100 years later, U.S. should recognize the Armenian Genocide

Published with the Orange County Register

In 1890, Sultan Abdul Hamid II declared he would solve the “Armenian Question” in the Ottoman Empire, beginning a series of violent pogroms that led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Armenians throughout the Empire. Armenian villages were destroyed, their residents were massacred.

That was only the beginning.

On April 24, here in the U.S. and around the world, lovers of freedom and justice will commemorate the centennial of the beginning of what is known to us – and should be known to the entire world – as the period of the Armenian Genocide.

It would be nice for world events to have automatic alerts like the ones we see flash on our smartphones every day announcing the start of vital events in history. Unfortunately, we can’t know what we have not yet experienced.

Few noticed Sultan Abdul Hamid’s declarations of 1890 or the resulting pogroms. There was no DrudgeReport to announce in 1914, after the start of the First World War, when Ottoman religious authorities declared jihad against all Christians except for those from countries to which it was allied. And there were no alerts on April 24, 1915, when the Armenian Genocide began in earnest with the arrest and execution by the Turkish government of hundreds of Armenian intellectuals.

Today we know that what started as a long series of pogroms in the late 19th century became a full-fledged genocide. An estimated 2 million Armenians lived in Turkey prior to April 24, 1915. By 1922, fewer than 400,000 remained.

Many were marched to death through the hot desert without food or water – or they were shot. Others, captured by government killing squads, faced other equally gruesome ends. Some were sold into slavery.

Why is it that when we hear and see news reports of Islamic State members in Iraq committing these same atrocities against the Yazidis, the world is ready to pronounce “genocide” – and rightfully so – yet only 20 countries in the world have been willing to officially recognize the Armenian Genocide? And why, most glaringly, is the United States not included on that list?

In 1994, the New York Times reported, “Trying to avoid the rise of moral pressure to stop the mass killing in Rwanda, the Clinton administration has instructed its spokesmen not to describe the deaths there as genocide, even though some senior officials believe that is exactly what they represent.” Yet within four years, the perpetrators of that crime were being tried and convicted of genocide.

One hundred years have passed since the beginning of the Armenian Genocide, and there isn’t anyone left to try or convict. But there is still an opportunity to set the record straight.

The Armenian Genocide Truth and Justice Resolution was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on March 18, and is intended to mark the centennial of the Armenian Genocide with official recognition that it occurred. I urge all Americans to call their members of Congress and demand that this time, in this cause, we do what the U.S. has done historically: Stand on the side of justice.

Michelle Steel is an Orange County Supervisor representing District 2.