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April 24, 2021, will be the 106th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.
Do the right thing
On inauguration day, January 20, 2021, I wrote and published an open letter to President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. congratulating him for his service to our nation and wishing him success. I also took the opportunity to remind him of his lifelong pledges and, more importantly, his campaign promise to recognize the Armenian Genocide in April of 2021 properly.
This week Ian Bremmer of gzeromedia.com reports that according to his White House sources, the Biden Administration will recognize the slaughter of Armenians as ethnic killing, using the term later coined by Raphael Lemkin “Genocide.” While President Reagan used the term “Genocide” in a speech, no formal legal recognition became part of American policy.
This news indeed gratifies me, and if valid, on behalf of my 1.5 million ancestors, I will remain eternally grateful to President Biden for reclaiming my adoptive country’s moral and legal authority over men’s inhumanity to men. The clarity in communicating a century-old truth will fulfill President Biden’s promise to lead with the “power of example.”
Turkey deserves better
Ironically, this recognition will help Turkey face its history. It will help the Turkish people to re-commit to the ideals established by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (Father of Turks), who denounced the caliphate and the Ottoman rule by declaring the Republic of Turkey. Sadly, President Erdogan altered the course of Turkey as an authoritarian enamored by the Ottoman caliphate inflicting pain and suffering in Syria, Libya, Iraq, Artsakh, Palestine, and Cyprus.
Erdogan has consolidated power by forcing a once independent media to become his Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) messenger. He withdrew Turkey out of Istanbul Conventions, which protected women. He fired his fourth central bank director in two years. As a result, the Turkish currency has crashed. After supporting Azerbaijan to crush the people of Artsakh, Erdogan has turned his attention to the Kurdish minority and to the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) to close it down as the second-largest opposition party in Turkey.
Today, once a country full of promise aspiring to be a leader in the European Union, Turkey is on the verge of a complete collapse in the hands of a disliked leader. Turkey today is not what Ataturk established nor envisioned. The Turkish people I know and call friends are trapped in a country they no longer recognize.
Story of vigilance
I am an American lawyer and professor, but by blood, I am an Armenian. My family and I rose from the ashes of the Armenian Genocide of 1915. I am the grandson of a survivor and the great-grandson of a man who was among those murdered. My family and I were displaced from the country I was born to my adoptive country of the United States of America, which I deeply love.
However, today’s blog is about what every lawyer is taught to persevere, remain vigilant and just. All of my professional life, I tried to implement what I was taught. I advocated the rule of law, truth, and justice. I accepted and promoted human dignity as an inalienable right and as the basis of our American jurisprudence and policy.
Unfortunately, complicity in denial and suppression of the truth has been our nation’s policy for almost a century. Experts say that denial is part and the completion of the crime against humanity. This denial and the world’s indifference embolden the modern authoritarians like President Erdogan, who recently pledged to finish what his ancestors started in 1915.
I am gratified that President Biden will put an end to this conspiracy against truth and justice. But today, I also want to focus on another American public servant. This United States Senator has been influential in my quest for justice and my unwavering willingness never to give up, even when the reward is delayed.
Story of perseverance
E. William Proxmire was a United States Senator from the state of Wisconsin. He served in the U. S. Senate from 1957 to 1989. The most extended service by a Wisconsin Senator. His legacy includes the 1986 passage of an international treaty banning Genocide. Senator Proxmire cast 10,252 consecutive votes before leaving the Senate in 1989. However, what is most remarkable about Senator Proxmire was his vigilance and perseverance in the cause of justice.
Following World War II, President Truman’s administration became the proponent of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (“Genocide Convention”). Despite his administration’s pleas, the United States Senate Committee blocked the treaty where it languished. Senator Proxmire made it his mission to educate his colleagues for the ratification of the treaty.
The Senate’s failure to approve the treaty “was a national shame,” he said. Therefore, he delivered the same speech in support of the treaty on the Senate floor every day the United States Senate was in session. This daily routine took him 20 years of his career, resulting in 3,211 speeches between 1967 and 1986 when the United States Senate finally ratified the Genocide Convention by a vote of 83-11. This record-breaking display of vigilance and perseverance continues to be an inspiration to many, including me.
I began my advocacy to recognize the Armenian Genocide in the mid-1980s as a law student and later as a young lawyer. I appreciate and commend President Biden’s commitment to truth and justice. However, those of us who made a lifetime commitment to human dignity and rights will not rest until we eradicate all genocides with the continued but painful recognition of the past.
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.