The House voted overwhelmingly to commemorate the 1915 Armenian genocide in a rebuke to North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally Turkey, which has strongly opposed any such move for decades.
Most historians recognize what happened to the Armenians and other ethnic and religious minorities at the hands of the Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1923 as genocide.
However, Turkey has waged a lobbying and diplomatic battle for years urging the U.S. not to use that word to describe the slaughter of an estimated 1.5 million people.
The House on Tuesday also passed a bill that would impose sanctions against Turkey, relating to its military invasion of northern Syria. Both measures had bipartisan support: The bill commemorating the Armenian genocide passed 405-11, with three voting present, while the sanctions bill tally was 403-16.
House GOP Conference Chair Liz Cheney (R., Wyo.) said the sanctions punish Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for attacks on Kurds, who had helped the U.S. in its campaign against Islamic State.
“America must stand with its Kurdish partners, whose counterterrorism cooperation was critical in our special operators’ courageous raid against Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi near the Turkish border,” she said.
Turkey’s foreign ministry condemned both resolutions, decrying the genocide bill as devoid of historical or legal basis and the sanctions as violating the spirit of the NATO alliance and the agreement reached with the Trump administration this month.
“The resolution as it stands is both against the U.S. and international law as it is an incrimination against the principles defined in the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide,” the ministry said in a statement. “There is no verdict of a competent court with regard to the 1915 events that establishes the crime of genocide. On the contrary, European Court of Human Rights delivered a milestone judgment which stipulates that 1915 events constitute a legitimate subject for debate.”
The ministry added that the U.S. should consider the damage the resolution could do to its relations with Turkey during an uncertain period in the Middle East, and called on the Trump administration to take steps to prevent further tension between the two governments.
The White House didn’t comment on the vote.
Congress came close to passing similar resolutions in the past but stopped short under pressure from Turkey and from presidential administrations worried about alienating a key ally in the Middle East.
Turkey pulled its ambassadors from the U.S. in 2007 and 2010 in response to votes to recognize the Armenian genocide at the committee level.
The Turkish Embassy warned in a statement last week against any attempt by the House “to pass judgment on the events of 1915.”
The sanctions bill that passed Tuesday would block visas and assets of specific Turkish officials connected to the Syria offensive, including Turkey’s Minister of National Defense. The bill also sanctions the Turkish state-owned lender Halkbank and bars U.S. defense equipment and technology that may be used by Turkey in military operations in northern Syria from being transferred to Turkey’s government.
For the Armenian community in America, Tuesday’s vote to commemorate the genocide was celebrated as a victory.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment since I first came to Congress 27 years ago,” tweeted Rep. Anna Eshoo, the only Armenian-Assyrian member of Congress.
“Members of my own family were among those murdered, and my parents fled with my grandparents to America,” the Californian Democrat said. “What all of the persecuted had in common was that they were Christians.”
Armenian National Committee of America Executive Director Aram Hamparian said Tuesday’s vote exposed Ankara’s attempts to enlist America in its obstruction of justice for the Armenian genocide.
“This vote places America on the side of justice, which has, for far too long, been denied to the victims and surviving generations of the Armenian genocide,” Mr. Hamparian said.
He noted the Armenian genocide resolution establishes the rejection of genocide denial as a matter of U.S. policy and supports education about the matter.
A similar resolution is being spearheaded by Sens. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.) and Ted Cruz (R., Texas) in the Senate. However, there is no indication when or if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will allow such a resolution or bring a Turkey sanctions bill sponsored by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) and Chris Van Hollen (D., Md.), to a vote.
“Senate must stop dithering and act—the lives of our allies and our security are at risk,” Mr. Van Hollen wrote on Twitter after the bills passed.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) said both resolutions should be voted on in the Senate. “Turks don’t like to hear it because the truth hurts,” he said. “And if we don’t stand up to one genocide, we won’t stand up to any of them.”