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Bill Paparian

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Bill Paparian on the Armenian Genocide

Every April 24th, Armenian-Americans from throughout Southern California gather in Montebello to commemorate the Armenian Genocide. On April 24, 1996, more than 7,000 watched as Chairwoman of the American Red Cross and former Cabinet member Elizabeth Dole laid a wreath at the Armenian Martyrs Monument.

The keynote speaker in English was Pasadena Mayor Bill Paparian. His remarks were fully transcribed and published in the Asbarez Armenian Daily Newspaper on April 27, 1996 (Volume 88, No. 10,243).

"Distinguished Guests, Honored Archbishops and Clergy, my fellow Armenians:

Every year, we come to this hallowed site to honor the memory of our 1.5 million martyrs. Armenians the world over do the same on this day, each and every Armenian honoring our collective loss.

But, we also know that the Genocide is not over. It continues silently, relentlessly, insidiously.

The scars are not healed. The wounds are still festering, and the suffering is real. Today, the trauma, the pain is still visible in the eyes of the survivors. We are still haunted by the emptiness that comes from losing entire families. When a loved one disappears, the disappearance lasts forever.

People who don’t know Armenians very well think that 8,000 miles and 81 years away from the killing fields in Western Armenian, it might be easy for us to forget. It would indeed by easy for us to teach our children only the more pleasant lessons of Armenian history. Others might think it natural for us to spend this day at work, at school, or at recreation, enjoying life, like millions of other ordinary families. But Armenians are not ordinary people. History has imposed special tasks on us.

Alongside the painful lessons of a 3,000-year old history, we have a national obligation to live every day of our lives in remembrance of those who perished. Our every action, our very way of life must adamantly and unflinchingly proclaim: Never again shall the Armenian people be subjected to Genocide! Never again will we allow men, women, and children to be torn away from their home, their schools, and their churches, to be massacred in deserts, rivers, and empty fields! Never again will we permit Armenians to suffer under the yoke of oppressors, such as the Turks, or Azeris. And . . . not only Armenians.

Yes, we may live in the computer age of global communication – but the barbarities in today’s headlines seem lifted from man’s darkest past. Look at Bosnia, Burundi, or Rwanda, or even Turkey today. See how easily helpless minorities are rounded up and put to the death by the thousand – in their homeland – while the entire world watches . . . sheds few tears, sends a few dollars to a UN humanitarian agency, and then changes the channel. Sure, a picture may be worth a 1000 words. But what a numbing effect 1000 pictures of suffering has on us.

The Genocide of the Armenians in Ottoman Turkey in 1915 needs to be addressed and justice rendered to the victims, their survivors, and the Armenian nation. Those are the clear and simple demands of the Armenian people. What can we do today to bring that Judgement Day closer to reality? Well, I have a couple of suggestions.

First of all, we have to convince ourselves that we cannot rely on anyone else to help us in our fight for justice. We have to be self-reliant. No one can do for us what we must do for ourselves! While many Armenians were expecting otherwise, it has been made perfectly clear to us that the government of Armenia is not going to take the lead in having the Genocide recognized, or ask reparations from Turkey, or even demand the return of occupied Armenian territories from Turkey. In other words, my friends, the government of Armenia, has other concerns.

What must be clear to all is that the struggle for justice falls on the shoulders of the Armenians in the diaspora – us. This has to be our top priority.

Without a just and final resolution to the 1915 Genocide, the Armenian people cannot rest. Unless Turkey accepts its guilty responsibility in the Genocide of Armenians, no real peace can exist between the Armenian people and the Turkish government. Until justice is done, the Armenian people cannot trust Turkey to be a peaceful neighbor. It will always be a threat to the Armenian Republic, even if today’s leadership in Yerevan does not recognize this historical fact. It is up to the 5 million of us who live outside Armenia, to gain recognition, reparations, and return of the lands where our grandfathers, and their grandfathers before them, lived, worked and died.

Our battle is not easy.

For a number of years, Armenian-Americans have fought to have Resolutions adopted by the U.S. Congress that would mark April 24 as a day of remembrance for the 1.5 million Armenian victims.

