By Khatchig Mouradian
The selection of Rahm Emanuel as chief of staff—the first major appointment by President-elect Barack Obama—did not fare well with many Armenian-Americans who supported the Illinois Senator’s bid for presidency. While the Armenian-Americans who overwhelmingly voted for Obama showed signs of unease, those who supported the McCain-Palin ticket were quick to exclaim, I told you so!
The concerns of Armenian-Americans are understandable. Beginning with his days in the Clinton Administration through his years in Congress, Emanuel’s support has been mixed. It appears—if we are to take Robert Novak’s word for it—Emanuel opposed Clinton Administration affirmation of the Armenian Genocide. And yet, in his first term in Congress in 2003, he cosponsored Armenian Genocide legislation (H.Res.193) and urged President Bush in 2003, 2004 and 2005 to properly characterize the events from 1915-1923 as genocide.
Back then, Emanuel wasn’t afraid to question U.S. assistance to Turkey. In fact, in February 2003, when Congress was considering a $24 billion aid package to Turkey in return for allowing U.S. troops to open up a northern front to battle Iraqi insurgents, Emanuel was positively poetic in listing the myriad of domestic uses for those funds—from “no child left behind programs,” to college tuition assistance. Turkey eventually blocked U.S. troops from setting up the northern front.
Since 2006, it appears Emanuel has gone back to his Clinton-Administration days, counseling Speaker Pelosi not to place the Armenian Genocide resolution on the House agenda—advice that Pelosi and the House leadership did not heed.
So, again, that Armenian-Americans are concerned is understandable. What is not understandable, however, is the leap that many Armenian-Americans are making—concluding that the appointment of Emanuel is proof that Obama is somehow on the road to reneging on his election pledge even before taking his oath of office.
Such thinking comes off to be a bit naive. If the criteria for appointing a presidential chief of staff were for him to agree with the President on every single issue, no one would ever serve in that post. The President will have points of agreement and disagreement with his chief of staff—and all members of his Administration, for that matter—with the final word being that of the President, himself. Not to mention the fact that it is foolhardy to think that the President’s choice of a chief of staff would be decided on a single human rights issue—however just.
Armenian-American critics of the Emanuel pick ought to keep in mind the impressive record of President-elect Obama and—perhaps even more importantly—that of vice President-elect Biden, when it comes to issues of concern to Armenian-Americans. Although their record does not guarantee their support of Genocide recognition now that they have assumed the highest office of the country, it should, at least, make one think twice before jumping to conclusions.
Concentrating on the Emanuel pick is a distraction. Regardless of who the chief of staff is, immense pressure is going to be exerted on Obama—by some Washington elites, the Turkish state and U.S.-based lobby groups working openly or silently for the Turkish government—to dissuade him from recognizing the Armenian Genocide.
Given that reality, Armenian-Americans have two clear choices. To sit on their hands, thinking that they already did their part by voting for Obama and now it is his turn to deliver, or to struggle more fiercely than ever for truth and justice, knowing well that they have in the highest office of their country, a President who understands their struggle for truth and justice—certainly more than his predecessors.
Khatchig Mouradian is a writer, translator and journalist. He is the editor of the Armenian Weekly. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.