US Senate officially recognizes century-old Armenian genocide
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US Senate officially recognizes century-old Armenian genocide

Non-binding decision, sure to anger Turkey, comes following Congress’s recognition in September and three failed Senate attempts in which the White House objected

Members of the Jerusalem Armenian community protest outside the Knesset following the Israeli government's recent diplomatic agreement with Turkey, demanding that the State of Israel finally recognize the Armenian Genocide, July 5, 2016 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Members of the Jerusalem Armenian community protest outside the Knesset following the Israeli government's recent diplomatic agreement with Turkey, demanding that the State of Israel finally recognize the Armenian Genocide, July 5, 2016 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

On its fourth try, the US Senate has approved a resolution that recognizes the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks a century ago as genocide.

The resolution had been blocked three times at the request of the White House, but won unanimous approval Thursday.

Co-sponsored by Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, the nonbinding resolution affirms that the genocide occurred and that Turkey is responsible.

“I say to my friends and colleagues that genocide is genocide,” Menendez said on the Senate floor. “Senators in this body should have the simple courage to say it plainly, say it clearly, and say it without reservation.”

Menendez and Cruz had tried three times to bring up the resolution using a procedural maneuver that would allow approval on a voice vote, a way to avoid lengthy floor debate. Each time, a Republican senator objected, citing disapproval of the motion by the White House.

North Dakota Sen. Kevin Cramer, who objected to the measure last week, said he agreed to the White House request because the vote would have occurred around the time of a NATO summit where US President Donald Trump and other leaders gathered in London. Turkey is a NATO member.

The House passed an identical resolution overwhelmingly in October in what was widely seen as a rebuke to Turkey in the wake of its invasion of northern Syria. Turkey has lobbied for years against US recognition of the killings of Ottoman Armenians as genocide, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he will not recognize the congressional resolution.

Activist groups cheered the vote as long overdue. “The president ran out of people he could turn to to enforce Erdogan’s veto,” said Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America.

Turkey’s decades-long opposition to the resolution was “the longest-lasting veto over US foreign policy” by a foreign power in American history, Hamparian said.

Historians estimate that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed around World War I, and many scholars see it as the 20th century’s first genocide. Turkey disputes the description, saying the toll has been inflated and those killed were victims of a civil war.

Instead of a resolution affirming the genocide, Turkey has called for a joint committee of historians to investigate the slayings.

In this photo from July 11, 2018, US President Donald Trump, left, talks with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as they arrive together for a family photo at a summit of heads of state and government at NATO headquarters in Brussels. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan hailed the recognition as a “victory of justice and truth.”

“On behalf of the Armenian people, I express gratitude to the US Congress,” he wrote on Twitter, adding that the resolution was a “courageous step towards the prevention of genocides in future.”

Unlike the US, Israel hasn’t recognized the Armenian Genocide despite calls to do so by many politicians, based on geopolitical and strategic considerations, primary among them its relations with Turkey.

The issue is raised every year in the Knesset, usually in the form of proposed legislation rather than a call for a debate, and has been knocked down by sitting governments annually since 1989, when MK Yair Tzaban first brought it to the floor.

In May, Knesset lawmakers voted to debate the recognition of the Armenian genocide in the parliament chamber. The debate came as relations between Israel and Turkey soured dramatically in the aftermath of clashes on the Israel-Gaza border in which dozens of Palestinians were killed, leading to a diplomatic spat that saw the ambassadors and consuls general of both countries expelled or withdrawn to their respective countries.

In June, a full plenum debate on the issue was postponed until after Turkish elections. A ministerial debate on recognizing the genocide was also delayed at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request after the Foreign Ministry advised the initiative could aid Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in elections.

By the end of June, a scheduled Knesset vote on recognition was canceled due to a lack of government support.

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