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Finally, President Biden Acknowledges the Armenian Genocide! What’s Next?

President Joe Biden participates in his first official press conference Thursday, March 25, 2021, in the East Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

By Harut Sassounian
Syndicated Columnist

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 Armenians Participate in International Holocaust Remembrance Day Commemoration at Palm Beach Central High School

WELLINGTON, FL – On Friday, January 25, 2019 the Palm Beach County School District held an International Holocaust Remembrance Day Commemoration at Palm Beach Central High School (PBCHS). The event featured a collaborative program of student speakers from the school’s Holocaust Studies Department that highlighted the mass genocides of the 20th century, and called attention to the increase of violent crimes due to bigotry and hatred.

Over 100 students, faculty, and administrators gathered in the auditorium to hear the presentations, including remarks from PBCHS Holocaust Studies Department Chair Ms. Maureen Holtzer, and Zelda Fuksman, a Holocaust survivor who speaks to students across Florida about the Holocaust as part of the state’s inSIGHT Through Education initiative.

Following the presentations, participants traveled outside to the unveiling of a Genocide Memorial Garden, which will be a permanent fixture for students, parents, and teachers to learn about all genocides, man’s inhumanity towards man, and the lessons of intolerance and prejudice.

Norman Frajman, a local Holocaust survivor spoke about his experience, the importance of remembrance, and how we can all learn from the past lest we be doomed to repeat it.

Florida Armenians Editor Taniel Koushakjian offered remarks about the local Armenian American community’s efforts to expand genocide education through the work of the Armenian Genocide Committee (AGC). The AGC has successfully led a unified Armenian American community effort since 2014, working hand-in-hand with government officials, school administrators, educators, and parents in Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade Counties.

Ms. Holtzer and her students spent weeks preparing the beautiful grounds of the garden. They also worked passionately to deliver a moving presentation and program. The Genocide Memorial Garden features hand-made butterflies that list the names of genocide victims for each instance of genocide, including the Armenian Genocide.

“The garden was created by students from my research class as their legacy to the school,” Ms. Holtzer said. “They felt it was of utmost importance to create something that would be a reminder of the devastating consequences of hatred. They selected the butterfly as their symbol as it represents both beauty and freedom,” said Ms. Holtzer.

To conclude the program participants were all given butterflies which were then set free together to mark the opening of the garden.

“I think it’s wonderful,” stated Richard Baronian of Boynton Beach, FL. The names of Baronian’s family members who perished in the genocide are displayed in the garden. “The genocide remembrance garden at Palm Beach Central High School will teach the students and parents of non-Armenians about our history. Hopefully they will want to find out more so the world never forgets,” Baronian said.

ADL Lecture Series to host Holocaust Scholar Dr. Deborah Lipstadt

On Monday, March 19th, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) 2018 Lecture Series will welcome Professor Deborah Lipstadt, Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University for “Denial – History on Trial: My Day In Court With David Irving.”

The ADL Courage to Care Award will also be presented posthumously to Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus, a Jewish-American couple from Philadelphia, who rescued 50 Jewish children from Austria in 1939.

Professor Deborah E. Lipstadt is a renown Holocaust historian and member of the International Association of Genocide Scholars. In her acclaimed 1993 book Denying the Holocaust, the first full-length study of those who attempt to deny the Holocaust, Deborah Lipstadt called David Irving, a prolific writer of books on World War II, “one of the most dangerous spokespersons for Holocaust denial.” The following year, after Lipstadt’s book was published in the United Kingdom, Irving filed a libel suit against Lipstadt and her publisher. She prepared her defense with the help of a first-rate team of solicitors, historians, and experts, and a dramatic trial unfolded.

In 2017, the Jewish and Armenian communities of South Florida held the first ever Joint Holocaust & Armenian Genocide Commemoration in Florida at Congregation B’nai Israel in Boca Raton. The commemoration featured a screening of the movie “DENIAL: Holocaust History on Trial,” based on the true story of Lipstadt’s legal battle.

Read Dr. Deborah Lipstadt’s full biography here: https://www.ushmm.org/confront-genocide/speakers-and-events/biography/deborah-e-lipstadt.

Event Details:

Monday, March 19, 2018

7:30pm – 9:30pm

Boca West Country Club
20583 Boca West Dr.
Boca Raton, Florida 33434

This event is free and open to the public. To rsvp, call Tanya Miller at 561-988-2935 or email tmiller@adl.org.

Facebook RSVP: https://www.facebook.com/events/159009364893668/