio.
If you are a survivor of genocide, please sign this Survivors Letter in support of Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act, https://goo.gl/forms/AAwPBDQjnHanwhYk2
Together we can put meaning into Never Again. Together we can heal old wounds and prevent new ones.