Efforts toward Genocide Recognition - Rev. L. Nishan Bakalian

It was only a few days before Christmas 2010, and also the dying hours of the last session of the 111th Congress, when I found myself in Washington officially representing the Armenian Evangelical Union of North America, lending my support to the efforts to get the Armenian Genocide Resolution (H.R. 252) approved. Organized by the Armenian National Committee, a couple dozen volunteers, mostly young men and women and a few older clergy, such as me, spent an entire day ducking in and out of offices, trying to catch those representatives who were undecided to ask how they would vote on the resolution. My task was to appeal to their conscience regarding what should be a human rights issue and to remind them that the impunity which has reigned for the past ninety-six years must not continue if crimes like this are ever going to be stopped.
I realize that not everyone agrees that congressional resolutions are worth anything, or that the crime of genocide can be effectively combated. I think that simply remaining silent on the subject is worse than making no attempt whatsoever. Many Armenians think that the effort spent on pursuing the passage of these resolutions is a waste of time. Many Americans think it is against this country’s interests to “dredge up the past” and tantamount to disloyalty to endanger a strategic alliance for the sake of a proclamation. Turkey, however, views it with the utmost seriousness, and expends considerable energy to thwart any official mention of the subject, or that unmentionable word, genocide. considers it of the utmost importance. Enter: the “dueling grandmothers”.
I was paired up with an Armenian Catholic fellow from Providence, more experienced than I in moving about the halls of our nation’s capital. In our trek through the congressional office buildings, as were searching for the next representative on our list, we encountered a large, friendly fellow who extended his hand in greeting and said with a smile, “Are you working on the Genocide Resolution?” When we said “yes”, he responded, “I am, too! But on the other side.” And so we stood there in the hallway and talked or, rather, listened to his arguments as to why the resolution was a mistake. We had heard it all before: it was a long time ago; history should be left to the historians and not to politicians; many people on both sides were killed; Armenians were siding with the Russians; etc., etc. My cohort countered with arguments that this Turkish fellow had no doubt heard before: that an indigenous population does not just “disappear”; that something cataclysmic must have happened for them to forsake their homes and villages; and so forth. Finally our “sparring partner” said this: “My grandmother told me about how the Armenians in her town attacked them with weapons, and so they sent for help from the Turkish troops. If they had not arrived, the Turkish villagers would have all been massacred!”
On the other hand, we also met some aides and congressional staffers who were clearly not enamored of the cynical attitude of the Turkish government or its agents, and clearly stated that “there’s no question that what was perpetrated was genocide.” Words such as this were quite heartening, especially when coming from people who have no vested interests in “playing to the Armenians.”
Earlier in the year, in April, again in Washington, D.C., I represented the AEUNA when the President of Armenia, Serzh Sargsyan, placed a wreath at Woodrow Wilson’s tomb. There in the National Cathedral I wondered what Wilson, Morgenthau, Davis and other diplomats and public servants of that time would have thought of our struggle today simply to gain recognition for something that had been so plainly obvious to them. They wrote about it, and pled the cause of the persecuted, and strove to establish a free and independent homeland, so that the Armenian people would have a respite from greedy and malicious forces. This is why today we continue to speak and write about the Genocide, and we pray to our sovereign God to inspire in today’s public servants courage, principled thought, and a love of the truth, in place of the expediency and arrogant self-interest that is so prevalent. Perhaps then those in authority would be better able to provide the moral leadership so much in need in this country and in our world.


Rev. Bakalian is the pastor of the Armenian Martyrs’ Congregational Church of Greater Philadelphia and formerly the Campus Minister at Haigazian University, Beirut, Lebanon