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Human Rights

S.Res. 150: A Human Rights Victory for Armenian Americans

On March 20, 2019, Alabama governor, Kay Ivey allowed the state of Indiana to become the 49th state to recognize the atrocities carried out by the Ottoman Empire during 1915-1923 as genocide [1]. This marks an additional step towards the United States’ recognition of the Armenian Genocide. However, even with the acknowledgement by the last remaining state, Mississippi, recognition by the United States remains in the hand of the president. Affirmative acknowledgement has been a long-lasting struggle for Armenian Americans after the days of Reagan. Naming the events as genocide has been a proclamation cut short in spite of Turkish-U.S. relations. However, the recent proposal and passing of S. Res 150 marks an opportunity to move forward with federal acknowledgement of the Armenian Genocide and presents an opportunity for establishing a stable Armenian-Turkish relationship. The resolution additionally places the U.S. in a position of educating and informing the public on the events of the Armenian Genocide as well as emphasizing the “role of the United States in humanitarian relief efforts, and the relevance of the Armenian Genocide to modern-day crimes against humanity” [2].

S.Res.150 accomplishes its primary objective through the assurance of three specific criteria. The criteria, as listed on the resolution, state that it is the sense of the Senate that U.S. policy reflect the following—

(1)  to commemorate the Armenian Genocide through official recognition and remembrance;

(2) to reject efforts to enlist, engage, or otherwise associate the United States Government with denial of the Armenian Genocide or any other genocide; and

(3)  to encourage education and public understanding of the facts of the Armenian Genocide, including the role of the United States in humanitarian relief efforts, and the relevance of the Armenian Genocide to modern-day crimes against humanity.

For purposes of this post, it is important to accept the historical evidence of the Armenian Genocide, where Armenian populations exceeding 1.5 million were killed through methods such as starvation, death marches, mass murder, and deportation during 1915-1923. These events were orchestrated under the cover of World War I and largely in part by The Young Turks. The group was a Turkish Nationalist party who called for the ethnic cleansing of Christian populations as part of their goal to replace the absolute monarchy of the Ottoman Empire with a constitutional government [3]. In addition, conspiracies theorizing that Armenians were conspiring with Russians during the war also motivated actions by the empire [4]. Today, The Turkish government does not accept the events as genocide. Moreover, several international organizations that have conducted studies on the genocide have determined that the term ‘genocide’ aptly describes the events carried out by the Ottoman Empire. Among the organizations affirming this conclusion are the International Center for Transitional Justice, the International Association of Genocide Scholars, and the United Nations’ Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities [5]. While there is known to be resistance (the governments of Turkey and Azerbaijan, including portions of the population from each nation) towards this conclusion, the aim of this post is not to dispute claims of resistance, but instead to move forward with remedies for victims. In addition, it is also important to note that the genocide that took place during 1915-1923 was enacted against Assyrians, Greeks, as well as other Christian minortiy populations living in the Ottoman Emire, and that the terms ‘Assyrian Genocide’ and ‘Greek Genocide’ are used to refer to the massacre of respective populations.

Figure 1: A 2019 memorial in Istanbul commemorating Armenian genocide victims: Chris McGrath; Getty Images

The fundamental and leading purpose in affirming the resolution is centered on the importance of ensuring human rights for Armenians and restoring the historic rights of the Armenian nation. This is accomplished through the preservation of an accurate account of history of Armenian and Turkish people [6]. No longer should the century of pleas by the Armenian people be disparaged by the governments of Turkey and the United States.

By ignoring this resolution, the United States expresses a failure to meet international human rights law. The United Nations (U.N.) has agreed upon documents safeguarding international standards in the form of international laws independent on particular laws of any State.  These objectives have been outlined in the U.N. Charter and are maintained by the principal judicial organ of the U.N., the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Therefore, by affirming S.Res. 150, the United States exhibits a success in meeting international human rights law established by the U.N.

