Pro-Armenian legislators in the United States have introduced a new draft resolution calling on President Barack Obama to explicitly recognize the World War I-era massacres of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey as genocide.
It is practically identical to a bill that the previous, Democratic-controlled House of Representatives dramatically failed to pass late last year.
The latest bipartisan resolution was drafted by Representatives Adam Schiff, a California Democrat and staunch backer of Armenian-American causes, and Robert Dold, a Republican from Illinois.
“The facts of history are clear, well documented and non-negotiable – 1.5 million Armenians were deliberately murdered in the first genocide of the 20th century,” Schiff said in a statement issued late on Tuesday. “If we are to prevent future atrocities, we must condemn genocide whenever and wherever it occurs.”
“The United States has a duty to remember those who have no voice,” Dold stated for his part.
The leading Armenian-American advocacy groups, which have for decades been campaigning for an official U.S. recognition of the genocide, swiftly welcomed the initiative.
“This legislation represents an important opportunity for the United States to assume a leadership role in genocide affirmation and genocide prevention, especially in the face of genocide denial,” Bryan Ardouny, executive director of the Armenian Assembly of America (AAA), told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
The AAA and the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) came close to pushing the previous genocide resolution through the House of Representatives in 2010. The effort failed despite enjoying the backing of then Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic congressional leaders.
In a recent statement, Pelosi defended her decision not to put the bill, co-sponsored by 148 legislators, to a vote in December. “There was serious concern that the resolution did not have the necessary 218 votes needed for passage,” she said.
Unlike the AAA, the ANCA rejected this explanation, holding Pelosi responsible for the fiasco.
The current, Republican-dominated House is thought to be even less likely to back genocide recognition. Republican lawmakers have traditionally be less supportive of Armenian genocide bills than their Democratic colleagues. Speaker John Boehner has strongly opposed such measures in the past.
Still, the Armenian-American community has influential Republican allies in House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy. Both lawmakers co-sponsored the 2010 resolution.
Some community activists see a greater chance of the resolution’s passage next year, which will see presidential and congressional elections.
Obama repeatedly called the 1915 mass killings and deportations of Armenians a genocide when he ran for president in 2008. But just like some of his predecessors anxious not to antagonize Turkey, he declined to do that after taking office.
In his annual statements on the subject, Obama has used instead the Armenian phrase Meds Yeghern, or Great Calamity, to refer to the massacres which many historians say constituted the first genocide of the 20th century.
Both the AAA and the ANCA have denounced this stance, accusing the U.S. president of breaking a key campaign pledge.