Rep. Judy Chu was one of 405 House members who, in a rare show of bipartisan agreement on a fractured Washington landscape, voted this week to officially recognize the mass death of some 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of Ottoman Turks from 1915 to 1916 as a genocide.
The move packs particular significance in the Los Angeles area, which has the largest Armenian population in the world outside of Armenia. Prominent South Pasadena Armenian-Americans such as Mayor Marina Khubesrian and school board president Suzie Abajian joined a chorus lauding the House move.
“This is a victory that is decades overdue,’’ Chu, a Democrat from the 27th District, said — adding that the move “makes it U.S. policy to not only commemorate the Armenian Genocide, but also to reject any efforts to deny its existence, or the existence of any other genocide.’’
“Finally, the U.S. will be on the right side of history, no longer bowing to the intimidation of Turkey, and finally acknowledging that what happened to the Armenian people in the Ottoman Empire was genocide,’’ Chu said.
Tuesday’s passage of House Resolution 296 — by a 405-11 vote — marked the first time either chamber of Congress has officially designated the World War I-era mass death of Armenians as a genocide. Previously, U.S. lawmakers had been reluctant to apply that designation out fear of offending Turkey, a NATO ally that still refuses acknowledge the atrocities as a genocide.
But Turkey’s recent bloody assaults in Northern Syria, following President Trump’s withdrawal of U.S. troops from the region, have sparked an anti-Turkey furor on both sides of the aisle — as well as concerns of a parallel between the 1915-16 deaths and threats today against the Kurdish people of Syria.
“Recent attacks by the Turkish military against the Kurdish people are a stark reminder of the danger in our own time,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, who put the measure up for a vote in the wake of the recent Turkish raids. The resolution was led by Rep. Adam Schiff of Burbank.
Armenians put the number of deaths — from killings, starvation and disease — at 1.5 million when Ottoman Turks, between 1915 and 1916, staged mass deportations from eastern Anatolia to the Syrian desert. The Republic of Turkey still puts the number at around 300,000 and will not use the word “genocide.”
But according to the International Association of Genocide Scholars, a global non-partisan organization, the death toll was “more than a million.”
“There is no denying that this coordinated effort was a genocide,’’ Chu said. “Our own diplomat at the time, Henry Morgenthau, describes in great detail how cultural leaders were targeted and men, women, and children were forced onto long death marches. But until today, our government has been unwilling to officially call it a genocide. That indifference is not only an insult to those who were killed for their ethnicity, it also enables other murderers who would seek to do the same. We must make it clear that genocide and ethnic cleansing are never acceptable.”
The House move drew emotional reactions from South Pasadenans of Armenian descent as well.
“I didn’t know how much I needed this recognition by the U.S. House of Representatives,’’ said Khubesrian.
“It feels like a salve on a constantly healing would. My own great-grandfather and my grandmother and her family were directly impacted by the genocide along with the 1.5 million Armenians who perished along with several other ethnic groups. This is a wonderful step in the right direction of full recognition by the U.S. government, and to holding the Turkish government accountable for their past and present atrocities.’’
Abajian, the school board president, echoed those thoughts.
“As the grandchild of four Armenian Genocide survivors, I am glad that the House of Representatives finally passed a resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide,’’ Abajian said. “This is long overdue, as the recognition comes 104 years after the genocide. It is unfortunate that it took the recent atrocities of the Turkish government against the Kurds in northern Syria for this resolution to pass. …
“In the same region where my grandparents were sent into the Syrian desert on a death march, the recent Turkish offensive has so far resulted in at least 200 Kurds killed, including Hevrin Khalaf, a young Kurdish-Syrian woman elected official who was shot execution style, and 200,000 displaced.
“I am grateful for all the efforts of our Congresswoman Judy Chu for bringing the recognition of the Armenian Genocide to fruition. Also, I am grateful for Congressman Adam Schiff, who is one of the sponsors of the resolution.
“My hope is that peace and justice will soon be restored to Syria, the country of my birth, and its people.”