In 2012, I had the privilege of touring eastern Turkey, including its city of Bitlis, from where my mother’s family had emigrated in 1905 because of Turkish persecution of Armenians. My grandfather was born in Bitlis, and I wanted to walk the streets he had walked as a child.
In 1915, Ottoman Turks began a systematic elimination of Armenians, and when U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Henry Morgenthau protested to Talaat Pasha, one of the Empire’s three leaders, he said, “It is no use for you to argue ... We have already disposed of three quarters of the Armenians; there are none at all left in Bitlis, Van and Erzeroum.” Morgenthau then received a request from Talaat as recorded in his book, Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story, “I wish that you would get the American life insurance companies to send us a complete list of their Armenian policy holders. They are practically all dead now and have left no heirs to collect the money. It of course all escheats to the State. The Government is the beneficiary now. Will you do so?”
The Saroyans who arrived at Ellis Island driven by my great-grandmother Lucintak were among the lucky ones. Those relatives who remained disappeared amidst the blood that ran down the streets of Bitlis I walked on 100 years later.
For the past century, geopolitical politics and heavy lobbying by the Turkish government has prevented efforts begun by Ambassador Morgenthau to have the U.S. recognize the elimination of more than 1.5 million Armenians. It is historic, therefore, that the House of Representatives approved a resolution on Oct. 29 commemorating the Armenian genocide. Yet it is puzzling that while 405 representatives — including GOP leadership members Speaker Kevin McCarthy, Whip Steve Scalise and Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Devin Nunes — all voted in favor of the resolution, our congressman, Rep. Andy Harris, was one of 11 toeing the Turkish line. Perhaps his next step will be to finally get the list of genocide victim policy holders to the Turkish government so that President Erdogan can begin collection.