Armenians weigh Kerry vow

Los Angeles Daily News, CA
July 26 2004

Armenians weigh Kerry vow

Candidatesays he’ll recognize genocide

By Lisa Friedman
Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Presidential candidate John Kerry has promised to
formally recognize the Armenian genocide if he is elected.

But presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush all
made similar vows as candidates — then once inside the White House
opposed resolutions acknowledging genocide.

Still, in interviews with Armenian-Americans across Southern
California and elsewhere this week, hopes for the Massachusetts
Democrat ran high.

“I think we might expect something different from candidate Kerry,”
said Peter Balakian, author of “The Burning Tigris: The Armenian
Genocide and America’s Response.”

“He spent his whole life immersed in the Armenian community,”
Balakian said, noting that Massachusetts is home to about 30,000
Armenian Americans. “This is a candidate with a great depth of
knowledge on this history.”

Armenians contend the Ottoman Empire began a centrally planned
slaughter in 1915 under cover of World War I in which about 1.5
million Armenians were killed. Turkey insists that number is
inflated, and that Armenians died along with thousands of Turks as
the result of crushing a mass uprising against the Ottoman Empire.

Reluctant to alienate Turkey, a valued U.S. ally, American presidents
have traditionally taken a middle road describing the casualties as
“massacres” but stopping short of using the term “genocide” and
opposing resolutions acknowledging a genocide.

The opposition cuts across party lines. Currently the Bush
administration and House Republican leaders are demanding an
amendment by Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Pasadena, recognizing the genocide,
be stripped from a foreign aid bill.

But in 2000 it was President Clinton who blocked a genocide
resolution by then-Rep. James Rogan, R-Glendale, from coming to the
House floor.

“It seems to be a nonpartisan issue. It’s more about the State
Department and the White House not having the courage to exercise its
moral leadership,” Balakian said.

Scholars and activists said they are pinning new hopes on Kerry
largely because he voted in favor of Sen. Bob Dole’s genocide
resolution in 1990 and currently is co-sponsoring a Senate version of
a resolution acknowledging the genocide.

“He has a long record of supporting issues of concern to the
Armenian-American community, and he comes from a state where
Armenian-Americans have been since the early 20th century, so there’s
some history there,” said Armen Carapetian, a spokesman for the
Armenian National Committee of America’s Western Region in Glendale.

Added Seto Boyadian, who heads the Armenian National Committee of
America’s San Gabriel chapter, “As long as he has been in public
life, he has always supported the genocide resolution. He’s
committed. He’s on the record.”

Others, of course, are skeptical that Kerry, whom critics have long
accused of flip-flopping on issues, will stand firm.

“The Democrats need the Armenian votes to regain their political
power. If elected, Kerry and his ilk will forget about the Armenians
and their genocide the next day,” Saakyan Gayane of Glendale wrote in
an e-mail.

Even those pinning their hopes on Kerry said they would not be
surprised if he changed his tune once elected.

“We know what pressures he will face on this issue. Those are real
pressures. The State Department won’t change its tune,” Carapetian

Added Garbis Hindoyan, who heads the Armenian National Committee of
America’s East Valley chapter in Van Nuys, “We hope if he’s elected,
Kerry will keep his word.

“On the other hand,” he said, “we will not be shocked if he does what
Bill Clinton and George Bush did.”