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US Senate recognises the Armenian Genocide

13 December 2019
A US congressional delegation visiting the Tsitsernakaberd Genocide memorial in Yerevan on 17 April 2019. Photo via the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute Foundation.

The United States Senate has recognised the mass killings of over 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman authorities from 1915-1923 as genocide. 

The historic vote on Thursday came just over a month after the House of Representatives passed House Resolution 296 recognising the Genocide. 

Senate Resolution 150, which senators passed unanimously, is identical to the 29 October House resolution. It 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.’

For decades, the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), an Armenian lobby group based in Washington DC, has lobbied the US Congress to pass a resolution recognising the Genocide. 

The vote came at a time of increased tensions between the US and Turkey, which has actively opposed efforts to recognise the genocide abroad.

The House resolution was passed weeks after Turkey began a military offensive in northeastern Syria against Kurdish forces formerly allied with the US.

[Read more on OC Media: US House of Representatives recognises the Armenian Genocide]

The offensive, which followed the retreat of US troops in the region on the order of US President Donald Trump, was met with widespread condemnation in the West.

US-Turkey relations have also been hurt by Turkey’s purchasing of a Russian anti-aircraft missile system last summer, which it recently began testing against US-made aircraft. 

President Trump, who claims to have a close relationship with Erdogan, has been against the passing of the resolution.

‘The right side of history’

Yesterday was the fourth attempt by the Senate to pass the resolution. In recent weeks, the White House has directed several senators to block the bill on the grounds that it could undercut negotiations with Turkey.

Republican Senator Kevin Cramer, who objected to the measure last week, said he had done so at the behest of the  White House because the vote would have taken place during the NATO summit in London in which President Trump and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan were to take part. Cramer was a co-sponsor of a similar genocide resolution in 2017. 

Republican Senators Lindsey Graham and David Perdue objected to the previous two attempts to pass the resolution. Despite these objections, all three later indicated that they would no longer object to the resolution. 

The non-binding Senate Resolution was co-sponsored by Democratic Senator Robert Menendez and Republican Senator Ted Cruz. 

In a tearful address to the senate after the resolution passed, Menendez said it was ‘fitting and appropriate that the Senate stands on the right side of history’

‘As former UN Ambassador Samantha Power wrote in her Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “A Problem from Hell”, America’s nonresponse to the Turkish horrors established patterns that would be repeated’, he said.

‘We know all too well the horrors that would be repeated later in the 20th century with the Holocaust and other genocides around the world. Here in the Senate today, we break those patterns.’

The senator said he was ‘thankful that the resolution has passed at a time in which there are still survivors of the genocide who will be able to see that the Senate acknowledges what they went through.’

Menendez has worked to pass such a resolution since being elected to Senate in 2006. 

‘This is the third week in a row we have come to the Senate floor seeking to pass this resolution, and I’m grateful that today we have succeeded’, Senator Cruz stated. ‘This is a moment of truth that was far too long coming.’

Response to the vote

The vote was widely hailed both in Armenia and amongst the Armenian diaspora. 

During the vote, American-Armenian TV personality and entrepreneur Kim Kardashian-West asked her 153 million Instagram followers to call and ask their Senators to vote for Resolution 150. ‘Denial is the final stage of genocide… #facts,’ wrote Kardashian-West.

Prime Minister Pashinyan tweeted that ‘US Senate Resolution 150 is a victory of justice and truth. On behalf of the Armenian people worldwide, I express our profound appreciation to the Senate for this landmark legislation.’

American-Armenian singer Cher also took to Twitter to express joy at the resolution’s passage. ‘God bless fellow Armenians all over the world’, the pop icon wrote. 

The reaction in Turkey was also swift. Turkish presidential spokesperson Fahrettin Altun tweeted after the vote that ‘the behaviour of some members of the US Congress is damaging the Turkish-American ties. […] the Armenian resolution that passed today in the Senate endanger the future of our bilateral relationship.’

Senate Resolution 150 is non-binding and the White House has not yet responded and is not obligated to abide by the resolution’s provisions. 

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