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).
Honored Archbishops and Clergy, my fellow Armenians:
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,
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.