Tuesday, June 26, 2007

An Interview with Congressman James McGovern

From Armenia to Darfur: Genocide, Politics and Advocacy
An Interview with Congressman McGovern
The Armenian Weekly
April 21, 2007

WORCESTER, Mass. (A.W.)—Congressman James P. McGovern (D-Mass.) recently returned from a trip to Africa, where he witnessed the plight of the people of Darfur living in refugee camps in Chad. In an interview conducted by Weekly editor Khatchig Mouradian in Worcester on April 13, McGovern discussed the current situation in Darfur, what needs to be done to stop the genocide there, and the importance of the recognition of the Armenian Genocide.

When asked what he witnessed on the ground, McGovern responded, “I tried to get into Sudan and they refused to give me a visa to go in. Apparently because I had gotten arrested in front of the Sudanese embassy a year ago in protest of the genocide in Darfur.”

He continued, “So I instead flew into Chad, which is the neighboring country, and went to the border of Darfur and visited the refugee camps filled with Sudanese refugees along the eastern border of Chad.”

Speaking in awe of the people he saw there, he commented, “It was an experience, the likes of which I’ve never had before in my life. I visited two Sudanese refugee camps and visited dozens and dozens of refugees. Every one of them had a horror story.”

McGovern was then asked why the U.S. appeared to be so lead-footed when it came to taking decisive action to stop the genocide in Darfur. He asserted derisively, “I think the United States is not reacting for a number of reasons. First, we’re still bogged down in Iraq right now. Which is viewed by some in the Bush administration as, ‘We can’t do much more than we’re doing right now.’ Two, we have this tight relationship with China, and yet China is sending helicopters and weapons to the Sudanese government, which are being used against the people of Darfur.”

McGovern suggested the U.S. lead the charge in the world community by boycotting the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. “China isn’t concerned with human rights,” he added, “but it is concerned with how it’s viewed around the world.”

He quashed any support for U.S. intelligence services taking a blind eye to genocide in Darfur on account of Sudan being an anti-terrorism ally by stating,
“Some have told me that because the government of Sudan kicked Osama Bin Laden out of that country, that their may be some kind of intelligence cooperation that we [the U.S.] don’t want to upset, under the ‘War on Terror.’ Forgive me, but what do you call a genocide if not terror?”

McGovern called for an immediate UN Security Council Resolution to safeguard the Darfur region, but in the meantime rallied, “We need to start talking about things like a ‘no-fly zone’ that a combination of France and some other countries can enforce. There’s a French military base in Chad that could be placed to keep the planes to enforce a no-fly zone over Sudan.”

When queried whether he thought U.S. troops being a part of any peacekeeping missions would be well received in a post-Iraq world, McGovern admitted, “A UN peacekeeping force probably won’t consist of U.S. troops. Because quite frankly our credibility around the world is so diminished that having U.S. troops there would probably add fuel to the fire. Further, you want people who speak the language and are sensitive to the issues of Darfur.”

McGovern pragmatically outlined what he thought the U.S. role should be. “Seventy-three percent of the American people believe we should take action in Darfur. And we can provide the funding, or some of the funding, for a UN peacekeeping force. That’s what our role can be, to provide logistic support where it’s appropriate.”

He chided of the nation’s current efforts, “I am ashamed as a Congressman, a citizen of the United States and a citizen of the world that we’re not doing more.”

McGovern praised the Armenian community for its solidarity with the Darfur intervention activists, saying, “One of the things I think the Armenian community has been out front on is that issue of ending the genocide in Darfur. Because of the unique history of the Armenian people, I think they have a special understanding, a painful understanding of what a genocide is and what it feels like to be ignored.”

Promoting a resolute and motivated campaign of activism and letter writing, he said. “I tell people they need to raise hell with their Congressmen and Senators. Tell them, this is an issue I expect you, as my Senator, to take a leadership role on. Don’t tell me you’re sympathetic with the situation. Don’t send me back a letter saying you too believe it’s genocide. What I want is a letter back from you that you’re pushing the Bush administration and the international community.”

McGovern spoke about the Armenian Genocide Resolution in the U.S. Congress and the Turkish lobby’s attempts to prevent its passage. He was adamant in saying, “I’m tired of excuses. We need to do what’s right. We need to do what’s truthful. That means acknowledging that there was a genocide committed against the Armenians early in the last century. I’m sorry that Turkey doesn’t want to acknowledge the truth, but that’s the truth.”

Commenting on the importance of this bill, he said, “It says a lot about who you are today, when you acknowledge the past. If Turkey wants to have a fit over this, let them have a fit over this. If they want to remove their embassy from the United States, let them do it.”

He added, “I want the House to run the bill. I want the Senate to run the bill. Send it to the President.”

McGovern ended by emphasizing that it is our civic duty as Americans to honor those victims and survivors who came to this country by acknowledging the Genocide. “They’re our people. They’re our citizens. If for no other reason than to pay our proper respects to our citizens, we should do it.”

To watch the entire interview online, visit www.haireniktv.com.

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