On October 29, 2019, Congress passed House Resolution 296, affirming the United States recognition of the Armenian Genocide by a vote of 405-11. The bill recognizes the atrocities beginning in 1915 against Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Syriacs, Arameans, Maronites, and other religious minorities in Anatolia as genocide.
Until 1944 the atrocities that resulted in the deaths of more than 1.5 million Armenians, 700,000 Greeks, 365,000 Assyrians, and countless other victims remained a crime without a name. Raphael Lemkin combined the Greek root word for race, genos, and the Latin root word for killing, cide, to create a name for the crime now we now call genocide.
The resolution acknowledges the historic American response to Ambassador Henry Morgenthau’s urgent warning that a “campaign of race extermination” was occurring. Organized by the group that would come to be known as Near East Relief (NER), America led an international humanitarian relief effort that took on global proportions.
Inspired by campaigns designed to raise awareness of the atrocities, more than one million Americans donated every year, and between 1915 and 1930 NER raised over $2.5 billion USD in today’s dollars. As a result of the extraordinary cooperation between Protestant missionaries, grassroots contributors and progressive businessmen, NER provided food to more than 12 million survivors, medical care to 6 million and cared for more than 130,000 children orphaned by the genocide.
Photo: Henry Morgenthau, American ambassador to the Ottoman Empire during WWI
As the need for emergency relief faded, NER began to shift its focus helping survivors build sustainable, prosperous communities and in 1930 changed its name to the Near East Foundation (NEF) to reflect that mission. NEF has remained committed to its mission and the region and has gone on to implement economic and social development programs across 50 countries to improve millions of lives, while also helping to shape the American philanthropic and humanitarian tradition. In 2014, NEF created the Near East Relief Historical Society to preserve and share the events surrounding the genocide, its founding, and the monumental relief effort that followed.
Today NEF builds more sustainable, prosperous, and inclusive communities through education, community organizing, and economic development initiatives. NEF’s approach ensures that vulnerable and marginalized individuals have agency and access to economic and social opportunities while emphasizing local capacity building and community ownership. Working in challenging contexts and conflict-affect communities, NEF has active projects across nine countries in the Middle East, Africa, and the Caucasus. For more information on NEF’s work, visit: www.neareast.org.
The Near East Foundation and the Near East Relief Historical Society welcomes the long-awaited passage of House Resolution 296 as formally recognizing the Armenian Genocide and remembering the victims is a crucial milestone to building a more peaceful and just world. This bipartisan collaboration reflects a reaffirmation of America’s historical commitment to humanitarian principles.
Photo: NER orphans raise and salute the American flag.