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Public Statements

Commemorating the Armenian Genocide

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to commemorate the genocide of Armenians committed by the Ottoman Empire. We have a grave obligation, in truth and justice, to acknowledge this genocide against Armenians. This House is obligated, as is the government of the United States, and all peoples and governments around the world. That obligation is all the more grave because the Turkish government--our friend and ally--aggressively denies this genocide.

The facts surrounding the genocide are well known and established beyond any doubt whatsoever. Beginning in April 1915, following years of pogroms and other repressive measures, Ottoman authorities undertook the systematic annihilation of as many as one and a half million Armenians through shootings, mass burnings, gassing, poisoning, drowning, forced labor, or death marches into the Syrian desert. The scale and ferocity of these atrocities were unprecedented in the modern era. The Honorable United States Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire 1913-1916 Henry Morgenthau characterized the policy of the Ottoman government as a ``campaign of race extermination'' and was instructed by Secretary of State Robert Lansing to continue his protests along with the officials of many other countries, including allies of the Ottomans. Most tellingly, the post-World War I Turkish government indicted the top leaders involved in the ``organization and execution'' of the policy and in the ``massacre and destruction of the Armenians.'' The chief organizers were all condemned to death for their crimes, though the verdicts of the courts were not enforced.

As is well known, Raphael Lemkin did not coin the term ``genocide'' until 1944, almost 30 years after the Ottoman massacre of Armenians. But in his groundbreaking work on the subject, Lemkin cited the case of the Armenians as the classic example of genocide. His idea of genocide as an offense against international law was widely accepted by the international community and was one of the legal bases of the trial of Nazi leaders at Nuremburg.

Despite the overwhelming preponderance of evidence of the Ottoman government's policy of annihilation of Armenians and the virtually universal acceptance of the Armenian case as a classic example of genocide, the government of the modern state of Turkey refuses to acknowledge the crimes of the previous regime as the responsibility of the Ottoman government or as a case of genocide. Indeed, the Turkish government even has undertaken the persecution of those Turks who recognize the genocide.

One day the Turkish government will acknowledge the genocide. That will be a great day for Turkey--for the moral air of the country--and a truly patriotic gesture, a sign of spiritual strength. The sooner the better! The United States does a disservice to Turkey and its people by facilitating genocide denial by not pressing Turkey harder to acknowledge the truth.

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