ANNAPOLIS – If Maryland is going to recognize the killing of 1.5 million Armenians as genocide, it should also apologize for the state’s enslavement of blacks, Republican Delegate Robert L. Flanagan said Wednesday.
Flanagan, of Howard County, tried to connect the two issues when a bill to brand as genocide the killing of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire was considered by the House of Delegates.
“What are we doing pointing our fingers thousands of miles across the ocean, when we have our own issues here?” Flanagan said.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell asked the General Assembly to defeat the House and Senate versions of the bill, which are modeled after a resolution passed by Virginia last year.
Armenians say genocide by the Turkish-dominated Ottoman Empire, then a German ally, began in 1915 to punish Armenians for siding with the Russians during World War I. April 24, 1915, marked the initial roundup of intellectuals that began the executions. Maryland’s resolution would recognize April 24 as “Maryland Day of Remembrance of the Armenian Genocide in 1915 and thereafter.”
Turkey canceled million-dollar business deals with France after it became the first Western country on Jan. 18 to brand as genocide the killing of Armenians in 1915.
Lawmakers have been heavily lobbyied by Armenian-Americans and Turkish-Americans.
The Senate version was modified to strike any mention of modern Turkey. It also removed a provision encouraging Maryland schools to teach the genocide. The Senate passed it last month, 34-10.
Neither the Senate sponsor, Perry Sfikas, D-Baltimore, nor House chief sponsor, Sheila Ellis Hixson, D-Montgomery, could be reached for comment.
The House Wednesday approved the removal of a quote from German Nazi Dictator Adolf Hitler saying, prior to his invasion of Poland in 1939, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”
But opponents of the measure, who say Maryland shouldn’t get involved in international issues, introduced amendments that, if approved, would kill the resolution.
One amendment would strike the whole bill and instead recognize “Victims of Man’s Inhumanities to Man.” That change, sponsored by Delegate David G. Boschert, R-Anne Arundel, will be on the floor when debate continues today.
Members of the Black Caucus said it was not appropriate to tack the issue of slavery onto the genocide bill.
The amendment, however, “gives an opportunity to talk about it (on the floor),” said Delegate Emmett C. Burns Jr., D-Baltimore County.
Burns vowed to reintroduce next session a resolution killed in committee last year urging the governor to apologize “on behalf of the citizens of Maryland for the state’s history of slavery.”
Delegate Howard P. Rawlings, D-Baltimore, who credits the caucus’ success to its discipline, said Flanagan’s amendment was an attempt “to suck us in.”
“He perceives us as intellectually undisciplined,” he told caucus members.
“I didn’t intend to embarrass anybody,” Flanagan said after the session adjourned.
Flanagan, who opposes the genocide bill, withdrew the amendment at the request, on the House floor, of black Delegate Clarence Davis, D-Baltimore. That followed an impassioned speech by Burns, a reverend from Baltimore County. “(Slavery) was genocide in slow motion,” Burns said to a chamber turned silent. “We still bare the marks of slavery.” “You are the beneficiaries of the institution of slavery,” he said. “I will come back again with this resolution.” Last-ditch efforts to resurrect bills and ideas are common this time of year as the General Assembly prepares for its final adjournment Monday. Last year, the Commerce and Government Matters Committee killed Burns’ apology resolution 7-4, but 10 committee members abstained. The vote was “political,” Burns said. “It was a hot potato and I’m full of hot potatoes.” -30- CNS-4-4-01