Saturday, October 6, 2007

‘The Resolution Speaks to the Survival of the Armenian People Today’

Says Congressman Edward Royce
By Khatchig Mouradian

The Armenian Weekly
October 6, 2007

WASHINGTON (A.W.)—The following interview with Congressman Edward R. Royce (R-Calif.) was conducted on Sept. 28 in his office in Washington. The video of the interview can be viewed on www.haireniktv.com.

Khatchig Mouradian—Congressman, where does the Genocide Resolution stand at this point and where do we go from here?

Edward Royce—Well, what we do now is what we did a few years ago when we got the bill out of committee. I’ve served on the Foreign Affairs Committee for a number of years, and I carried in the State Senate of California the first genocide resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide. We got that out of the California State Senate with a little help from our friend George Deukmejian, who was governor at the time.

Also, a few years ago we were able to actually get this very resolution on to the House floor. Now, at that point in time, President [Bill] Clinton contacted Speaker [Dennis] Hastert and they convinced the leadership not to bring it up on the House floor. But where we’re focused right now is explaining to the Members that the French have recognized the genocide, the Germans have recognized it, and for those of us who are Republicans, that Ronald Reagan, as president, recognized the genocide. It is time that we officially, as the Congress of the United States, do this. We’re in the process right now of talking to the members—and I’m working on the Republican side—in order to have the votes there if we can schedule this before committee.

K.M.—And why is it important for the U.S. Congress to recognize the Armenian genocide, an event that took place in a different part of the world 92 years ago?

E.R.—My father was involved during the Second World War with U.S. forces when they went into Dachau, the concentration camp. He actually took photographs, he was an amateur photographer. And ever since, he has been quite outspoken on the way in which the international community can be silent at times about genocide. One of the things he reminds people of is Hitler’s comment back to the chairman of the joint chief of staff in the Reich. And Hitler said, “Who speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

The reality is that history can repeat itself and will do so especially if we don’t get history right, and if we don’t have it acknowledged. And when you have something as horrific as the genocide in which over one and a half million Armenians perished in Western Anatolia and Turkey, when you have something on that scale and it is not acknowledged, there is the danger that it could be repeated.

This is also important to us because Armenia is struggling today, and here it is in the grips of an embargo imposed by Turkey and by Azerbaijan. They’re in a tough neighborhood and in the last three years we’ve seen Azerbaijan increase its defense budget 638 percent. If we wonder about how Armenia struggles in this environment, I’ll just share with you the index of economic freedom, which measures how much progress different countries make. It lists Turkey at 83rd in the world, while young Armenia is ranked 32nd. So you can see the amount of reform going on in that country, but at the same time you can see the discrimination, and you can see the high tariffs imposed by its neighbors in terms of goods and services getting in and out of the country. So this not only speaks to the past, it speaks to the survival of Armenia and the Armenian people today.

This is one of the reasons that we’ve been involved in efforts to try to champion the Millennium Challenge account, and as you know Armenia will receive over $235 million for its rural areas, for its agriculture, to help rebuild its roads. But at the same time, what we’re also trying to do is knock down that embargo.

And as you know, my friend, Congressman Crowley from New York and myself championed the legislation to explicitly prevent any funding for any rail line that goes through that region and bypasses Armenia. We’re going to continue to speak out for the truth and point out the obvious and use U.S. power and prestige and the fact that this country is based on an ideal—that ideal is freedom—in order not only to try to help Armenia today but to have the record books, the history books, properly record all over the world what happened. And frankly, when Congress speaks, it helps focus people’s attention on what is actually happening in the world.

K.M.—You’ve also been very active in speaking out against the genocide in Darfur. So what parallels do you see there?

E.R.—I took the actor Don Cheadle along with Paul Rusesabagina (who he portrays in the movie “Hotel Rwanda”) and a nightline television camera crew into Darfur, Sudan, and recorded the aftermath of an attack there. We went into the village of Tinei, which was once a vibrant community but now has a population of a handful of people. We talked to survivors of different attacks while we were there, and two documentaries were produced out of it on that genocide. Subsequently we were able to get a genocide resolution through the United Nations and passed it here through Congress. In so doing, we’ve now put enormous pressure on China to quit providing the arms. (Just as China provided the arms used by Rwanda in the genocide in Rwanda, they’re now providing the arms here.) And this kind of pressure, I think, can help mobilize the international community.

And let’s think again about the point President Reagan made when he recognized the Armenian genocide. He spoke of the Holocaust, the Armenian genocide, and then the genocide in Cambodia that took two million lives. And he was making the point that if we don’t speak out, history can repeat itself. Here it is today, repeating itself, with a radical fundamentalism that is driving the Janjaweed, and the Khartoum government is right behind it. The Khartoum government is actually involved in helping fund this. So again, to me, pointing these things out, and trying to educate people around the world and trying to get an admission as to what is happening is very, very important in terms of human rights. If you don’t get the past right, there’s a danger you’re not going to get the future right. And we should call the Armenian genocide for what it is: genocide.

K.M.—Congressman, what is your take on the recent letter signed by eight former Secretaries of State?

E.R.—If President Reagan could speak out, if the French National Assembly could speak out, if historians all around the world can speak out, it’s time for the U.S. Congress to speak out, regardless of what kind of angst that might cause to some in foreign affairs. I just think you try to do the right thing, and that’s what we need to do.

K.M.—Congressman, one of the issues being raised, especially in the Turkish media, is how the Genocide Resolution is being pushed forward by the Democrats. They often ignore the fact that the resolution enjoys bipartisan support. How can we make the case for that?

E.R.—I think people forget that it was under Republican majority that we actually got the resolution out of committee in the past. And it was under a Republican president, President Reagan, that the Armenian genocide was addressed. And so, as one who has labored long and hard on this, I’m well aware of the fact that this is a bipartisan effort. I would think anyone who is trying to claim otherwise is being a little political. And frankly, with these kinds of issues we should keep the partisan politics out of it. We’re talking about human rights, we’re talking about history here, and so I appreciate you asking that question because it’s good to get that history right, too. We passed that resolution out of the committee successfully with the help of Republicans and Democrats, when the Republicans were the majority.

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