Revisiting the “Armenian Question”

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Law & Liberty

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Last fall, the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate adopted bipartisan resolutions commemorating the Armenian Genocide, an ethnic cleansing campaign the Ottoman government carried out 100 years ago, during the First World War, against Armenians and other Christians in the eastern provinces of the Empire. The vote on the House resolution was 405-11; in the Senate, the vote was unanimous. At a time of deep partisan division, honoring the victims of the Armenian Genocide seems one of the few things that unite Democrats and Republicans.

This is not the first time the suffering of Armenian Christians has figured in our national conversation. As Charlie Laderman recounts in his fine new history, Sharing the Burden: The Armenian Question, Humanitarian Invention, and Anglo-American Visions of Global Order, in the first decades of the twentieth century, the “Armenian Question” was a familiar topic for Americans. Newspapers continually ran stories about the “starving Armenians.” Sunday Schools across the country took up collections for them; as a result, Herbert Hoover remembered, American children in 1919 knew more about Armenia than any other foreign land, with the possible exception of England. One American charity alone raised more than $40 million to assist Armenian refugees, more than $600 million in today’s money. Prominent politicians of both parties—Republicans like Hoover, Elihu Root, Charles Evans Hughes, Henry Cabot Lodge, and Theodore Roosevelt, and Democrats like William Jennings Bryan and especially Woodrow Wilson, who proposed that the United States accept a Mandate for Armenia after the war—repeatedly declared their support for an independent Armenian state.