A key committee of the U.S. Senate approved late on Thursday a resolution that describes the 1915 Armenian massacres in Ottoman Turkey as genocide and urges President Barack Obama to do the same.
The resolution passed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee says the World War One-era extermination of some 1.5 million Armenians and forcible displacement of 500,000 others resulted in “the elimination of the over 2,500-year presence of Armenians in their historic homeland.”
It also says that Obama should ensure that U.S. foreign policy “reflects appropriate understanding and sensitivity concerning issues related to human rights, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, and genocide documented in the United States record relating to the Armenian Genocide.”
The Senate committee approved the resolution by a vote of 12 to 5 two weeks before the annual commemoration of the genocide in Armenia and its worldwide Diaspora. Sources in the Armenian Assembly of America said it was backed by all Democratic members of the panel as well as some Republicans, notably Senator John McCain. The latter has opposed such measures in the past.
The genocide bill, which is bound to be denounced by Turkey, was drafted by the committee’s pro-Armenian chairman, Democrat Robert Menendez, and Republican Senator Mark Kirk. Prospects for its passage by the full Senate are not yet clear.
“We applaud the leadership of Chairman Menendez,” said Bryan Ardouny, the Armenian Assembly’s executive directive who was on hand when the resolution was adopted. “Today's vote reaffirms America's commitment to genocide awareness and prevention,” added Ardouny.
The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), another lobbying group, also hailed the development. “Today's vote affirms America's commitment to truth, deals a serious setback to Turkey's campaign of genocide denial, and sends a clear message to President Obama that he must end his Administration's complicity in Ankara's cover-up of this crime," the ANCA director, Aram Hamparian, said in a separate statement.
Menendez and Kirk introduced similar legislation two years ago. It never reached the Senate floor.
That draft resolution was virtually identical with a bill that was approved by a key committee of the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010. Nancy Pelosi, the then House speaker who has long stood for Armenian genocide recognition, refrained from putting it to a full House vote in disputed circumstances.
Obama has so far avoided publicly recognizing the Armenian genocide despite campaign promises that he gave to the Armenian-American community when running for president in 2008. The Turkish government, which vehemently denies that the mass killings constituted genocide, has repeatedly warned him of severe damage to U.S.-Turkish relations.