By Harut Sassounian
After the United States avoided the issue for 40 years, ever since President Ronald Reagan mentioned the Armenian Genocide in a Presidential Proclamation, President Joe Biden used the term Armenian Genocide on Saturday, despite the gag rule imposed on the U.S. government by the denialist rulers of the Republic of Turkey. For good measure, President Biden used the word genocide not once, but twice, in his “Statement on Armenian Remembrance Day.”
As a presidential candidate, Biden promised to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide. But, since Armenian-Americans were deceived so many times by previous presidents who had not kept their campaign promises, they were cautiously optimistic about Biden’s commitment.
Even though the United States had repeatedly recognized the Armenian Genocide beginning in 1951 when the U.S. government submitted an official document to the World Court; the U.S. House of Representatives adopted three resolutions in 1975, 1984 and 2019; the U.S. Senate unanimously adopted a resolution in 2019; and President Reagan issued a Presidential Proclamation on April 22, 1981, President Biden’s acknowledgment of the Armenian Genocide in 2021 is a major step forward with several positive consequences:
- Because the mass murder of 1.5 million people is an emotional issue, descendants of Armenian Genocide victims felt a deep sense of satisfaction that the genocide suffered by their ancestors is formally and correctly acknowledged by the President of the United States.
- This most recent and authoritative acknowledgement by the U.S. President will enable courts to go forward with lawsuits making claims by Armenians on genocide era-demands from the government of Turkey. In the past, such lawsuits were dismissed by federal judges who claimed (wrongly) that since the U.S. government had not acknowledged the Armenian Genocide, individual states like California could not pass laws allowing these lawsuits to proceed. Nevertheless, if the courts decide that President Biden’s statement on the Armenian Genocide is not sufficient to allow the filing of such lawsuits, then Armenian-Americans would be obliged to push for the adoption of a proposed law, not a commemorative resolution, which needs to be adopted by both Houses of Congress and signed by the President into law. That should be the final word on fulfilling the legal requirements for filing lawsuits against Turkey.
- As a global superpower, pronouncements by the U.S. President have a major effect on other countries – particularly Great Britain, Australia and Israel. Therefore, it is expected that several countries would follow suit in recognizing the Armenian Genocide.
- President Biden’s acknowledgment of the Armenian Genocide comes at a particularly sensitive time for Armenians worldwide following the disastrous defeat in last fall’s Artsakh War at the hands of Azerbaijan, Turkey and Islamic jihadist mercenaries. President Biden’s April 24 statement will boost the spirits of Armenians and could create an atmosphere of goodwill by world powers toward the just resolution of Artsakh’s status and the protection of its population.
- The struggle for genocide recognition is also a political battle between the country that perpetrated the mass crime and the descendants of the victims. The government of Turkey, as in past years, did everything in its power to prevent the U.S. from acknowledging the Armenian Genocide. Turkey paid millions of dollars to American lobbying organizations to deny the Genocide, pressured and threatened the United States with dire consequences should it acknowledge the Genocide. Nevertheless, Turkey suffered a devastating political blow. Turkey’s arrogant president, thinking that no country can go against his wishes, was sternly put in his place by the President of the United States. I am sure President Erdogan endured a sleepless night after President Biden called him on April 23, advising him of his decision to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide. Hopefully, the humiliated Erdogan understood that the world does not rotate around Turkey.
Let us now see what the Turkish government may do in retaliation. Will it temporarily recall its Ambassador from Washington, threaten to cut off commercial ties or block the U.S. government from using the Incirlik airbase in Turkey? I hope Erdogan will take all of these steps and many more. With such actions, Turkey will exacerbate U.S.-Turkish relations, provide worldwide publicity to the Armenian Genocide and drive its failing economy into bankruptcy. This could lead to internal turmoil and the eventual removal of Erdogan from the presidency during the next election, if not sooner. Interestingly, in a lengthy televised speech to the Turkish nation late at night on April 26, besides his usual lies about the Armenian Genocide, Erdogan dared not announce any actions against the US in retaliation to Biden’s April 24 statement. Thus, Erdogan displayed his utter humiliation and impotence.
