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Pallone Praises Armenian Foreign Minister For His Comments At Commemoration of the 60th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz

February 17, 2005
Press Release

U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), co-chairman of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues, praised Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian's speech before the United Nations last month commemorating the 60th Anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.  The New Jersey congressman submitted the following statement into the Congressional Record today, and included the foreign minister's comments. 

"Mr. Speaker, I was proud to join my colleagues last month in commemorating the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz.  On that solemn occasion, Congress remembered the heroic forces that helped bring an end to this crime against humanity, and we reminded one another to never forget the lessons of the past. 

"At the request of the United States, Canada, the European Union, Australia, New Zealand, and Russia, the United Nations, for the first time, also observed the liberation of Auschwitz.  Armenias Minister of Foreign Affairs, Vartan Oskanian, was among a select group of foreign ministers who addressed the United Nations 28th Special Session in New York.    

"As a people victimized by genocide under the cover of WWII, all Armenians have a special empathy for the victims, survivors and descendants of the Holocaust.  As Minister Oskanian said at the UN General Assembly: 'After Auschwitz, we are all Jews, we are all Gypsies, we are all unfit, deviant and undesirable,for someone, somewhere.'

"As the Co-Chair of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues, I am pleased to submit the Ministers full remarks as delivered into the Congressional Record.  By remembering all instances of mans inhumanity to man, we renew our commitment always to prevent this crimes recurrence, and therefore negate the dictum that history is condemned to repeat itself. 

Statement of H. E.Vartan Oskanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Republic of Armenia At the 28th Special Session on the 60th Anniversary of the Liberation of the Nazi Concentration Camps
New York, January 24, 2005

Mr. President

Your Excellencies

Dear Friends,

On behalf of the people and government of Armenia, and as a descendant of genocide survivors, I feel compelled to be here today, to join other survivors and descendants, of both victims and perpetrators, to take part in this commemoration. I am also duty-bound to urge us all to confront more effectively the threat of genocide anywhere, at any time, regardless of cost and political discomfort.

The liberation of Auschwitz is, indeed, cause for commemorative celebration. However, in this commemoration, with each uttering of the name Auschwitz, we are forced to reflect: to look back, look around, look deep, look at the other, but also look inward, at ourselves.

After 9/11 and reacting to the unusually high number of victims of a singular event, an editorialist proclaimed "We are all Americans". Sympathy, solidarity, anxiety, and indignation bound us together. How much more intense our feelings about Auschwitz and the singularity of its horror, its synonymity with the technology of death-making, its eerily ordinary commitment to efficiency, to pragmatic, effective, result-oriented administration.

After Auschwitz, we are all Jews, we are all Gypsies, we are all unfit, deviant and undesirable, for someone, somewhere. After Auschwitz, the conscience of man cannot remain the same. Man's inhumanity to men, to women, to children, and to the elderly, is no longer a concept in search of a name, an image, a description. Auschwitz lends its malefic aura to all the Auschwitzes of history, our collective history, both before and after.

In the 20th century alone, with its 15 genocides, the victims have their own names for places of infamy. What the French call 'les lieux infames de memoire' are everywhere. Places of horror, slaughter, of massacre, of the indiscriminate killing of all those who have belonged to a segment, a category, an ethnic group, a race or a religion. For Armenians, it is the desert of Deir-El-Zor, for Cambodians they are the killing fields, for the children of the 21st century, it is Darfur. For the Jews and Poles and for a whole generation of us growing up after The War, it is Auschwitz.

Mr. President,

Just as we all were, or are, or might be victims, we all were or are or might also be guilty. It is only through the engagement of those who have seen and done the unimaginable, and who have had the dignity, the grace, the sensitivity, the decency and courage to acknowledge wrongdoing, that we may achieve the requisite collective political will and its expression.

This is not as nave, unrealistic, idealistic as some might wish to label it, perhaps in order to dismiss it. Genocide is not about individuals who act insanely, do evil, commit crimes, perpetrate irrevocable wrongs. Genocide is the undertaking of a state apparatus, which must, by definition, act coherently, pragmatically, with structure and organization.

Thus, this is not a plea to reform human beings, but an appeal to take conscious account of the role of our national institutions and international institutions must play to insure that no one can expect to enjoy impunity.

After Auschwitz one would expect that no one any longer has a right to turn a blind eye or a deaf ear. As an Armenian, I know that a blind eye, a deaf ear and a muted tongue perpetuate the wounds. It is a memory of suffering unrelieved by strong condemnation and unequivocal recognition. The catharsis that the victims deserve, which societies require in order to heal and move forward together, obligates us here at the UN, and in the international community, to be witness, to call things by their name, to remove the veil of obfuscation, of double standards, of political expediency.

Mr. Chairman,

Following the Tsunami-provoked disaster, we have become painfully aware of a paradox. On the one hand, multilateral assistance efforts were massive, swift, generous and without discrimination. But, when compared and contrasted with today's other major tragedy, in Africa, it is plain that for Darfur, formal and ritual condemnation has not been followed by any dissuasive action against the perpetrators.

The difference with the Tsunami, of course, was that there were no perpetrators. No one wielded the sword, pulled the trigger or pushed the button that released the gas.

Recognizing the victims and acknowledging them is also to recognize that there are perpetrators. But this is absolutely not the same as actually naming them, shaming them, dissuading or warning them, isolating or punishing them.

If these observations signal a certain naivet that overlooks the enduring structures of our political and security interests, then, on this occasion, when we have gathered to commemorate this horrible event, then allow me this one question: if not here and now, then where and when?

Mr. Chairman,

The Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana, who has been quoted here, admonished us to remember the past, or be condemned to repeat it. This admonition has significance for me personally, because the destruction of my people, whose fate in some way impinged upon the fate of the Jews of Europe, should have been viewed more widely seen as a warning of things to come.

Jews and Armenians are linked forever by Hitler. Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians? said Adolf Hitler, days before he entered Poland.

Hitler's cynical remembrance of Armenians is prominently displayed in the Holocaust Memorial in Washington because it is profound commentary about the crucial role of third parties in genocide prevention and remembrance. Genocide is the manifestation of the break in the covenant that governments have with their peoples. Therefore, it is third parties who become crucial actors in genocide prevention, humanitarian assistance and genocide remembrance.

We are commemorating today, because the Soviet troops marched into Auschwitz 60 years ago. I am here today because the Arabs provided sanctuary to Armenian deportees 90 years ago.

Third parties, indeed, can make the difference between life and death. Their rejection of the behaviors and policies which are neither in anyone's national interest nor in humanity's international interest, is of immense moral and political value.

What neighbors, well-wishers, the international community can't accomplish, is the transcending and reconciling which the parties must do for themselves. The victims, first, must exhibit the dignity, capacity and willingness to move on, and the perpetrators, first and last, must summon the deep force of humanity and goodness and must overcome the memory of the inner evil which had already prevailed, and must renounce the deed, its intent, its consequences, its architects and executors.

Auschwitz signifies the worst of hate, of indifference, of dehumanization. Remembrance of Auschwitz and its purpose, however abhorrent, is a vital step to making real the phrase "Never Again".

Thank you.