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US House of Representatives recognises the Armenian Genocide

30 October 2019
A US congressional delegation visiting the Tsitsernakaberd Genocide memorial in Yerevan on 17 April 2019. Photo: the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute Foundation

The US House of Representatives has passed a resolution recognising the mass killings of over 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman authorities from 1915 1923 as genocide.

House Resolution 296, which passed on Tuesday by 405 votes to 11, is the first to label the killings as genocide since 1984, when the House passed a similar resolution.

The resolution is by far the most trenchant in its language, not only recognising the genocide but calling for an end to genocide denial.

Since 1984, resolutions to recognise the genocide were introduced during the Clinton administration in 2000, the Bush administration in 2007, and the Obama administration in 2010, but were never passed by the House. 

Turkey has lobbied against the recognition of the Armenian Genocide for decades, investing millions of dollars into blocking such resolutions.

US lawmakers and past Presidents have justified not recognising the genocide by bringing up Turkey’s strategic role as a NATO ally in defending America’s geopolitical interests in the Middle East.

The resolution calls for ‘the commemoration of the Armenian Genocide through official recognition and remembrance, rejects efforts to enlist, engage, or otherwise associate the US Government with denial of the Genocide or any other genocide and encourages education and public understanding of the facts of the Armenian Genocide, including the US’s role in the humanitarian effort, and the relevance of the Armenian Genocide to modern-day crimes against humanity.’

Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, a long-time supporter of recognition, remarked that ‘too often, tragically, the truth of the staggering crime has been denied. Today, let us clearly state the facts on the floor of this House to be etched forever into the Congressional Record: The barbarism committed against the Armenian people was a genocide.’

The resolution will now proceed to the US Senate. According to the Huffington Post, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer announced on Tuesday that he is encouraging the Senate to support the House’s now-adopted resolution. 

The resolution has elicited praise from both Armenian officials and prominent members of the Armenian diaspora. 

Prime Minister Armenia Nikol Pashinyan tweeted that this was a ‘bold step towards serving truth and historical justice that also offers comfort to millions of descendants of the Armenian Genocide survivors’.

Tension with Turkey

The resolution comes at a time of increasing tensions between the US and Turkey over the latter’s military offensive in northeastern Syria, which followed the retreat of US troops in the region on the order of US President Donald Trump.

One of the co-sponsors of the resolution is Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, who also chairs the House Intelligence Committee and is vice-chair of the Armenian-American Caucus. 

During his remarks at the resolution hearing, he drew comparisons between the actions of the Ottoman government in 1915 and that of the Turkish government today. 

‘It’s always the right time to recognise genocide, but it is particularly so today. For when we see the images of terrified Kurdish families in northern Syria, loading their possessions into cars or carts and fleeing their homes headed to nowhere except away from Turkish bombs and marauding militias, how can we say the crimes of a century ago are in the past?’, he said.

The bill was introduced to the House in April but gained growing support after Turkey’s invasion of northeastern Syria. The invasion has displaced over 100,000 thousand people, primarily ethnic Kurds.  

It has come under extensive criticism from Turkish officials. Before the vote, on 25 October, Turkish Ambassador to the US Serdar Kılıç wrote to lawmakers stating that voting for the ‘biased’ resolution would only add to the growing number of disputes between the US and Turkey. 

The letter was leaked by the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), an Armenian lobby group based in Washington DC.

Soon after the resolution was passed, the Turkish Foreign Ministry issued a statement in which they said that it would harm American interests.

‘The resolution is devoid of any historical or legal basis’, the statement reads. ‘The US Administration and politicians are best placed to consider the damages this resolution seeking to disrupt Turkey-US ties does and will inflict upon the US interests at an extremely fragile time in terms of the international and regional security.’

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