October 10, 2007

Verbatim, as delivered

Today we are not considering whether the Armenian people were persecuted and died in huge numbers at the hands of Ottoman troops in the early 20th Century. There is unanimity in the Congress and across the country that these atrocities took place. If the resolution before us stated that fact alone, it would pass unanimously.

The controversy lies in whether to make it United States policy at this moment in history to apply a single word – genocide – to encompass this enormous blot on human history.

The United Nations Convention on Genocide defines the term as a number of actions, and I quote, “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.” These actions include killing or causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, and deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction, in whole or in part.

Henry Morgenthau, the U.S. Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire at the time of the atrocities, wrote -- and I am quoting -- “I am confident that the whole history of the human race contains no such horrible episode as this. The great massacres and persecutions of the past seem almost insignificant when compared with the sufferings of the Armenian race in 1915.”

The leadership of the United States has been in universal agreement in condemning the atrocities but has been divided about using the term “genocide.”

On one occasion, President Ronald Reagan referred to, I quote, “the genocide of the Armenians.”

But subsequent Presidents -- George Herbert Walker Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, have refrained from using the word out of deference to Turkish sentiments on the matter.

In recognizing this tragedy, some in Congress have seen common themes with the debate our committee held earlier this year on a resolution about another historic injustice – the tens of thousands of so-called “Comfort Women” forced into sexual slavery by Imperial Japan. The current Japanese government went to great length to attempt to prevent debate on that matter, and dire predictions were made that passage of such a resolution would harm U.S.-Japan relations. Those dire consequences never materialized.

A key feature distinguishing today’s debate from the one on the “Comfort Women” resolution is that U.S. troops are currently engaged in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our troops depend on a major Turkish airbase for access to the fighting fronts, and it serves as a critical part of the supply lines to those fronts. A growing majority in Congress, and I am among them, strongly oppose continued U.S. troop involvement in the civil war in Iraq, but none of us wants to see those supply lines threatened or abruptly cut.

All eight living former secretaries of state recently cautioned Congress on this matter. And I quote, “It is our view,” write former Secretaries Albright, Baker, Christopher, Eagleburger, Haig, Kissinger, Powell and Shultz, “that passage of this resolution … could endanger our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and damage efforts to promote reconciliation between Armenia and Turkey.”

Three former secretaries of defense – Carlucci, Cohen and Perry – this week advised Congress that passage of this resolution, and I quote again, “would have a direct, detrimental effect on the operational capabilities, safety and well being of our armed forces in Iraq and in Afghanistan.”

Members of this committee have a sobering choice to make. We have to weigh the desire to express our solidarity with the Armenian people and to condemn this historic nightmare through the use of the word “genocide” against the risk that it could cause young men and women in the uniform of the United States armed services to pay an even heavier price than they are currently paying. This is a vote of conscience, and the Committee will work its will.