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US House overwhelmingly passes resolution recognizing Armenian genocide

United States House of Representatives chamber at the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 27, 2017. (Office of the Speaker of the House/WikiMedia Commons)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The U.S. House of Representatives has overwhelmingly passed a resolution that describes the killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire at the beginning of the 20th century as genocide, a move hailed by Armenia but labeled as “worthless” by Turkey.

The House passed the nonbinding resolution on October 29 by a vote of 405 to 11. The vote comes amid tense relations between Washington and Turkey, the successor of the Ottoman Empire, over its recent military incursion against U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish militia forces in northeastern Syria.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian welcomed the resolution, calling it “a bold step towards serving truth and historical justice.” In a series of tweets, Pashinian said the move “offers comfort to millions of descendants of the Armenian Genocide survivors” and praised the efforts of Armenian-Americans, “whose selfless activism and perseverance were the driving force and the inspiration behind today’s historic vote.”

In Ankara, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan slammed the House resolution as “worthless” and the “biggest insult” to the Turkish people.

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“From here I am addressing U.S. public opinion and the entire world: this step which was taken is worthless and we do not recognize it,” Erdogan said in a televised speech on October 30.

During and immediately after World War I, Ottoman Turks killed or deported as many as 1.5 million Armenians — a Christian minority in the predominately Muslim empire. Many historians and some other nations consider the killings genocide.

Turkey, a NATO member, objects to the use of the word genocide to describe the killings. Ankara claims the deaths were a result of civil strife rather than a planned Ottoman government effort to annihilate Armenians. Turkey also claims fewer Armenians died than has been reported.

Aram S. Hamparian, executive director of the Washington-based Armenian National Committee of America, called the adoption of the resolution an “absolute rejection” of Ankara’s claims.

“Turkey knows that unless the U.S. is complicit in their denial, it is not sustainable,” Hamparian told RFE/RL.

The resolution was introduced by Representative Adam Schiff. He is a Democrat from the state of California, which has a large ethnic-Armenian population. The Senate has yet to vote on the resolution.

Turkey’s Reaction

Turkey warned that the House resolution risks harming ties “at an extremely fragile time” for international and regional security.

On October 30, the Foreign Ministry in Ankara summoned the U.S. ambassador to Turkey, David Satterfield, to file a formal complaint about the House resolution.

The ministry said the resolution “lacks any historical or legal basis.”

“As a meaningless political step, its sole addressees are the Armenian lobby and anti-Turkey groups,” the Foreign Ministry said.

Separately, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu criticized the resolution, calling it “revenge” for Turkey’s military incursion into territory that had been controlled by U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria.

Turkish forces on October 9 attacked Syrian Kurdish militia in northeastern Syria, pushing them back from the border, after U.S. President Donald Trump ordered a withdrawal of U.S. troops from the embattled country three days earlier.

Washington immediately condemned Ankara’s military assault.

Following passage of the resolution describing the Ottoman-era killings of Armenians as an act of genocide, the House also voted 403 to 16 for economic sanctions against Turkey in response to its incursion into northeastern Syria.

Backed by both the Democrats and Republicans, that legislation calls for Trump to impose sanctions against Ankara.