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Genocide Resolution Gains Momentum in Congress

John Jabagchourian / Editor

Taking steps towards the truth, yet not quite through the door, the 106th U.S. Congress has experienced a last minute spark in moving House Resolution 596 through the legislative process.

The resolution, affirming the Armenian Genocide, will be heard and voted on in the U.S. House of Representatives after the full House International Relations Committee passed H. Res. 596 on a 24 yes, 11 no and 2 present vote on September 3, 2000.

“I am very proud of this measure and of the committee members for voting to do the right thing despite the overwhelming Turkish lobbying efforts we have all felt,” co-author and local Congressman George Radanovich (R-CA) said. “I continue to reject Turkey’s presumption that it can impose its views regarding our response to the Armenian Genocide.”

Up until the August Congressional break, H. Res. 596 formerly known as H. Res. 398 remained dormant and stuck in committee, likely to have expired with this session of Congress.

Speaker of the House, Denis Hastert (R-IL), Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX ) and Chairman of the International Relations Committee, Benjamin Gilman (R-NY) were initially not in favor of the resolution and would not give it a chance to get passed by the committee. However, things changed as party politics became an issue. The timing of the resolution may have helped it get onto the floor.

The two major parties are once again in a close battle for control of the House in the 2000 election. The Democrats are feeling ambitious and the Republicans are a bit on their heels. In this battle for majority status in the House, H. Res. 596 may play a role in the outcome.

Congressional Quarterly has reported that incumbent candidate James Rogan (R-CA) is in a difficult race against Democrat challenger Adam Schiff. Rogan is the representative of California’s 27th district, which includes Glendale and Burbank with the highest concentration of Armenians outside of Yerevan.

Passage of the resolution would help Rogan in his race as well as improve the Republican’s chances of maintaining the majority in the House in a few other races.

hastertAt a fundraiser for Rogan in late August, Speaker Hastert surprisingly said that he would support the Genocide resolution and bring it to the House floor for vote. It was this sudden reversal of opinion that provided the spark for the Armenian Genocide resolution to be brought up in committee.

When the House reconvened after the August break, the House International Relations Committee held a four and a half-hour hearing on September 14. Three panels gave testimony for and against the resolution.

The first panel consisted of members of Congress in support of the resolution, including Democratic Whip David Bonior (D-MI) and Congressman Rogan. They testified that the resolution is a statement by the U.S. House on the American response to the Armenian Genocide and not an attack on the Turkish Government.

chsleftThe second panel featured remarks by State Department representative Marc Grossman who indicated that the Administration’s opposition to the Genocide resolution is not due to the view that the Genocide never happened but rather the impact it could have on U.S. and Turkish relations.

The third panel consisted of experts in the field of genocide studies: Prof. Robert Smith and Prof. Robert Melson who provided historical facts of the Armenian Genocide. Also in that panel were Turkish denial crusaders, Prof. Justin McCarthy and Gunduz Suphi Aktan, a former Turkish Foreign Ministry official.

roganThe week after the hearing, the House International Relations Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights adopted the measure by voice vote on September 21, sending it to full committee.

Speaking in support of the resolution prior to the vote was Subcommittee Chairman Chris Smith (R-NJ) who stressed that U.S. foreign policy must not be “complicit to a conspiracy of silence about genocide.”

Representative Cynthia McKinney (D-GA) criticized the “disinformation, misinformation or outright lies,” by those lobbyists denying the Armenian Genocide.

mckinneyThe high priced Turkish lobby led by former Representative and one time Speaker Robert Livingston, though in full force, were unable to stop this measure from being passed.

After the approval by the Subcommittee, Turkey issued threats to the U.S. Government. Demonstrators in Adana burned the Armenian flag and American-made goods in front of the U.S. consulate in the city.

Demonstrators called upon Turkish people to boycott U.S. products if the House approves the draft bill. Turkey warned the U.S. that adoption of the bill would seriously harm the friendly ties between the two countries as well as damage Ankara’s already tense relations with Yerevan.

These threats however failed as those working for the Genocide resolution’s passage used the Speaker’s support as leverage to get it on to the House floor.

repPrior to the mark-up hearing on September 28, the original resolution, H. Res. 398, was renamed and reintroduced as H. Res. 596. The new bill replaced the clause requiring training of U.S. Diplomats on the Armenian Genocide in order to avoid an attempt to kill the bill by lead opponent Dan Burton (R-IN) who claimed additional jurisdiction on behalf of the Government Reform Committee that he chairs.

After another long debate, and proposed stall tactics by Representatives Burton and Tom Lantos (D-CA) to water down the wording of the resolution, the vote in full Committee was postponed to October 3.

It was reconsidered and approved in the full committee and sent to the House floor to be voted on.

Now H. Res. 596 is one step away from becoming official record of the U.S. House of Representatives. This is where it will become interesting to see if the resolution will get the same support that it enjoyed earlier by the Republican leadership, or if they will abandon it hoping to have done enough to get Rogan reelected.

gilman2H. Res. 596 is a true testament to the power of the people’s vote. This resolution could determine who would have control of the 107th U.S. Congress. It is however unfortunate that this resolution is not passed on its own strength, the truth and support of human rights. Yet it is clear that the alliance the U.S. has made with Turkey has long since prevented the U.S. from doing the right thing.

It is time for the American voters to call upon its government to do the right thing rather than the strategic thing.

H. Res. 596 affirms the United States record on the Armenian Genocide and 1) Calls upon the President to ensure that foreign policy of the U.S. reflects appropriate understanding and sensitivity concerning issues related to human rights, ethnic cleansing, and genocide documented in the U.S. record relating to the Armenian Genocide and 2) Calls upon the President to properly characterize the Armenian Genocide as genocide in the Presidents annual April 24th address.

Representative George Radanovich and Minority Whip David Bonior introduced the Armenian Genocide resolution into the International Relations Committee this year and have been the ones pulling the strings and fighting to get this resolution onto the floor and passed.

radanovichIt was during the April 24th commemoration on the Fresno State campus when Congressman Radanovich’s district director, Steve Samuelian, reported to the students that the Congressman co-authored this bill. But until now relatively little has been heard about the resolution.

Even Armenian President Robert Kocharian’s visit to Washington this summer did little to spark movement in the resolution.

Throughout the year, the Armenian Assembly of America Inc. and the Armenian National Committee have worked together to lobby for congressional support for the resolution and managed to get over 140 representatives to sign on and cosponsor the resolution.

Much of the work was done by staff and interns who called Armenian constituents to get them actively involved and urge their Representatives to cosponsor the bill.

H. Res. 596 will need continued support from constituents to have a good chance of passing on the House floor. Each call to a Congressman makes a difference in the way they vote.