Specific law that is being overlooked lies substantially within the United Nations publication Principles for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights through Action to Combat Impunity which will henceforth be referred to as ‘Principles to Combat Impunity’. The report was most recently updated by American University Professor of Law, Diane Orentlicher in February 2005. Principles to Combat Impunity lists a set of thirty-eight Principles that need to be followed in order to protect human rights internationally. Each Principle is numbered and listed under categories that are divided by letters, all of which are categorized by separate rights. In order to assess the failure to ensure human rights for victims of the Armenian Genocide (hereafter, will also be referred to as ‘atrocity victims’), it is required to go through each relevant principle and evaluate current conditions so that we can mark an area where human rights are/are not being met.

The first right that needs to be addressed is the ‘Right to Know’ which is accommodated by Principles 2-5, the General Principles along with Principles 6-18. All of these designate a sense to uphold the memory and documentation of events carried out against atrocity victims. This has been the foremost issue for Armenian Americans carrying out recognition campaigns in the United States. Although definitions of genocide specified in resolutions of the UN Commission on Human Rights [7] apply to the Armenian people, the failure to use the term genocide infringes this right and incorrectly documents events that took place against atrocity victims. One Principle that particularly captures the language and intent of Principles to Combat Impunity is Principle 3. It states that:

A people’s knowledge of the history of its oppression is part of its heritage and, as such, must be ensured by appropriate measures in fulfillment of the State’s duty to preserve archives and other evidence concerning violations of human rights and humanitarian law and to facilitate knowledge of those violations. Such measures shall be aimed at preserving the collective memory from extinction and, in particular, at guarding against the development of revisionist and negationist arguments [8].

S.Res.150 addresses two criteria that satisfy this principle—criteria 1 and criteria 3. Criteria 1 clearly emphasizes the need for recognition of the Armenian Genocide, and to that end preserved the history of oppression that has occurred against Armenians. Subsequently, criteria 3 is also satisfied by Principle 3. The resolution asks that the United States appropriately addresses the Armenian Genocide in government records and by doing so, we can fulfill the State’s responsibility to preserve history and evidence of the human rights violations that took place against atrocity victims.

It is also important to remind ourselves that the UN publications aforementioned maintain and defend international human rights law. By ignoring or rejecting the resolutions made during the conventions, international governments challenge the legitimacy and integrity of the claims made by UN members. By passing S.Res. 150, the United States places itself in a position of affirming UN international human rights law and upholds the importance of maintaining the legitimacy of these principles. 

Moving forward from the ‘Right to Know,’ atrocity victims are provided ‘The Right to Justice’. The General Principles which are addressed by only Principle 19 state that when we are met with human rights violations, States have the duty to take appropriate measures to ensure that those responsible for ‘serious crimes under international law’ are met with prosecution to the full extent of their crimes. The Principles to Combat Impunity define the phrase ‘serious crimes under international law’ as breaches of the:

Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 and of Additional Protocol I thereto of 1977 and other violations of international humanitarian law that are crimes under international law, genocide, crimes against humanity, and other violations of internationally protected human rights that are crimes under international law and/or which international law requires States to penalize, such as torture, enforced disappearance, extrajudicial execution, and slavery [9].

It is additionally significant to go through with any legal action necessary for prosecution. As mentioned previously, by ignoring the principles conscripted by the UN, we challenge the integrity of international law. However, it is important to uphold these international standards so that States do not act alone in crimes without punishment. Principle 21 additionally addresses the adoption or amendment of legislature necessary to establish justice for the victims as well as the perpetrators. Moving forward with the goal of achieving justice, we should be mindful that appropriate legislation is necessary to achieve this goal. In this case, we are presented with the introductory resolution.

Figure 2: The forget-me-not flower is a symbol that is popularly attributed to genocide recognition efforts. The flower and its components recognize the past, the present, the future, and eternity. 

