By Aram Vanetsian in Los Angeles
The Armenian community in the United States has secured the backing of most members of the U.S. House of Representatives for a resolution that refers to the 1915 mass killings and deportations of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey as genocide.
In what the two leading Armenian-American lobbying groups consider an important “milestone,” the number of U.S. lawmaker co-sponsoring the draft legislation reached 219 on Wednesday, significantly boosting chances for its passage by the 435-member House.
That number includes a member of the U.S. Congress who died recently and another congressman who has resigned from its lower house. They are still technically listed as co-sponsors of the resolution.
“We are getting exceedingly closer to our goal of passing the Armenian Genocide resolution and properly recognizing this historic tragedy,” Congressman George Radanovich of California, one of the main proponents of the bill, said in a statement.
“This is a positive development,” Bryan Ardouny, executive director of the Armenian Assembly of America, told RFE/RL from Washington. “It’s another threshold, another milestone that we’ve reached, and we’ll keep pushing forward.”
Both the Assembly and the Armenian National Committee of America, which have for decades been campaigning for U.S. recognition of the genocide, say the mounting congressional support will make it easier for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to put the resolution to the vote.
A longtime supporter of Armenian issues, Pelosi has reportedly assured Armenian-American leaders of her continuing support for genocide recognition. However, she is facing strong pressure from the White House to prevent the bill from reaching the House floor. The administration of President George W. Bush has warned that its passage would deal a serious blow to Washington’s relations with Turkey, a key U.S. ally.
The proposed resolution, which was introduced last January, calls on Bush to “ensure that the foreign policy of the United States reflects appropriate understanding” of the Armenian genocide and to “accurately characterize the systematic and deliberate annihilation of 1,500,000 Armenians as genocide.”
In his annual April 24 messages to the Armenian-American community, Bush has described the bloody events of 1915 as one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century but stopped short of calling them a genocide. He has also repeatedly cited a 2002 international study which concluded that the Armenian massacres meet the internationally accepted definition of genocide.
Ardouny could not say when the resolution might be brought before the full House, saying that depends on Pelosi and other leaders of the chamber’s Democratic majority. “We will continue to encourage the House leadership to put the resolution to a concluding vote reaffirming the Armenian genocide,” he said.
(Armenian Assembly photo: Bryan Ardouny, left, and George Radanovich.)