Montreal’s Armenians prepare for resolution vote

Armenian-Canadians are bracing themselves for disappointment again as the Turkish government and lobby groups intensify their efforts to derail a vote on a U.S. House of Representatives resolution that would label the mass killing of Armenians in 1915 as genocide.

Armenian-Canadians are bracing themselves for disappointment again as the Turkish government and lobby groups intensify their efforts to derail a vote on a U.S. House of Representatives resolution that would label the mass killing of Armenians in 1915 as genocide.
“It was genocide and it has been proven,” said Sevag Nazarian, a 29-year-old Armenian-Canadian. “There are documents and there are pictures. It was genocide and the whole world knows it!”
Over 1.5 million Armenians were killed from 1915 to 1917 during the Young Turks government. Twenty-two countries, including Canada, have officially recognized the mass killings as genocide. However, due to intense lobbying by Turkish groups, legislation recognizing the genocide in the U.S. Congress will most likely fail as it did in 1975 and 1984.
The resolution (HR106) passed in the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee with 27 supporting votes and 21 against on Oct. 10. But because of political pressure, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she is not sure if the measure will come up for a floor vote.
“Turkey has a lot of power and they are really pressuring the United States,” Nazarian said. “That’s why the resolution may probably not pass.”
Turkey, an important ally of the United States, is angry that the House of Representative’s Foreign Affairs Committee voted last week to label the mass killings as genocide. One day after the vote Ankara recalled its ambassador to Washington and threatened to withdraw its support for the Iraq war. Turkey shares a border with Iraq and the American forces depend on its airspace and military bases.
“I want to be optimistic, but it’s hard,” said Nora Arouchinan, a 20-year-old social science student at Vanier College. “It’s shocking to see how many people are lobbying to deny the execution of over a million people.”
Records filed at the U.S. Justice Department show that since August 2006 the Turkish government has spent $3.2 million for lobbyists and public relations firms.
Most of that money was directed towards former senators and congressional representatives. About 12 representatives have recently dropped their support for the resolution. Armenia’s largest lobbying expenditure from August 2006 to April 2007 was $300,000.
Unlike Turkey, supporters of the genocide resolution are part of an intense grassroots movement. It is the younger generation of Armenians that grew up with stories of systemic mass murder who are in the forefront of the genocide debate, along with others sympathetic to their cause.
“The first time I heard of the genocide was from my grandmother,” Arouchinan said. “She was a survivor of the genocide and she felt it was extremely important for me to know what happened.”
Arouchinan said that from a very young age she has been exposed to genocide images and stories. Her grandmother witnessed the death of most of her family members during organized attacks on her village and survived only because she fled to Syria on foot.
It is stories like this one, of mass slaughter passed from generation to generation, that has fueled a growing movement seeking official recognition of the killings. This time they felt they were closer than ever before, said Arouchinan.
Supporters of the resolution agree that this may be a bad time for the resolution to pass, but argue that given Turkey’s geographical location, there may never be a good time. They say that if genocide is a charge that can only be leveled against enemies, it will be meaningless. And they warn that if this policy of “appeasement” is adopted, countries that don’t think they will end up on the losing side of a conflict will see no need to show restraint. And they insist that they will never stop dogging the Turkish government.
“Even if the resolution doesn’t pass this time it doesn’t mean it’s dead,” said Arouchinan. “We will never give up.”

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