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24.4.13

Adam Schiff Speaks on Genocide "in Their Beautiful Language"

Vartan Matiossian
 
On Wednesday, April 24, 2013, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the lead sponsor of the Armenian Genocide resolution currently in Congress, delivered his remarks in Armenian on the House Floor to honor the more than one and a half million Armenian men, women and children who were murdered by the Ottoman government.
Representative Schiff said in his Armenian address:
“My Armenian friends, here and around the world, today on the 98th anniversary of the Armenian genocide day, I speak to you from the floor of the House of Representatives in the language of your grandparents – the language they used to speak of their hopes, their life, their dreams, and their loves in the years before 1915.
“Throughout the Ottoman Empire, tens of thousands were massacred outright.
“I speak to you in the language of the children who witnessed their fathers’ murdered.
“Women were raped by the thousands.
“I speak to you in the language of their daughters begging the Turkish gendarmes for mercy.
“I speak you in the language of the children begging for a drop of water.
“I speak to you in the language of the mothers who died with their babies in their arms.
“I speak to you in the language of the survivors who came to America to enjoy freedom and to make a new life.
“For almost a century, Turkey has denied the genocide. Turkey wants the world to forget about this.
“I speak to you in the language of those who are no longer with us.  They beg us to remember; their voices are still listened.
“I am not a descendant of the fallen, but I speak to you in their beautiful language because on this day, we are all Armenian.  I speak to you from this place, this House, because Americans have always shown the courage to look horror in the eye and speak its name, and I look forward to the day when its leaders will do the same.
“And because I know that day will come.  May it come soon, so the survivors may hear its awesome sound.
“May God hear our voice.” (*)

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We praise Mr. Schiff's determination and decision to speak for above four minutes in Armenian as an homage to the victims of the Medz Yeghern, the Armenian genocide of 1915 and following years. We also praise his choice to read his statement in Western Armenian, the language of the victims and a branch of our language that has been put in the list of endangered languages by UNESCO. This choice may also serve as a example to those who seem to downplay the usage and the existence of Western Armenian in our community all over the United States. Mr. Schiff's address in Armenian was also a first in the Congress.
However, with all due respect, the Armenian advisers to Mr. Schiff should have also coached him at least in the broad lines of Armenian pronunciation. Any foreign dignitary who had come to the House of Representatives to speak in English without knowing a single word of it would have made sure to pronounce his/her message with the utmost possible care for Shakespeare's language, out of respect for the listeners. We understand that it is very hard, particularly for an English-speaker, to read a message in a transliterated Armenian version and be able to follow all the conventions (because of the insufficient Latin alphabet) needed to make it sound in an acceptable way. However, anyone conversant in the Armenian language may bear witness to its butchering with every single word pronounced. In this sense, the speech was "in their beautiful language," but it did not leave any beauty in it.
We also allow ourselves to say that the impact of the line "today, on the 98th anniversary of the [genocide day]" («այսօր, հայոց ցեղասպանութեան 98րդ տարելիցին օրը») could have been deeply enriched, instead, by using the phrase "today, on the 98th anniversary of the Medz Yeghern, the Armenian genocide day" («այսօր, Մեծ Եղեռնի՝ հայոց ցեղասպանութեան 98րդ տարելիցին օրը»). This would have enlightened not only the press corps of the House of Representatives, but also the speechwriters of the White House and President Barack Obama himself, who today issued his annual statement using, for the fifth time in his presidency, the words "Meds Yeghern." It would have been a powerful political statement on the close relation between "Medz Yeghern" and "genocide," and the best homage to the memory of the victims, as well as to the survivors, who bequeathed us the words Մեծ Եղեռն (Medz Yeghern, Great Crime) as the name of the unspeakable crime.

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(*) The English version published in "Asbarez" (April 24, 2013) includes several sentences that are not found in the Armenian address. It appears that the latter was cut short to fit into the five minutes allocated by the House. Incidentally, some of the politically stronger sentences were not included:
“Families were force marched through desert heat as the Ottoman government sought to destroy a people. . . By the time it was over in 1923, more than 1.5 million Armenian men, women and children were dead.  It was the first genocide of the 20th century. . . .A nation was scattered around the world…  To the Middle East, to Europe and to America. . . . In the face of overwhelming evidence – much of it from American diplomats and journalists – Ankara has denied that the genocide ever happened.”

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