- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 7, 2000

RICHMOND A panel of Virginia senators yesterday backed away from a resolution to recognize April 24 as "Armenian Genocide Day," instead passing a version that recognizes "Armenian Martyrs Day," and a House committee approved a resolution demanding a Civil War flag back from Minnesota.

The resolution to recognize Armenians passed the committee with only one dissenting vote, but the real debate focused on whether to call the death of between 600,000 and 1.5 million Armenians the sides argue over the number, too genocide.

"It is my position that we need and we must include that term 'genocide' because it is what happened," said Delegate Eric I. Cantor, Henrico Republican and the bill's sponsor. He presented documents and testimony from college professors that the Ottoman Turk government carried out eight years of systematic deportation and killing of Armenians, beginning with a roundup of Armenian leaders on April 24, 1915.

The resolution was roundly condemned by Turkish-Americans, who argued that the Ottoman Empire never had a policy of extermination the definition of genocide and that it was really a civil war in which many Turks died in conflicts with Armenians.

None of the senators agreed with the argument that it was a civil war, and Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle, Virginia Beach Republican who asked that genocide be removed from the text, agreed that it was, in fact, genocide.

But he said it wasn't the "Virginia way" to dwell on divisive issues.

"I don't know Virginia resolves any problems by [passing] a resolution," Mr. Stolle said.

But some senators vehemently disagreed.

"These people did not commit suicide, and we ought to call it what it is," said Sen. Richard L. Saslaw, Fairfax Democrat. Sen. Warren E. Barry, Fairfax Republican, said not to call it genocide is "to sweep it under the rug."

Still, Mr. Stolle's position won by an 8-5 vote and recognition of the "Armenian genocide" was changed to "Armenian Martyrs Day."

Committee members had postponed voting on the resolution from Feb. 28, when more than 150 supporters and opponents packed the committee room. But if they were hoping for a smaller audience yesterday, they were out of luck. Again, the room was packed with mostly supporters, many of whom left the room calling the new version of the resolution better than nothing.

Meanwhile, the Senate committee and the House Interstate Cooperation Committee met for the first time in three years and unanimously passed a resolution calling on Minnesota to return a Civil War-era flag captured by Minnesota volunteers from the Virginia 28th Infantry at Gettysburg.

The flag was lost when a private from the 1st Minnesota Infantry captured it from an injured lieutenant. The private turned the flag over to the War Department after the war, in exchange for a Congressional Medal of Honor, which was given to all soldiers who captured a flag. But he borrowed the flag back from the department and never returned it. Upon his death, the Minnesota Historical Society took possession of the flag.

The resolution calls on the Minnesota legislature to return the flag, which is in the archives of the Minnesota Historical Society, a nonprofit group that receives state money.

Minnesotans argue that the flag is a trophy of victory, as much a part of their heritage as it is Virginia's.

Committee members point to a 1905 federal act that returned War Department property to the states. They say that act still applies, and Delegate Paul Harris, Albemarle Republican, said he doesn't think Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura can avoid giving the flag back.

Mr. Ventura said last week he doesn't think Virginia should get the flag back.

"Why? I mean, we won," Mr. Ventura said at a national meeting of governors.

"Despite his antics, I don't think he can avoid a federal mandate," Mr. Harris said. "He doesn't strike me as someone who's grounded in constitutional law."

The committee couldn't resist making a few jokes at the expense of Mr. Ventura, a former pro wrestler.

"We didn't amend it didn't say anybody has to go wrestle anybody," said committee Chairman Allen W. Dudley, Franklin County Republican.

Which left Delegate Joe T. May, Loudoun Republican, whose great-grandfather on his father's side was wounded by the same "pesky Minnesota volunteers" at Antietam, less than impressed.

"I don't think the situation should end with 'we won, didn't we?' " he said yesterday.

Still, if it does come to a challenge in the wrestling ring, Mr. May said he already has a proxy Delegate Jackie T. Stump, Buchanan Democrat and maybe the assembly's stoutest member.

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