Right Resolution, Wrong Genocide

It looks like House Resolution 106, "Affirmation of the United States Record on the Armenian Genocide Resolution," is dead -- for this session of Congress anyway. But, since it's been around in one form or another since 1965, there's no reason to think this is the end of the issue.

For the record, I believe the mass murder of the Armenians during and after 1915 to be genocide. It's so well documented that to protest the label genocide is like, well, Holocaust denial. It happened, and if the Turks refuse to recognize it, I do and millions of others do.

That said, what is the U.S. government doing condemning Turkey for genocide when it has never considered its own genocidal actions? The near extermination of the aboriginal Indians is as obvious a case of genocide as exists, but for some reason it hasn't made its way to Congress. But it hovers over the land, continuing to haunt us, but we don't acknowledge it. As my grandmother used to say, "On others you can see a hair. On yourself you can't see a horse."

Although the massacres in Asia Minor took place about 90 years ago, an American campaign of genocide was launched in California some 68 years prior to that, in the wake of the discovery of gold, and continued for decades. California Indians were killed for the same reasons that Armenians were killed in Turkey, Bosnians were killed in Yugoslavia, and Zaghawa and Massaleit are being killed today in Darfur: to rid the land of one people and to repopulate it with another.

In a sense, the killing of the California Indians was closer to genocide than the more famous Trail of Tears. There, the ostensible reason for the wholesale deportation was resettlement, although death followed closely in its wake. In California, there was no pretense to anything else.

Have no doubt, it was planned genocide. In his inaugural address in 1849, California Governor-elect Peter Hardeman Burnett stated clearly and succinctly, "that a war of extermination will continue to be waged between the two races until the Indian race becomes extinct, must be expected..."

Nor was it an empty threat. Dr. Edward Castillo, chair of the Native American Studies Department at the California's Sonoma State University and himself a Cahuilla and Luiseno Indian, has written extensively on the California Indians. According to Castillo, following the discovery of gold, within a decade, as many as 100,000 of the 170,000 Indians living in California had died, "the majority from violence, the rest from disease and starvation." Other historians say more died from deprivation than violence, but that's like comparing the gassed and the starvation victims in Auschwitz. They were deliberately killed, period. And we can't pretend it was anything other than genocide.

Yet by shying from the word genocide, we refuse to recognize the immensity of the crime. I wonder if the Resolution 106's spear carriers, California representatives Tom Lantos and Nancy Pelosi, or, for that matter, California's large and influential Armenian community, have even given much thought to the fact that they live on ground soaked in Indian blood. Right here, not Turkey.

Certainly it would be politically and economically inconvenient to accept full responsibility for the continuing genocide. But is it too much to ask for a non-binding resolution before trying to bull another condemnation of Turkey through Congress? I'll bet it is.

Alec Dubro is a freelance writer in Washington D.C. dubro@bellatlantic.net

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.