Speeches and Floor Statements
Van Hollen Statement Regarding the 97th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide
I rise today to commemorate the anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.
It was 97 years ago today that over 1.5 million men, women, and children, almost 75 percent of the pre-war Armenian population, were brutally exterminated by the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman authorities arrested and later murdered over 250 Armenian political, intellectual, and religious leaders in Istanbul, beginning a horrific and systematic campaign to wipe a 3,000 year-old community from the face of the earth.
Armenian members of the Turkish armed forces were separated from their units and placed into labor battalions, where they were either worked to death or murdered. In Armenian villages throughout Turkey, adult males were singled out for execution, while the remaining women, children, and elderly inhabitants were then forced to march without food or water to the Syrian Desert. En route they were set upon by the Ottoman Security Service’s “Special Organization,” which consisted of released convicts and was created specifically for the purpose of carrying out ethnic cleansing. In the end, of the 2.1 million Armenians residing in Turkey at the start of World War I, only 100,000 would survive to see the end of hostilities.
And yet, despite clear evidence that genocide occurred, many officials today refuse to even to use the word genocide when referring to this incident. By equivocating, they not only dishonor the victims of this atrocity and their descendents, they increase the chance that other crimes against humanity are met with similar equivocation.
Indeed, before sending the “Death’s Head” SS units into Poland with orders to “kill without pity or mercy all men, women and children,” Adolph Hitler is reported to have commented to his generals, “who still talks nowadays of the extermination of the Armenians?"
When we fail to fully acknowledge that genocide was perpetrated against the Armenian people in 1915, it becomes a little easier to do the same today when we see similar atrocities unfold in Bosnia, or Rwanda or Iraq or Sudan.
Last week the world commemorated International Holocaust Remembrance Day as people everywhere gathered to renew our collective pledge to “Never Forget.” Today we gather for a similar purpose as we remember the first genocide of the 20th century. We recall the suffering of the Armenian people 97 years ago and endeavor to ease the pain of their descendants not only out of sympathy for what they have experienced, but to remind ourselves that we must never allow it to happen again.
I yield back my time.