As usual, not having been able to bully the U.S. into abandoning its plans to recognize the Genocide, Turkish leaders are now resorting to their usual tricks by stating that the US recognition does not mean anything. If it meant nothing, why did Turkey spend millions of dollars on lobbyists for several decades and pressure the U.S. government, threatening dire consequences?
Rather than continuing the lies and denials for over a century, it would be much better for Turkey to simply acknowledge the crimes of its predecessors, ask for forgiveness and make amends for the horrendous damages caused to the Armenian people. Turkey would do well to follow the example of Germany after the Holocaust. Germany apologized for Hitler’s mass crimes, erected memorials for the Holocaust victims and paid billions of dollars in reparations. That’s what civilized nations do when their leaders commit a grave crime.
In the meantime, Armenians around the world should pursue their demands through legal channels by filing multiple lawsuits against Turkey in various country courts and the European Court of Human Rights, seeking restitution for the damages caused by the Genocide. The government of Armenia, on the other hand, should take Turkey to the International Court of Justice (World Court), where only governments have the standing to file lawsuits.
Finally, this is the appropriate moment to remember and acknowledge a great friend of Armenians, former U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Marshall Evans, whose diplomatic career was cut short in 2006 after he told the truth about the Armenian Genocide during a visit to California. It would be only proper for the Biden administration to appoint Evans as the next US Ambassador to Armenia. This is the least the US government could do, after the President issues an official apology to him.
Harut Sassounian is the publisher of The California Courier, a weekly newspaper based in Glendale, California. He is the president of the Armenia Artsakh Fund, a non-profit organization that has donated to Armenia and Artsakh $917 million of humanitarian aid, mostly medicines, since 1989 (including its predecessor, the United Armenian Fund). He has been decorated by the presidents of Armenia and Artsakh and the heads of the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches. He is also the recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.
Florida Media Outlets Report on Local Armenian American Community’s Response to Biden’s Genocide Declaration
BOCA RATON, FL – As all eyes were on the White House last month, the Armenian American community was hyper mobilized in pressing the White House to fulfill President Biden’s pledge to recognize the Armenian Genocide as President on April 24.
With all signs pointing in the right direction and anticipation of the President’s genocide declaration building by the day, two Florida media outlets covered the local Armenian American community’s response.
“Florida Armenians here and across the state welcomed President Joe BIden’s recognition of Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day April 24” The Boca Voice posted on their Facebook page.
Later in the day, a headline from the Tampa Bay Times read “Biden’s recognition of genocide brings Florida’s Armenians relief.” Tampa Bay Times‘ breaking news reporter Josh Fiallo’s heartfelt reporting was the first major Florida newspaper to cover the President’s historic statement.
On Sunday, April 25, the Times devoted another story to the local Armenian American community on the west coast of Florida. Reporting “Genocide victims remembered on Red Sunday at Pinellas Armenian Church,” Times reporter Anastasia Dawson went to St. Hagop Armenian Church in Pinellas Park and spoke with Rev. Fr. Hovnan Demerjian and several parishioners.
“Demerjian, pastor at St. Hagop’s, called Biden’s statement ‘the healing of a wound’ that was a ‘long time in the making,'” he told the Tampa Bay Times. =
While no other newspaper or media outlet in Florida covered President Biden’s acknowledgement of the Armenian Genocide (reprinting the AP doesn’t count), Armenian Americans in Florida should be pleased to know that the Tampa Bay Times, that state’s largest newspaper, gave them ample coverage and connected with St. Hagop’s parishioners, and that our local reporters and outlets like the The Boca Voice truly listen to their community members and amplify their stories.
This past April, as Armenian Americans across the country were working hard and eagerly waiting to see if President Biden would recognize the Armenian Genocide in his first April 24th remembrance day statement, the community was also mourning the loss of three extraordinary men who would leave the their mark on the world in a way that makes all of us proud to be both Armenian and American.
In the beginning of April, the news broke that long time philanthropist and American homebuilder Hirair Hovnanian had passed away at his residence in Yerevan, Armenia, where he had retired after an impressive and successful life and career.
