Background and legislative update on the atrocities that occurred in Armenia beginning in 1915.
From 1915 to 1917, approximately 1.5 million Armenians were forcibly deported and massacred in the Ottoman Empire; the atrocities were perpetrated by the government of the Empire at the time, the Young Turks. The early 1900's saw an increase in the Muslim - non-Muslim divide in the Ottoman Empire and its recognition and resentment by the Muslim government. Upon the Ottoman Empire's entrance into World War I in 1914 and a subsequent disastrous battle with the Russians, the Young Turks blamed the resident Armenians and accused them of siding with and aiding the Russians. The arrests of Armenian intellectuals and legislation authorizing deportation and seizure of property belonging to Armenians soon followed. It is believed that up to 25 concentration camps existed for the Armenian people in the Ottoman Empire during the time period; starvation, malnourishment, rape, and violence were common during deportation to and in these camps.
Twenty two countries and forty U.S. states have formally recognized the events as genocide, and it is widely seen as one of the first modern cases of systematic genocide. There is however, some amount of controversy regarding the labeling of the massacres as genocide; the current Turkish government denies these claims, saying it cannot be genocide because the mass killings were not a deliberate attempt to wipe out the Armenian people.
Canada has officially recognized the Armenian Genocide; the United States has not.
Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) introduced the "Affirmation of the United States Record on the Armenian Genocide Resolution" (H.Res.252 / S.Res.106) in the 111th Congress. This resolution calls for the United States to formally recognize the Armenian Genocide and calls for the President to use the word "genocide" in the annual April 24th speech commemorating the violence. As of August 2010, the bill has 143 cosponsors in the House and 16 cosponsors in the Senate.
In March 2010, H.Res 252 passed the House Committee on Foreign Affairs by a vote of 23-22, but has not been scheduled for a full vote.
Position of the Reform Movement
In November 1989, the then-Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now Union for Reform Judaism) passed a Resolution on the 1915 Genocide of Over One Million Armenians, recognizing the Armenian Genocide and commending the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum for its inclusion of references to the Armenian genocide to help illuminate the story of the Holocaust.
On August 31, 2007, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, and Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center, published a piece in the New York Jewish Week entitled "Genocide: Take a Side," in response to controversy in the Jewish community over using the term "genocide" to describe the events in Armenia in 1915 and over support for the Congressional legislation commemorating the events..