The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), said Howard Berman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has scheduled the vote for March 4. The ANCA chairman, Ken Hachikian, thanked the California Democrat for taking what he called a “bold step.”
Officials from the Armenian Assembly of America, the other major Armenian lobby group in Washington, confirmed the information. The Assembly was due to officially announce it later in the day.
“We look forward to working with the Chairman and all our friends on the Committee from both parties to facilitate passage of this critical piece of human rights legislation by both this panel and the full House of Representatives,” Hachikian said in a statement. “Our grassroots activists are mobilized to help achieve the success of this effort.”
The draft resolution introduced by pro-Armenian legislators a year ago urges Obama to “accurately characterize the systematic and deliberate annihilation of 1,500,000 Armenians as genocide.” Its progress in the House of Representatives stalled in 2009 amid an intensifying dialogue between Armenia and Turkey that culminated in the signing last October of two “protocols” on normalizing relations between the two nations.
The reported scheduling of the House committee vote will add a new twist to Washington’s efforts to secure the protocols’ ratification by the Armenian and Turkish parliaments. Some observers expect the Obama administration to use the prospect of genocide recognition in its efforts to eliminate ratification conditions set by the Turkish government.
Ankara has gone to great lengths in the past to prevent similar genocide resolutions from reaching the House floor. The House Foreign Affairs Committee approved such legislation in 2000, 2002 and 2007.
The upcoming committee vote could further complicate Turkey’s efforts to win U.S. support over a recent Armenian Constitutional Court ruling which the Turks say was at odds with the letter and spirit of the protocols. A top Turkish diplomat will reportedly visit Washington for that purpose in the coming days.
Armenia -- Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian (L) talks to visiting U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg on February 4 2010.
Senior U.S. State Department officials have already dismissed, however, the Turkish protests against the court’s conclusion that the protocols can not stop Yerevan from seeking broader international recognition of the Armenian genocide. According to official Armenian sources, Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg reaffirmed that position during a visit to Yerevan on Thursday.
Steinberg on Friday described his talks with President Serzh Sarkisian as “extremely productive and substantive.” He also urged Ankara and Yerevan to move forward on protocol ratification, the AFP news agency reported.
“I very much hope that both Armenia and Turkey will move forward. I don't think delay is in anybody's interest,” Steinberg told journalists in Tbilisi.
“There's a very strong commitment on behalf of the United States to work with Armenia and Turkey to see the ratification of the protocols,” he said.
Armenian-American leaders say the near-term passage of the genocide bill, vehemently opposed by the Turkish government, hinges, in large measure, on whether Turkey’s parliament will endorse the protocols. As one of them told RFE/RL recently, “If Turkey does not ratify the protocols or open the border [with Armenia] on time, the resolution will be relatively easy to pass.”