Democratic leaders in Congress raised hopes last week that the outgoing House of Representatives will pass the resolution, endorsed by its Foreign Affairs Committee in March, before completing its tenure in early January.
Contrary to some expectations, the House did not debate the bill opposed by the White House on Tuesday, and chances of that happening on Wednesday were uncertain. The agenda-setting House Rules Committee did not schedule a vote on it as of Wednesday morning.
Aides to the House Minority Leader John Boehner said in a morning letter to other Republican congressional offices that the chamber may still consider the genocide resolution. However, one Armenian-American leader told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that it will take a “miracle” for the vote to go ahead.
The renewed prospect of the resolution’s passage set alarm bells ringing in Ankara. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Monday that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has sent a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama asking him to prevent the vote and saying it could damage ties between the two allies.
“We cannot allow the resolution to hang over Turkish-U.S. ties like a Sword of Damocles,” Davutoglu was reported to tell the Turkish parliament.
U.S. - Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi leans in as U.S. President Barack Obama signs the Iran Sanctions Act at the White House in Washington, 01Jul2010
According to “Hurriyet Daily News,” Davutoglu discussed Ankara’s concerns with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week. The English-language paper said Turkish officials have been heartened by the Obama administration’s opposition to the draft resolution that was voiced by a State Department spokesman on Friday.
Despite repeated campaign promises given to the influential Armenian community in the United States, Obama has refrained from publicly describing the 1915 mass killings and deportations of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide. He has said only that he has not changed his views on the highly sensitive subject.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs insisted on Tuesday that Obama has not pressed Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other pro-Armenian congressional leaders to block the genocide bill. “I do not believe that the president has made any calls specifically on this, and I think his views on this are known,” Gibbs told journalists.
The two leading Armenian-American lobby groups, meanwhile, stepped up this week their efforts to push through the bill. One of them, the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), urged supporters to call House majority leaders and demand its immediate passage.
“We continue to look to the House Democratic leadership to schedule a vote allowing a bipartisan majority to adopt the Armenian Genocide Resolution, honoring the victims of this crime and to paying tribute to the proud legacy of America’s humanitarian response to this atrocity,” Aram Hamparian, the ANCA executive director, said in a statement on Tuesday.
“In the face of the continued denial campaign by the pro-Turkish lobby, including defense industry representatives, we continue to press for an affirmative vote,” Bryan Ardouny of the Armenian Assembly of America said for his part.
The ANCA and the Assembly enjoyed the backing of at least 180 members of the 435-strong House before this week. Armenian-American sources say that support for the draft resolution among U.S. legislators began growing on Monday and that its congressional backers outnumbered opponents by a solid margin the next day.
But, they say, more than a hundred lawmakers, most of them sympathetic to the pro-Armenian legislation, left Washington after a key budget vote later on Tuesday, making the outcome of a possible resolution vote highly unpredictable.
The Assembly is understood to be against putting the draft resolution to a full House vote in these circumstances. Its leaders believe that a defeat of the resolution would set the genocide recognition campaign back by years.
U.S. -- House Republican leader John Boehner speaks during the National Republican Congressional Committee Election Night Results Watch event in Washington, DC, 02Nov2010
“With Christmas here on Saturday, so many congressmen having left DC yesterday and many other pro-resolution members planning to leave possibly before a vote today would be scheduled complicates a vote,” a senior Assembly representative told RFE/RL’s Armenian service from Washington.
“We still see a majority voting for passage, but nobody wants to take a loss in a floor vote in these circumstances,” he said. “The genocide denial industry would like nothing better than defeating the resolution, even in an unfair vote.”
The last-minute Armenian-American push for genocide recognition reflected the realization that the next, Republican-dominated House of Representatives will be extremely unlikely to adopt such a measure. Republicans have traditionally been less supportive of Armenian causes than their Democratic rivals. And virtually all Republican members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee voted against the current draft resolution in March.
Boehner, who is expected to become the next House speaker in January, opposed a similar bill in 2007. News reports quoted him as saying at the time, “I think bringing this bill to the floor may be the most irresponsible thing I've seen this new Congress do this year.”