Turkey’s recognition of the Armenian Genocide is essential to the majority of this movement, at large. As an ally of the United States, Turkey denounces American efforts towards recognition of the genocide. In a 2014 attempt by members of the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations to observe the anniversary of the Armenian Genocide on April 24, Turkey’s government objected strongly claiming the verbiage as distortion to history and law and foreign ministry further stated “We condemn those who led this prejudiced initiative” [10]. Therefore, a large weight is added onto S.Res.150. The sponsorship and pursuit of a resolution such as this means risking Turkey-United States relationships, and we have observed the fallout of these lately. However, with Turkey-United States relationships at an all-time low [11], the fallout of this resolution does not pose the same political risks it did one year ago. Yet, we should also avoid playing politics with something of this significance. Armenian Genocide recognition has become a concern of recognizing right versus wrong. For US congressmen, Robert Dold of Illinois, the need for formal recognition by the US goes beyond Armenian Americans. ‘“It’s not just an obligation to the Armenians, it’s an obligation to mankind,”’ [12] he says. It has come down to a violation of internationally mandated human rights, and with the United States possessing the second largest population of Armenians outside of Armenia, it has come down to recognizing ethnic minorities by recognizing an event that marks their heritage and identity. Passing this resolution has become a key to stabilizing relationships between Armenia, Turkey, and the United States as well as ensuring rights to Armenian Americans among other atrocity victims.


[1] Armenian National Committee of America. Alabama Becomes 49th U.S. State to Recognize the Armenian Genocide. The Armenian Weekly. March 20, 2019.

[2] United States, Congress, Cong. Senate, Senate – Foreign Relations, and Sen. Menendez, Robert. “A resolution expressing the sense of the Senate that it is the policy of the United States to commemorate the Armenian Genocide through official recognition and remembrance”, 2019. 116th Congress, 1st session, resolution 150. 

[3] Shirinian, George Noble. Genocide in the Ottoman Empire: Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks, 1913-1923. Berghahn, 2017. 

[4] Jones, Adam. “Turkey: Denial… and Growing Recognition.” Genocide: a Comprehensive Introduction, Routledge, 2017. Accessed 24, November 2017.

[5] Dadrian, Vahakn N. “The Documentation of the World War I Armenian Massacres in the Proceedings of the Turkish Military Tribunal.” International Journal of Middle East Studies, vol. 23, no. 04, 1991, pp. 549–576. JSTOR [JSTOR], doi:10.1017/s0020743800023412. 

[6] Wilson, Richard J. “Restoration of Historical Memory and Dignity for Victims of the Armenian Genocide.” International Criminal Law Review, vol. 14, no. 2, Apr. 2014, pp. 332-342. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1163/15718123-01401003.

[7] Vartanian, Nicole E. “A Tragedy to Remember.” Faces, vol. 16, no. 1, Sept. 1999, p. 14. EBSCOhost, p-libpxy.piercecollege.edu/loginurl=http://search.ebscohost.com/ login.aspx?direct=true&db=prh&AN=2207678&site=eds-live.

[8] United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Report of the Independent Expert to Update the Set of Principles to Combat Impunity, Diane Orentiicher, Addendum: Updated Set of Principles for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights through Action to Combat Impunity (E/CN.4/2oo5/iO2/Add.i).

[9] ibid

[10] Flanigan, Jake. “Here’s Why the US Won’t Recognize the Armenian Genocide.” Defense One, 10 Apr. 2015, http://www.defenseone.com/politics/2015/04/heres-why-us-wont-recognize-armenian-genocide/109864/.

[11] The Economist Editors. “Ties between Turkey and America Are near Breaking Point.” The Economist, The Economist Newspaper, 14 Oct. 2017, http://www.economist.com/news/europe/21730102-visa-ban-poisons-relations-between-two-nato-allies-ties-between-turkey-and-america-are-near.

[12] Flanigan, Jake. “Here’s Why the US Won’t Recognize the Armenian Genocide.” Defense One, 10 Apr. 2015, http://www.defenseone.com/politics/2015/04/heres-why-us-wont-recognize-armenian-genocide/109864/Alabama Becomes 49th U.S. State to Recognize the Armenian Genocide

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