ANNAPOLIS – Congress found it too touchy to pass, but the General Assembly will try to approve a joint resolution recognizing as genocide the deaths of up to 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Turkish Ottoman Empire.
A similar resolution introduced in Congress was dropped in October after President Clinton warned it could affect the Middle East crisis.
France recently became the first Western country to brand as genocide the killing of Armenians in 1915. As a result of that Jan. 18 resolution – opposed by the French executive branch but passed by its National Assembly – Alcatel of France lost a $149 million deal to sell a spy satellite to Turkey and another company was excluded from competing to sell Turkey tanks worth up to $7 billion.
Despite Turkish sanctions against France, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George’s, said he’s “not afraid at all” of passing the resolution, which also would recognize April 24 as “Maryland Day of Remembrance of the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923.”
“As a historical fact it needs . . . to be recognized,” said Miller, who’s co-sponsoring the resolution with Sen. Perry Sfikas, D-Baltimore.
It’s a moral obligation, both Sfikas and Miller said.
April 24, 1915, marked the initial roundup of intellectuals that began the executions.
Sfikas, who is of Greek origin, said he grew up in a Greek community where he met many survivors of the expulsion of Greeks from the Ottoman Empire.
“But for the Armenians it was a systematic genocide,” he said.
A few Armenian-American families live in his district, Sfikas said. There were 268,000 people of Armenian origin in the United States in 1990, according to the U.S. Bureau of the Census, and 66,500 of Turkish origin.
Maryland would not be the first state to recognize the Armenian genocide.
Virginia passed its own resolution last year designating April 24, 2000, as “Virginia Day of Remembrance of the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923.”
But Sfikas said he expects opponents to object when the bill comes up in Senate and House hearings.
Turkish authorities are already vexed about the legislation.
“We categorically reject such an unfounded allegation,” said Namik Tan, Turkish Embassy spokesman.
“We have been working with the United States government in order to explain that this resolution would do no good for Armenian-Turkish relations,” Tan said.
Tan said he didn’t know how Maryland’s resolution would affect Maryland- Turkish or United States-Turkish relations. But he said “we should wait and see what will happen in the local parliament.”
Turkish-Americans are less diplomatic about voicing their opinion.
“(The Turkish-American) community is extremely angry about this,” said Osman Tat, spokesman for the Assembly of Turkish American Associations.
“This is not really an issue that should be handled by the state Legislature,” said Tat, who lives in Montgomery County. “This is an issue that has to be solved between Armenians and Turks.”
Both spokesmen for Turks and Turkish-Americans said the deaths of Armenians between 1915 and 1923 were caused by “ethnic strife.”
“There was a relocation for their own safety,” said Tan. ” . . . to other parts of the Ottoman Empire. Both sides, during communal struggle, killed each other. They were massacring each other.”
For the Armenian community in Maryland, their ancestors were just defending themselves.
“Ethnic strife, maybe,” said Armen Carapetian, spokesman for the Armenian Genocide Remembrance Committee of Maryland. “But it was in response (to) genocide.”
For Carapetian, Sfikas and Miller, there is undeniable evidence genocide caused the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians.
“France did the right thing” by recognizing the genocide, said Carapetian, who also lives in Montgomery County. “It’s only to the benefit of the Turks to recognize their history.”
“The Armenians also have a significant event in their history,” Sfikas said. “For there was near annihilation of a 3,000-year-old civilization.” What Armenians want is plain and simple, said Carapetian. “It’s just a celebration of a day.” – 30 – CNS-1-30-01