Armenian Genocide resolution introduced in Congress

Passage hinges on president’s position

by Emil Sanamyan

Published: Tuesday March 17, 2009

The U.S. Capitol. Wikipedia

Washington - A congressional resolution affirming the U.S. record on the Armenian Genocide was been formally introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on March 17 by Reps. Adam Schiff (D.-Calif.), George Radanovich (R.-Calif.), Frank Pallone, Jr. (D.-N.J.), and Mark Kirk (R.-Ill.)

As in the past the Turkish government is fighting the resolution and warning it would retaliate against the interests of the United States and Armenia if it progresses through the House. President Barack Obama plans to travel to Turkey in early April; the trip points to Turkey's importance in the new administration's priorities.

In recent days, Turkish officials have also been dropping hints of an imminent breakthrough in relations with Armenia that could be "undermined" by the resolution. High-level meetings between Turkey and Armenia have regularly taken place since last September.

The Turkish daily Sabah reported on March 14 that senior members of parliament from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) told members of Congress that an "agreement" on relations with Armenia could be announced soon, and therefore the genocide resolution should be held up.

Prevent atrocities

The introduction of the measure, which was given the number House Resolution 252, was preceded by a March 7 letter from International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS) to President Obama. The association called on Mr. Obama to uphold a pre-election pledge to recognize the Armenian Genocide if elected president.

IAGS president Gregory Stanton described the resolution as a "merely symbolic commemorative resolution" that nevertheless "would signal a new chapter in U.S. diplomacy."

"If we are to lead in the effort to stop the genocide in Darfur and prevent future atrocities, we must be willing to condemn genocide whenever and wherever it occurs," argued Mr. Schiff in a statement. "While there are still some survivors [of the Armenian Genocide] left, we have a compelling moral obligation to speak plainly about the past."

"As a nation we must hold ourselves to the utmost moral standards, which includes having the courage to appropriately recognize atrocities of the past to prevent future occurrences," Mr. Radanovich said in a statement.

The resolution gathered early support from 77 members of the House of Representatives. A similar measure, H. Res. 106, in the previous Congress was introduced in January 2007 with 100 co-sponsors. It eventually gathered the support of a majority of House members and won a vote in the House Foreign Affairs Committee the following October.

Progress of H. Res. 106 ultimately stalled as some supporters defected under strong pressure from the Bush administration. It was never brought to a vote by the full House.

White House position

The current resolution would likewise need to go through the Foreign Affairs Committee. Since both the administration and Congress are now controlled by the same party, progress in Congress is likely to depend even to a greater degree on the position of the White House.

President Obama has not spoken out on the issue since his election.

In policy language similar to the Bush administration's, President Obama's spokesperson Mike Hammer told The Associated Press on March 13 and the Los Angeles Times on March 17, "At this moment, our focus is on how, moving forward, the United States can help Armenia and Turkey work together to come to terms with the past."

Mr. Hammer added that the Obama administration was "encouraged" by recent Armenia-Turkey talks, saying it was "important that the countries have an open and honest dialogue about the past."

A strong proponent of the measure, Rep. Brad Sherman (D.-Calif.), predicted in an interview with the Armenian Reporter on March 2 that there would be no progress on the issue in the next two months, while the White House seeks to win Turkey's support for its Middle East priorities.

Mr. Radanovich, the measure's lead Republican co-sponsor said in his statement that he was "truly disheartened that President Obama might delay his presidential proclamation to the Armenian people on April 24."

The IAGS letter too expressed concern that "Turkey's lobbying efforts, which are now in full force, will lead to a repetition of the H. Res. 106 debacle of late 2007, when the President, as usual, got the resolution blocked from a House vote."

But the Armenian National Committee of America's Aram Hamparian was unfazed. He told the Los Angeles Times that President Obama "is a man of his word and has been crystal clear on the issue."


 The text of the resolution appears below.

Affirmation of the United States Record on the Armenian Genocide

HOUSE RESOLUTION 252

Calling upon the President to ensure that the foreign policy of the United States reflects appropriate understanding and sensitivity concerning issues related to human rights, ethnic cleansing, and genocide documented in the United States record relating to the Armenian Genocide , and for other purposes.

Resolved,

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

This resolution may be cited as the `Affirmation of the United States Record on the Armenian Genocide Resolution'.

SEC. 2. FINDINGS.

The House of Representatives finds the following:

(1) The Armenian Genocide was conceived and carried out by the Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1923, resulting in the deportation of nearly 2,000,000 Armenians, of whom 1,500,000 men, women, and children were killed, 500,000 survivors were expelled from their homes, and which succeeded in the elimination of the over 2,500-year presence of Armenians in their historic homeland.

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