Trump administration refuses to back Senate recognition of Armenian genocide
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Trump administration refuses to back Senate recognition of Armenian genocide

State Department refers to Trump statement calling mass killings by Ottoman Turks ‘one of the worst mass atrocities of the 20th century’ but not labeling them a genocide

US President Donald Trump, left, walks off toward the Oval Office after posing for photographers with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan before a meeting in the White House, November 13, 2019, in Washington. (Evan Vucci/AP)
US President Donald Trump, left, walks off toward the Oval Office after posing for photographers with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan before a meeting in the White House, November 13, 2019, in Washington. (Evan Vucci/AP)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The US State Department said Tuesday that recent congressional action to recognize the Armenian genocide does not reflect Trump administration policy.

In a short statement likely to please Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the department said the administration’s position on the matter is unchanged.

The Senate voted unanimously last week to recognize the mass killings of more than a million Armenians by Ottoman Turks a century ago as a genocide. The House had previously adopted a similar bill over major protests from NATO ally Turkey.

“The position of the Administration has not changed,” department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a terse two-sentence statement. “Our views are reflected in the president’s definitive statement on this issue from last April.”

On April 24, President Donald Trump commemorated Armenian Remembrance Day in a statement that honored “the memory of those who suffered in one of the worst mass atrocities of the 20th century.” It did not, however, use the term “genocide” in keeping with longstanding US policy.

This is the scene in Turkey in 1915 when Armenians were marched long distances and said to have been massacred. (AP Photo)

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

The Senate vote drew angry denunciations from Turkish leaders and accusations that Washington was undermining relations with a key NATO ally, with Turkey summoning the US ambassador in Ankara in protest.

The vote followed a vote by a Senate committee to impose sanctions on Turkey over its offensive in Syria and purchase of a Russian S-400 missile system.

The Armenian resolution and the sanction bill passed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee “endanger the future of our bilateral relations,” Erdogan spokesman Fahrettin Altun said after it passed.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the Senate vote “is a shameful example of the politicization of history. However, those who use history for political purposes will never achieve their goals.”

The bills sponsors, Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex., 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 White House disapproval.

The House had passed an identical resolution overwhelmingly in October in what was widely seen as a rebuke to Turkey after its invasion of northern Syria. Turkey has lobbied for years against US recognition of the killings of Ottoman Armenians as genocide.

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

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.

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