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U.S. Congress Avoids Vote On Armenian Genocide Bill


U.S. -- A man walks past the Capitol on election day in Washington, DC, 02Nov2010

U.S. -- A man walks past the Capitol on election day in Washington, DC, 02Nov2010

The U.S. House of Representatives failed to adopt a resolution terming the World War I-era killings of more than 1 million Armenians in Ottoman Turkey a genocide as it wrapped up its final session late on Wednesday.


The two main Armenian lobby groups in the United States gave conflicting explanations for what is a serious setback for their decades-long genocide recognition campaign.

The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) condemned the pro-Armenian Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders in the “lame-duck” House for not bringing the draft resolution up for a vote.

The less radical Armenian Assembly of America insisted, however, that its passage was far from guaranteed because more than a hundred lawmakers mostly supportive of the measure have left Washington after approving a crucial spending bill on Tuesday.

A senior Assembly representative told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that the number of absentees rose to almost 170 by Wednesday afternoon. He said Pelosi, the outgoing House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and other pro-Armenian congressmen “have really extended themselves in working to get the resolution passed in ways that most people will never know.”

The Assembly’s executive director, Bryan Ardouny, likewise praised the “steadfast leadership” of these lawmakers, in a statement issued later on Wednesday. He said they “provided guidance and invaluable assistance throughout this process.”

U.S. -- Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi at a press conference in Washington, DC, 28Sep2008
The ANCA put the blame squarely on the House leadership, however. “Armenian Americans are angered and disappointed by the failure of Speaker Pelosi and the House Democratic leadership to honor their commitment to allow a bipartisan majority to vote for passage of the Armenian Genocide Resolution,” its chairman, Ken Hachikian, said in a statement.

“Speaker Pelosi clearly had the majority, the authority, and the opportunity to pass the Armenian Genocide Resolution, yet refused to allow a vote on this human rights measure,” Hachikian claimed.

Assembly leaders believe that the vote would have been too risky in those circumstances. They say the bill’s rejection by the House would have set back the recognition drive, the main focus of Armenian-American activism, by many years.

The Turkish government, meanwhile, welcomed the defeat of the measure. “As decades-long friends and allies, Turkey and the U.S. will continue to work for global peace, prosperity and stability,” the Turkish ambassador in Washington, Namik Tan said, according to the Associated Press.

Earlier this week, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent U.S. President Barack Obama a letter asking that he prevent a vote on what leading Turkish organizations in the U.S. denounced as “an anti-Turkish, anti-Muslim racist measure.” In a joint statement issued on Friday, they said it “unfairly accuses, judges and convicts people of Turkish heritage with this high crime without due process.”

According to the Assembly, the key resolution sponsor, California Democrat Adam Schiff, intends to introduce similar legislation to the next, Republican-controlled House of Representatives, which is due to convene on January 5. Its incoming speaker, John Boehner, has strongly opposed such measures in the past.

The Armenian-American community is now expected to turn the pressure up on Obama, who repeatedly promised to ensure official U.S. recognition of the genocide when he ran for president.

“We are not going to give up,” the Assembly’s Ardouny was quoted by the Associated Press as saying. “We are going to press President Obama to hold to his commitment to unequivocally affirm the Armenian genocide.”
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