RIGHT RESOLUTION, WRONG GENOCIDE
by Alec Dubro, [email protected]
Published on Sunday, October 28, 2007
It looks like House Resolution 106, "Affirmation of the United States
Record on the Armenian Genocide Resolution," is dead — for this
session of Congress anyway. But, since it’s been around in one form
or another since 1965, there’s no reason to think this is the end of
For the record, I believe the mass murder of the Armenians during and
after 1915 to be genocide. It’s so well documented that to protest
the label genocide is like, well, Holocaust denial. It happened, and
if the Turks refuse to recognize it, I do and millions of others do.
That said, what is the U.S. government doing condemning Turkey for
genocide when it has never considered its own genocidal actions? The
near extermination of the aboriginal Indians is as obvious a case of
genocide as exists, but for some reason it hasn’t made its way to
Congress. But it hovers over the land, continuing to haunt us, but
we don’t acknowledge it. As my grandmother used to say, "On others
you can see a hair. On yourself you can’t see a horse."
Although the massacres in Asia Minor took place about 90 years ago,
an American campaign of genocide was launched in California some
68 years prior to that, in the wake of the discovery of gold, and
continued for decades.
California Indians were killed for the same reasons that Armenians
were killed in Turkey, Bosnians were killed in Yugoslavia, and Zaghawa
and Massaleit are being killed today in Darfur: to rid the land of
one people and to repopulate it with another.
In a sense, the killing of the California Indians was closer to
genocide than the more famous Trail of Tears. There, the ostensible
reason for the wholesale deportation was resettlement, although death
followed closely in its wake. In California, there was no pretense
to anything else.
Have no doubt, it was planned genocide. In his inaugural address in
1849, California Governor-elect Peter Hardeman Burnett stated clearly
and succinctly, "that a war of extermination will continue to be
waged between the two races until the Indian race becomes extinct,
must be expected…"
Nor was it an empty threat. Dr. Edward Castillo, chair of the Native
American Studies Department at the California’s Sonoma State University
and himself a Cahuilla and LuiseÃ±o Indian, has written extensively on
the California Indians. According to Castillo, following the discovery
of gold, within a decade, as many as 100,000 of the 170,000 Indians
living in California had died, "the majority from violence, the rest
from disease and starvation." Other historians say more died from
deprivation than violence, but that’s like comparing the gassed and
the starvation victims in Auschwitz. They were deliberately killed,
period. And we can’t pretend it was anything other than genocide.
Yet by shying from the word genocide, we refuse to recognize the
immensity of the crime. I wonder if the Resolution 106’s spear
carriers, California representatives Tom Lantos and Nancy Pelosi,
or, for that matter, California’s large and influential Armenian
community, have even given much thought to the fact that they live
on ground soaked in Indian blood.
Right here, not Turkey.
Certainly it would be politically and economically inconvenient to
accept full responsibility for the continuing genocide. But is it
too much to ask for a non-binding resolution before trying to bull
another condemnation of Turkey through Congress? I’ll bet it is.