Editor’s Note: This speech was delivered April to a gathering of the Armenian community commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide.
I am honored to be a part of this historic program this evening. And, I am honored to represent the Jewish community.
100 years ago. 70 years ago.
This week the world commemorates 100 years since 1.5 million Armenians perished in an act of genocide.
Last week the Jewish community commemorated the 70th year of Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. More than 6 million Jews were killed.
1.5 million and more than 6 million. Plus the families that were lost and the surviving families whose lives would be forever changed. And, a long history lost and a new history began.
Never Again. A phrase. Two words that have been synonymous with the Jewish community and the Holocaust. Never again will there be another atrocity or genocide.
Yet it continues. Cambodia, Darfur, Rwanda and now perhaps Yemen.
Why? Because we, our governments and world leaders have never said: Why did we allow the systematic atrocities to happen to the people of Armenia one hundred years ago? Why did we allow the systematic atrocities to happen to the Jews over 70 years ago?
And, why do we allow such atrocities to continue?
The term “genocide” did not exist before 1944. Genocide is a very specific word. It refers to violent crimes committed against groups with the intent to destroy their existence, especially a particular ethnic group or nation.
Today, according to the Armenian government, only 20 countries formally recognize the Armenian genocide. Uruguay was the first to do so in 1965, 21 years after the word was created. Only after Russia, in 1995, did a series of 17 countries like Canada, France, Poland, and Italy make similar declarations. Today, Germany is expected to make an announcement acknowledging that genocide in 1915, did take place in Armenia.
Yet, our own country has still not formally acknowledged that an act of genocide took place against the people of Armenia. However, 43 US states have independently recognized Armenian genocide.
If countries like ours do not recognize this took place, is it no wonder that 54 percent of the world population have also never heard of the Holocaust? Is it no wonder that two-thirds of the world population either has no knowledge of the Holocaust, or denies that it ever happened?
In 2011 the Community Relations Council of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island submitted legislation for genocide education to be mandatory in our middle and high schools. In order for the bill to pass, we agreed to change the wording to “encourage” rather than mandatory.
Since the passage of the bill, hundreds of thousands of people have perished through continued acts of genocide.
Genocide education in our state must become mandatory like it is in New Jersey. The media has the responsibility to inform and report acts of genocide. We must demand the world not only recognize genocide, but act against the aggressors. Our legislators must know that acts of genocide anywhere are simply not acceptable and will not be tolerated. Countries cannot turn a blind eye to atrocities when it is not in their best interests.
We must never forget, and we must make the commitment of never again to anyone, anywhere.
MARTY COOPER is the Community Relations Director for the Jewish Alliance.