A bold, daring and caring individual, a visionary leader, the founder and benefactor of many charities, and devoted longtime Chairman of the Armenian Assembly of America’s Board, Hirair Hovnanian leaves behind a remarkable legacy. Hirair was an amazing leader and mentor, always ready to roll up his sleeves and tackle any challenge. Hirair’s integrity, passion, dedication, commitment, work ethic, and love of his people, were extraordinary.
A successful businessman, whose generosity extended to causes around the world, Hirair felt energized by the independence of Armenia, and did everything in his power to assist the newly independent Republic. He demonstrated his commitment to Armenia by resettling in his homeland where his philanthropy extended beyond precedent. Hirair responded immediately to the 1988 earthquake and embarked upon the recovery and rebuilding of the devastated areas. A builder and developer by profession, he knew exactly the type of assistance required and established a building parts manufacturing plant to accelerate the reconstruction process. His generous contributions in support of educational and religious institutions in Armenia and the diaspora are legion.
At the helm of the Assembly, he helped shape non-partisan advocacy, creating an example of a united voice for Armenian Americans in Washington, D.C., and strongly believed in the unique role of American leadership in advancing democracy and human rights. He lent every measure of support within his means towards the affirmation of the Armenian Genocide, including the establishment of the Armenian National Institute. He welcomed Armenian Assembly interns to his home every summer and embraced the next generation with his infectious enthusiasm for all things Armenian. Through his boundless generosity, he touched the lives of countless citizens in Armenia and Artsakh to whom he exemplified the best of the Armenian diaspora.
“We are all saddened by this great loss and remain immensely grateful to Hirair for his unparalleled legacy. He was the champion of every cause that benefited the Armenian people, and he never hesitated to lead from the front with unwavering dedication and commitment. May he rest in peace,” read a statement from the Armenian Assembly.
Ambassador Set Charles Momjian, a former trustee and board member of the Armenian Assembly, passed away on Monday, April 12, 2021 in Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania.
“He was born in Atlantic City on April 9, 1930 to Julia and Charles Momjian, both orphaned refugees from the Armenian genocide who were raised by American missionaries. The two parents were born in Malatya in the Ottoman Empire. Charles died at an early age and the family, which included younger brother Albert, had a difficult time during the Depression era,” the Armenian Mirror-Spectator reported.
After enrolling in the U.S. Army, Set Momjian led a prolific career in marketing and advertising at the Ford Motor Company. He went on to become a special advisor to U.S. presidents, and, per President Jimmy Carter’s appointment, served as a U.S. representative to the United Nations with the rank of Ambassador. Momjian was also appointed as a member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council by President Ronald Reagan in 1981.
Momjian’s impactful commitment to the Assembly and Armenian causes on Capitol Hill is still relevant today. His longtime friendship with President Joe Biden was cultivated during train rides he shared in the 1980s with the Delaware Senator, who was then Chairman of the Judiciary Committee and marshaled through committee approval of an Armenian Genocide resolution, which Senator Bob Dole (R-KS) brought to the Senate Floor in 1990.
“The Assembly appreciates the Momjian family’s dedication, including Set Charles Momjian’s brother Albert’s many years of service as the Assembly’s Solicitor, a role which Albert’s son, Mark Momjian, currently holds. The Assembly extends its condolences to Set Charles Momjian’s family and loved ones,” an announcement from the Assembly stated. Momjian was also active with the AGBU and the Knights of Vartan.
Three days later, on Thursday, April 15th, the world mourned the loss of Dr. Vartan Gregorian, President of the Carnegie Corporation, and one of the most famous Armenians in American history.
Dr. Gregorian was invaluable in the Armenian American community’s efforts to educate the public about the Armenian Genocide and the consequences of its denial. He led the way for others who followed in his footsteps in academia, administrative leadership at top universities, and as a world leader of philanthropy and education. His life’s work, much to long to list in a single column, took him to incredible places across the globe and led to his service in prestigious posts, such as the “Savior of The New York Public Library,” as the New York Times catalogued, as well as President of Brown University, and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, to name but a few.
“This is a painful loss for all Armenians, the United States, and the world. His achievements will stand the test of time, and the spirit in which he delivered those achievements will always be valued. May he rest in peace,” a statement from the Armenian Assembly read.