And every year, we had had the strong voices of senators Bob Dole, Paul Simon, Diane Feinstein, and Barbara Boxer, and many others, support our efforts to pass this simple resolution.

Despite our friends efforts, time and time again, we came up against a barrage of propaganda, and misinformation put up by the Turkish government, defense industry contractors, who profit by trafficking arms to our executioners, and other hired lobbyists.

Weak elected officials caved in to Turkish money, and threats, and your know the rest, the Armenian Genocide Resolution came close, but it did not pass.

Again this year, another Resolution is working its way through the Congress, with more than 120 sponsors in favor of recognizing April 24 as a day of remembrance for the Armenian victims. But, amazingly, despite election campaign promises, even the White House is now working against us.

I am sure many of you remember last year at the Los Angels Convention Center, when U.S. trade Representative Mickey Kantor presented the White House message to us, via a videotape. Even then, while trying to give lip service to the Armenian people, the White House message ultimately insulted the memory of our martyrs by referring to the 1915 Genocide, as a “massacre.” No, Mr. President, it was not a massacre, it was Genocide, pure and simple!

No other word can be used to describe what happened to the Armenian people. And this is no semantic quibble. The usage of the word “Genocide” mandates not statute of limitations and demand legal redress, restitution, and punishment of the perpetrators.

The Presidential Message therefore falls short because it does not recognize this crime as one against humanity. It absolves the Turkish government of the historical onus of a genocidal regime. The White House advisors probably thought that handing a harmless statement to Armenian-Americans on April 24 would be enough to appease them, and at the same time deflect criticism from the Turkish government.

Mr. Clinton, Mr. President, let us impress upon you this one central, immutable truth: While the Turkish government depends on hand-outs from the American taxpayers, the Armenian-American community does not barter the blood of its martyrs, Mr. President! We will not, we cannot, and we must not accept anything less than the full truth!

For too long now we have politely played the political game. But no longer!

President Clinton has to realize that Armenians will not be appeased by meek, useless statements that cater to the Turks and insults the memory of the Armenian martyrs. We will no longer be taken for granted. If President Clinton thinks he can come to California and on the basis of his spineless declarations get Armenian-American votes for his re-election in November, he better think again!

We must be uncompromising in dealings with our government. We can no longer remain quietly on the sidelines while cold-blooded bureaucrats sell off our children’s future. Speaking with a single voice, Armenians everywhere must reject any further attempt to water down our nation’s just demands on Turkey. I believe the Armenian people have been more than patient over the last 81 years. Any other people would have long ago resorted to the kind of violence that marks the struggle for freedom for the Palestinians and the Irish.

I don’t know how much longer our people can wait. But I do know it won’t be forever. Let’s hope our patience is not tested too much more. In the early part of this address, I said I had a couple of suggestions on what we can do today. My second suggestion is this: solidarity with and compassion for the suffering of others is a true measure of greatness of any people. Armenians carry this lesson in their very bones.

On April 24, it is only proper and just for Armenians to reiterate their solidarity with all other victims of intolerance. To do any less would diminish the righteousness and strength of our case. Our place can never be with those voices of hatred and racism, or those who are ready and willing to victimize helpless minorities. No responsible Armenian can condone the kind of institutionalized violence witnessed recently against legal or illegal immigrants. Who better than we know what it means to be branded as the outsider, the intruder, the trespasser? We also cannot, and should not remain silent when intolerance is preached from the steps of the State Capitol, the floor of the U.S. Senate, or the political campaign trail.

We must reject all forms of racism and fight against intolerant political voices. In so doing, not only will we create a better community for ourselves, we will help in the building of a healthier society for all. If we ever, even for a moment, close our eyes to the suffering and persecution of any minority anywhere on this globe, we dishonor our own martyred families. When we side with the powerful and the arrogant, when we applaud or ignore their abuses, then we betray our own history.

This, my friends, is our ultimate responsibility to our survivors, and the individuals of all races, ages, and creeds, who have fallen victims to the greatest crimes of the 20th Century.