Dear Mr. President, a heartfelt congratulations on your inauguration. Today as Americans, we celebrate our democracy and the peaceful transition of power from one administration to the other. While Americans remain very divided on their political views, I hope and pray that constitutionally they are gratified today in seeing you assume this responsibility for all Americans. Your success is ours. Every inaugurated President is entitled to this tradition.
On many occasions, you pledged to be the President of these United States. You also promised to govern with moral authority. I hope you remain true to your pledges. Sadly, Washington has disappointed Americans of all stripes for the commitments it failed to keep.
What makes us Americans is our allegiance to one Nation under the rule of law framed by our constitution. As someone who took several times the same oath that you took today, I come to humbly focus on two of your pledges, which are critical to your legal and moral authority in the eyes of many Americans and the world.
All of my professional life, I worked to eradicate Genocide as a crime against humanity. Today I respectfully remind you of the commitments you made on April 24, 2020, commemorating the Armenian Genocide and again on October 25, 2020, after the Azeri and Turkish aggression against the people of Artsakh.
Politico reported in April your public pledge on Twitter that “If elected, [you] pledge to support a resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide and will make universal human rights a top priority.” And, in October, your campaign web site said, “The United States should be leading a diplomatic effort to end the fighting, together with our European partners, and push for international humanitarian assistance to end the suffering; under my administration, that is exactly what we will do.”
Mr. President, I beg you to honor these promises to reclaim the moral authority of this Nation against all genocides and human rights abuses. We, Americans, have a long tradition of promoting truth, justice, and the rule of law. We accept human dignity as an inalienable right as the basis of our jurisprudence. I wrote these words as a lawyer, chairman of The Armenian Bar Association, and local elected public servant in 2007 in the University of Pittsburgh Law School’s Jurist publication. These words are relevant today. While I may not be able to bring back my ancestors today, together, we may be able to stop men’s inhumanity to men wherever it may be.
Twenty years ago, on January 18, France became the first significant Western power to finally recognize the historical truth of the destruction of my ancestors by the Ottoman Empire. Many countries followed. As of February 2020, 32 sovereign nations, including the Vatican, officially recognize the historical events of 1915 as Genocide. Hundreds of cities, regions, parliaments across the world and 49 of our United States, including the District of Columbia, have acknowledged this historical fact.
While President Reagan used the word Genocide in describing my ancestors’ slaughter, no formal legal recognition became part of American policy. Sadly, every President has adopted the policy of word gymnastics to describe the “massacres,” “great calamity,” “systematic extermination,” etc., except the proper legal terminology coined by Rafael Lemkin relating to the Armenian Genocide.
Then senator Obama said, “The Armenian Genocide is not an allegation, a personal opinion, or a point of view, but rather a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence.” He was correct. The largest body of evidence documented by none other than our own then Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Henry Morgenthau, is still compiled in our state department archives and the Library of Congress.
Unfortunately, President Obama’s administration did not classify the Armenian Genocide as such. His UN Ambassador Samantha Powers later expressed great remorse for failing in this endeavor and disappointing many Americans.
Mr. President, this is your opportunity to use your moral and legal judgment to bring finality and closure to many Armenian Americans who still do not know the burial grounds of their ancestors. I once wrote, “My ancestors formed the first Christian nation in the world only to become the invisible Christians in unmarked graves” somewhere in Anatolia.
Experts say that denial is part and the completion of this crime against humanity. This denial and the world’s indifference emboldened the modern authoritarians, who pledged to finish what their ancestors started. As recently as September 27, 2020, Turkey and Azerbaijan attacked a peaceful republic, which democratically chose self-determination not once but twice under former Soviet law.
The brutal force using American weaponry by a NATO ally decimated Armenians’ ancestral lands in the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh (Artsakh). Armenia’s forced capitulation in Russia’s hands, presumably a mediation partner of the United States and France in the OSCE Minsk Group, threatens centuries-old churches, cross-stones, and cultural assets of our ancestral lands.
We expect severe punishments for the war crimes recently committed by the aggressors. More importantly, we hope to see American moral leadership stop Azeri aggression, full enforcement of Section 907 restrictions on US Aid, and end the flow of military equipment to these aggressors. Finally, and most importantly, I hope you lead the world in recognizing Artsakh, which is her only salvation for survival.
You said in your inaugural speech that we will lead with the “power of example.” Mr. President, I am looking forward to your implementation of this concept as it relates to truth and justice, genocide recognition, human rights, and Artsakh.
God bless you, and may God bless our United States of America.
Frank Vram Zerunyan, JD is a Professor of the Practice of Governance at the Sol Price School of Public Policy and Director of Executive Education at USC Price Bedrosian Center on Governance and The Neely Center for Ethical Leadership and Decision Making, an Interdisciplinary Center USC Marshall USC Viterbi and USC Price (DECIDE), as well as Director of ROTC Programs. His key areas of expertise include Local Governments, Public Private Partnerships, Civic and Ethical Leadership, Land Use, Regulation, Negotiation and Executive Education.
He teaches graduate courses on Intersectoral Leadership (Collaborative Governance), Business and Public Policy, International Issues in Public Policy, Negotiation, Place Institutions and Governance as well as International Laboratory. Frank also lectures locally and globally to build capacity and foster leadership among public executives worldwide. In his capacity as an honorary instructor colonel in the Armenian Army and Air Force, he lectures, coaches and advises on academic affairs at the Vazgen Sargsyan Military University in Armenia. For his influential work over the past five years in Armenia, he was awarded LL.D. Doctor of Laws – Honoris Causa by the Public Administration Academy of the Republic of Armenia.