10/13 Boston Herald: For Rep. Markey, Armenian genocide issue hits close to home

For Rep. Markey, Armenian genocide issue hits close to home

By Associated Press Saturday, October 13, 2007

WASHINGTON - For Edward Markey, the debate raging in Congress over a
resolution declaring the World War I-era killings of Armenians a
genocide strikes close to home.

The Massachusetts Democrat's suburban Boston congressional district
has a large Armenian-American population, centered in Watertown, that
has long been passionate about the issue.

The Armenian genocide debate has a human face for Markey, who has
forged close ties to the Armenian-American community he represents.
Markey has been a leading advocate for the resolution on Capitol Hill.

"He understands the issue broadly and deeply and he's been a terrific
advocate," said state Rep. Rachel Kaprielian, D-Watertown, an
Armenian-American. "He knows many Armenians in his life."

Roughly one in five residents of Watertown, with a population of about
33,000, can claim Armenian descent, Kaprielian said.

"It's deeply meaningful to us," she said. "In order to truly grieve
and move on, there needs to be acknowledgment and finality."

At issue is the killing of up to 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman
Turks around the time of World War I, an event widely viewed by
genocide scholars as the first genocide of the 20th century. Turkey
denies that the deaths constituted genocide, saying the toll has been
inflated, and those killed were victims of civil war and unrest that
killed Muslims as well as the overwhelmingly Christian Armenians.

Though the resolution would have no binding effect on U.S. foreign
policy, critics say it could hurt an already strained relationship
with Turkey, a key ally in the terror war.

Markey, who first heard about the issue as a freshman state
representative in 1973, speaks at annual rememberance ceremonies for
Armenian victims held at the Statehouse in Boston. The thinning ranks
of survivors of the mass killings is honored at the event.

"The survivors are the eyewitnesses to history," Markey said in a
recent telephone interview with The Associated Press. "They force the
living to deal with what happened to 1.5 million people who were
killed. Just seeing them is something that, like the Holocaust
survivors, forces you to deal with the reality of what happened to
their relatives."

As dean of the Massachusetts congressional delegation, Markey has
worked to unite his Bay State House colleagues on the issue.

Sharistan Melkonian, chairperson of the Armenian National Committee of
Eastern Massachusetts, praised Markey, saying he was instrumental in
calling on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to put the resolution to a floor

"He has in various ways led efforts to push Congress to take the
principled position that it should," Melkonian said.

Markey is a close political ally of Pelosi, who represents a
California district with a large Armenian population.

On Wednesday, the House Foreign Affairs panel approved the resolution,
setting the stage for a House vote that backers hope will be this
year. Armenian-American interest groups have lobbied Congress for
decades to pass a resolution.

The Bush administration, which is lobbying hard to persuade Congress
to reject the resolution, has stressed the need for good relations
with Turkey.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said the measure is damaging
relations at a time when U.S. forces in Iraq rely heavily on Turkish
permission to use their airspace for cargo flights. Several former
secretaries of state have also warned the resolution could harm U.S.
national security interests.

The congressional debate comes on the heels of recent controversy over
the issue in Massachusetts.

In August, the New York-based Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish group
known for combatting anti-Semitism, reversed its position and labeled
the killings as "tantamount to genocide." That change came days after
the ADL fired its local director in Massachusetts for taking the same
stance. He was soon rehired.

Markey was among those who publicly urged the ADL to change course.

Despite changing its stance in August, the ADL has said it is opposed
to the House resolution because it would not help improve relations
between Turks and Armenians.

"We don't think Congress is the appropriate place to resolve this
historical debate," ADL national director Abraham Foxman said.

A panel of historians from both sides would be a better way to resolve
the issue, Foxman said.

Source: http://www.bostonherald.com/news/international/general/view.bg?articleid=1037891