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ARMENIANS WEIGH KERRY VOW CANDIDATE SAYS HE'LL RECOGNIZE GENOCIDE.

Byline: Lisa Friedman Staff Writer

WASHINGTON - Presidential candidate John Kerry has promised to formally recognize the Armenian genocide if he is elected.

But presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush all made similar vows as candidates - then once inside the White House opposed resolutions acknowledging genocide.

Still, in interviews with Armenian-Americans across Southern California and elsewhere this week, hopes for the Massachusetts Democrat ran high.

``I think we might expect something different from candidate Kerry,'' said Peter Balakian, author of ``The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America's Response.''

``He spent his whole life immersed in the Armenian community,'' Balakian said, noting that Massachusetts is home to about 30,000 Armenian Americans. ``This is a candidate with a great depth of knowledge on this history.''

Armenians contend the Ottoman Empire began a centrally planned slaughter in 1915 under cover of World War I in which about 1.5 million Armenians were killed. Turkey insists that number is inflated, and that Armenians died along with thousands of Turks as the result of crushing a mass uprising against the Ottoman Empire.

Reluctant to alienate Turkey, a valued U.S. ally, American presidents have traditionally taken a middle road describing the casualties as ``massacres'' but stopping short of using the term ``genocide'' and opposing resolutions acknowledging a genocide.

The opposition cuts across party lines. Currently the Bush administration and House Republican leaders are demanding an amendment by Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Pasadena, recognizing the genocide, be stripped from a foreign aid bill.

But in 2000 it was President Clinton who blocked a genocide resolution by then-Rep. James Rogan, R-Glendale, from coming to the House floor.

``It seems to be a nonpartisan issue. It's more about the State Department and the White House not having the courage to exercise its moral leadership,'' Balakian said.

Scholars and activists said they are pinning new hopes on Kerry largely because he voted in favor of Sen. Bob Dole's genocide resolution in 1990 and currently is co-sponsoring a Senate version of a resolution acknowledging the genocide.

``He has a long record of supporting issues of concern to the Armenian- American community, and he comes from a state where Armenian-Americans have been since the early 20th century, so there's some history there,'' said Armen Carapetian, a spokesman for the Armenian National Committee of America's Western Region in Glendale.

Added Seto Boyadian, who heads the Armenian National Committee of America's San Gabriel chapter, ``As long as he has been in public life, he has always supported the genocide resolution. He's committed. He's on the record.''

Others, of course, are skeptical that Kerry, whom critics have long accused of flip-flopping on issues, will stand firm.

``The Democrats need the Armenian votes to regain their political power. If elected, Kerry and his ilk will forget about the Armenians and their genocide the next day,'' Saakyan Gayane of Glendale wrote in an e-mail.

Even those pinning their hopes on Kerry said they would not be surprised if he changed his tune once elected.

``We know what pressures he will face on this issue. Those are real pressures. The State Department won't change its tune,'' Carapetian said.

Added Garbis Hindoyan, who heads the Armenian National Committee of America's East Valley chapter in Van Nuys, ``We hope if he's elected, Kerry will keep his word.

``On the other hand,'' he said, ``we will not be shocked if he does what Bill Clinton and George Bush did.''

Lisa Friedman, (202) 662-8731

lisa.friedman(at)langnews.com
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 26, 2004
Words:583
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