The Foreign Affairs Committee of the U.S. Congress’ House of Representatives on Wednesday approved by 27 votes to 21 Resolution 106 describing the World War I-era killings of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey as genocide.
Bryan Ardouny, executive director of the Armenian Assembly of America, lauded “a historic day” after the committee’s vote.
“It is long past time for the US government to acknowledge and affirm this horrible chapter of history -- the first genocide of the 20th century and a part of history that we must never forget,” he said.
The text of the resolution says the killings of up to 1.5 million Armenians was a genocide that should be acknowledged fully in U.S. foreign policy towards Turkey, along with “the consequences of the failure to realize a just resolution.”
The House panel approved the resolution despite opposition from the Bush administration that said “it may do grave harm to US-Turkish relations and to US interests in Europe and the Middle East.”
But despite the warnings, the resolution’s backers warned the issue could not be ignored as they drew parallels to the Holocaust and the present-day bloodshed in the Sudanese region of Darfur.
“We’ve been told the timing is bad,” Democratic House member Gary Ackerman said in an emotional hearing that lasted nearly four hours. “But the timing was bad for the Armenian people in 1915.”
Republican Representative Christopher Smith said the resolution was not a slight on modern Turkey, adding: “Friends don't let friends commit crimes against humanity.”
Republican lawmaker Dan Burton, however, said passage of the genocide resolution could endanger US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We’re in the middle of two wars. We have troops out there who are at risk. And we're talking about kicking an ally in the teeth. It is crazy.”
The measure is likely to be sent on to a vote in the full Democratic-led House, where a majority has already signed on to the resolution. A parallel measure is in the Senate pipeline.
On Thursday, on behalf of Armenian parliamentarians, Armenian Parliament Speaker Tigran Torosian expressed gratitude to the American congressmen on the House Foreign Affairs Committee for approving the genocide resolution.
Opening the Armenian parliament’s session today he stated: “On behalf of the parliament I want to express my gratitude to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the U.S. Congress’s House of Representatives who, having shown high moral qualities not to succumb to various pressures, voted for the genocide resolution.”
Armenian President Robert Kocharian also hailed “the efforts of U.S. congressmen to recognize the Armenian genocide.”
“The recognition of historical justice cannot damage the U.S.-Turkey bilateral relationship,” Kocharian said in Brussels, responding to the concerns voiced by certain congressmen on the committee on Wednesday.
The Armenian president also added that despite the tension that once emerged in the Turkish-French relations after France recognized the Armenian genocide, trade between the two countries grew 1.5 times only a year later.
Kocharian also advocated starting a dialogue with Turkey without any pre-set conditions which he called “the easiest formula” for reconciliation between the two neighbors.