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U.S. Senate Leader Backs Armenian Genocide Bill


U.S. -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid speaks to reporters after the Senate voted for an $838 billion economic stimulus bill on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, 10Feb2009

U.S. -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid speaks to reporters after the Senate voted for an $838 billion economic stimulus bill on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, 10Feb2009

Harry Reid, the U.S. Senate majority leader, has thrown his weight behind legislation calling on President Barack Obama to officially recognize the 1915-1918 mass killings and deportations of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide.


The draft resolution was introduced in the Senate by two of its pro-Armenian members, Democrat Robert Menendez and Republican John Ensign, last month, shortly after the signing of fence-mending agreements between Armenia and Turkey. Reid’s decision to co-sponsor the resolution increased chances of its eventual passage.

Whether that could happen anytime soon remains an open question, though. The Obama administration will likely oppose the bill now that Yerevan and Ankara are close to normalizing bilateral relations.

The two main Armenian advocacy groups in the United States were quick to commend Reid late on Thursday. One of them, the Armenian Assembly of America, urged the Nevada Democrat to endorse the Menendez-Ensign bill in a letter sent last week.

“Senator Reid has consistently supported legislation affirming the Armenian Genocide,” Hirair Hovnanian, the Assembly chairman, said in a statement. “With his leadership role in the U.S. Senate as Majority Leader, his addition to the resolution greatly strengthens the growing list of co-sponsors.”

“We look forward to working with Senator Reid and our other friends in the leadership of the Senate and the Foreign Relations Committee as the Armenian Genocide Resolution moves to a Committee vote and adoption by the full Senate,” read a separate statement by Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).

The Senate bill is virtually identical with a resolution drafted by pro-Armenian lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives early this year. It too urges Obama to “accurately characterize the systematic and deliberate annihilation of 1,500,000 Armenians as genocide.”

Progress of the House bill stalled this spring amid an intensifying dialogue between Armenia and Turkey. The process culminated in the signing on October 10 of two Turkish-Armenian protocols on the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two states and the opening of their border.

The agreements, strongly backed by Washington, split the Armenian-American community. Their critics led by ANCA say they will thwart or delay an official U.S. recognition of the Armenian genocide. They point, in particular, to the planned creation of a Turkish-Armenian inter-governmental body tasked with looking into the 1915 massacres.

But several other major community groups, including the Assembly, dismiss these concerns and largely support the Turkish-Armenian rapprochement. “It actually turns out the protocols are doing more for genocide acknowledgement than a lot of people hoped,” one of their leaders told RFE/RL on Friday, commenting on Reid’s support for the bill. “Now that the process is in gear, the momentum toward being on the right side of acknowledging the Armenian genocide is actually increasing, and not just in Washington.”

China - US Senator John McCain speaks in Beijing, 09Apr2009
The community figure described Reid’s move as “a rare and major boost” for the decades-long genocide recognition campaign. He also stressed in that regard the importance of an unexpected statement on the subject made by another ranking senator, John McCain.

“I believe that genocide was committed against the Armenian people, and I think there is ample documentation of that,” McCain was reported to declare recently. The former Republican presidential nominee had previously avoided using the word “genocide” in reference to the World War One-era mass killings and deportations.

Observers say chances for either genocide bill passing the U.S. Congress in the coming months depend, to a large extent, on whether Turkey’s parliament will ratify the agreements with Armenia. Some suggest that Washington will use that possibility to warn the Turkish government, which has a clear majority in parliament, against dragging its feet.

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