Genocide isn't usually the sort of stuff that inspires concerts, but for System of a Down
, it's more than a cause -- it's a crusade. The band (of which all the members are of Armenian descent) has organized "Souls -- A Benefit for Recognition of the Armenian Genocide to Stop Crimes Against Humanity," a benefit concert at the Palace in Los Angeles on Nov. 4 to raise funds for the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
ANCA supports legislation in Congress to recognize the slaughter that took place during World War I, when Turks systemically killed off 1.5 million Armenians between 1915 and 1923. The event is considered by many historians to be the twentieth century's first genocide, though it has not yet been officially acknowledged by the U.S. government, much to System frontman Serj Tankian's dismay. House Resolution 596 was slated to change this, and was about to be adopted last week, when its final vote was withdrawn by Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert at the request of President Bill Clinton. Clinton claimed that the measure's consideration posed a threat to national security due to present troubles in the Middle East.
"It had enough votes to pass," Tankian says, "and Clinton thought it 'wouldn't be the right time' for a resolution like this, that American lives would be at stake. Then when is the right time? Even if the political situation isn't the best, you can't solve one injustice with another. And Turkey can't be that great of an ally if they're pressuring us about a genocide that took place eighty years ago. No president likes to stir things up in his last month, his final term, in an election year. It would create a lot of splashes in foreign policy if he rocks the boat."
Tankian says that "the truth will come out," but that pressures from the oil industry have prevented official recognition so far. "Whether the resolution gets passed or not, when the next Congress convenes, it will come out. It's in the history books," he says. "It's just not officially written as a crime against humanity. But at the Holocaust Museum was a quote on the wall from Hitler, talking about the Jews, and at the end of his speech, he says, 'Who remembers the Armenians?' It's obvious he knew he could get away with it, so he went ahead. And the idea of this impact, that alone has so many implications."
Though April 24 -- the day of remembrance for the Armenian genocide -- would have been ideal, Tankian says that day just never worked out for the band to stage such a concert. "We were always out of town, or on tour," he says, "but we've been wanting to do something for a long time. The time is right."
Written by JENNIFER VINEYARD for RollingStone.com News