(CNSNews.com) – At a time of deep tensions in the U.S.-Turkey relationship, the House of Representatives on Tuesday passed by a large majority a non-binding resolution recognizing that Ottoman Turkey’s mass atrocities against Armenians a century ago constituted “genocide.”
Turkey’s foreign ministry rejected the move, suggesting the resolution was born out of frustration over Turkey’s recent military offensive against the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia in northeastern Syria.
“Those who felt defeated for not being able to forestall Operation Peace Spring would be highly mistaken should they thought that they could take vengeance this way,” it said in a statement.
The ministry said the document had “apparently been drafted and issued for domestic consumption,” and was “devoid of any historical or legal basis.”
The resolution passed by 405 votes to 11, with 178 Republicans joining 226 Democrats voting in favor. All 11 “nay” votes came from Republicans, and three members – Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) and Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) – voted “present.”
Tuesday’s vote came on Turkey’s Republic Day, which commemorates Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s declaration of the modern Republic of Turkey in 1923.
Turkish governments have for years lobbied actively against such resolutions, reacting angrily as legislatures, mostly in Europe and Latin America, have passed them anyway.
Genocide is legally defined as the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group,” accompanied by atrocities aimed at achieving that goal.
No American president since President Ronald Reagan – in a 1981 Holocaust Remembrance Day proclamation – has formally referred to the mass killings of Armenian Christians as “genocide.”
In statements marking the day Armenians hold commemorations each year, April 24, President George H.W. Bush referred to “terrible massacres,” President Clinton to “massacres” and “one of the saddest chapters of this century,” President George W. Bush to an “appalling tragedy” and “one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century,” and President Obama to “the first mass atrocity of the 20th century.”
President Trump in his three April 24 statements used the Armenian expression Meds Yeghern, which is variously translated “great evil,” “great crime” or “great calamity” (Obama also used the term in his later annual statements). Trump also referred to “one of the worst mass atrocities of the 20th century.”
‘Ankara’s gag rule’
The Armenian Assembly of America, which has lobbied on the issue for decades, welcomed the vote outcome.
“The purpose of this resolution is crystal clear,” said the organization’s executive director, Bryan Ardouny. “It formally acknowledges the Armenian Genocide. It condemns genocide denial in any form. It encourages human rights education to help prevent future genocides.”
Armenian National Committee of America executive director Aram Hamparian described the move as “overriding the longest-lasting foreign veto in American history – Ankara’s gag-rule against honest American remembrance of the Armenian Genocide.”
In its response to the resolution, Turkey’s foreign ministry called it a “meaningless political step” that merely catered to the Armenian lobby and anti-Turkey elements.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Twitter suggested the vote was the reaction of congressional frustration about Turkey’s military operation in Syria.
“Ruined big game w/OperationPeaceSpring,” he tweeted. “Those whose projects were frustrated turn to antiquated resolutions. Circles believing that they will take revenge this way are mistaken. This shameful decision of those exploiting history in politics is null & void for our Government & people.”
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, called the vote “an embarrassing example of the use of history in politics,” and insinuated U.S. support for terrorist groups confronting Turkey, naming the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and the now-defunct Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA).
There was no immediate reaction on social media from Turkish groups in the U.S. which lobbied against the resolution, including the Assembly of Turkish American Associations (ATAA) and the Turkish American National Steering Committee (TASC).
Historians record that about 1.5 million Armenians were killed as the Ottoman Empire disintegrated in 1915 and the following years. Turkey concedes that between 250,000 and 500,000 Armenians died, but in deaths attributed to war and civil strife, and says at least as many Muslims died too.
Specifically, Turkey denies the genocide claims.
The Association of Genocide Scholars affirmed, in a unanimous 1997 resolution, “that the mass murder of over a million Armenians in Turkey in 1915 is a case of genocide which conforms to the statutes of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide.”
The initiative in the House was led by Reps. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.). An identical resolution in the U.S. Senate is sponsored by Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
A bipartisan group of 20 co-sponsors includes five senators running for the Democratic party’s 2020 presidential nomination, Sens. Kamala Harris (Calif.), Cory Booker (N.J.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), and Bernie Sanders (Vt.)
The 11 “nay” votes on Tuesday came from Republican Reps. Jim Baird (Ind.), Kevin Brady (Texas), Susan Brooks (Ind.), Larry Bucshon (Ind.), Tom Cole (Okla.), Virginia Fox (N.C.), Andy Harris (Md.), Mark Meadows (N.C.), Greg Pence (Ind.), Mike Rogers (Ala.) and Mac Thornberry (Texas).