Armenian-American advocacy groups look set to step up their efforts to push a draft resolution describing the 1915 massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide through the U.S. House of Representatives in the coming months.
“Turkey’s counterproductive statements and actions have only helped us,” Bryan Ardouny, the executive director of the Armenian Assembly of America, told RFE/RL's Armenian service on Thursday. He singled out Turkish preconditions for the ratification of the U.S.-brokered normalization protocols signed by Ankara and Yerevan last October.
Ardouny said some House members that until recently opposed the Armenian genocide resolution are now “reconsidering their position” because of the worsening Turkish-Israeli relations.
Two such congressmen on Wednesday publicly warned Turkey that they might back the bill urging President Barack Obama to “accurately characterize the systematic and deliberate annihilation of 1,500,000 Armenians as genocide.” They denounced Ankara’s perceived pro-Iranian moves and support for the recent effort to break Israel's blockade of Gaza.
“They need to understand going forward there's going to be a cost regarding the Armenian resolution,” Mike Pence, an Indiana Republican, told a news conference, according to CNN.
Another Republican congressman, Peter King of New York, said he and “many” other House members believe there was an Armenian genocide, but have been reluctant to support the resolution due to the strategic U.S. relationship with Turkey. “I think that's about to change,” CNN quoted King as saying.
Pence strongly opposed the resolution as recently as last March, when it was narrowly approved by the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The Turkish government reacted angrily to the move, recalling its ambassador in the United States in protest. The envoy was sent back to Washington in April after the Obama administration reportedly assured the Turks that the genocide bill will not reach the House floor anytime soon.
Earlier on Wednesday, a key congressional sponsor of the resolution circulated on a letter to fellow legislators urging them to affirm “the first genocide of the Twentieth Century.” A total of 143 House members have co-sponsored it so far.
“Given Turkey’s recent behavior, this Congress needs to reevaluate whether we should continue to dishonor the dead to placate a false friend,” wrote Adam Schiff, a Democrat from California. “Now is the time to reassert our moral leadership in the fight against genocide, to honor the memory of a million and a half innocent men, women and children.”
According to Ardouny, Assembly leaders met Schiff and other lawmakers recently to reiterate the “importance of moving forward with a vote on the House floor.” “Having worked with the sponsors to ensure a successful vote in the House Foreign Affairs Committee, we continue to press forward,” he said.
Another Armenian-American source told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that Assembly representatives also met in late May with the leadership of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and urged it to support the resolution. “They had stopped working against us before the flotilla incident,” said the source.
“We appreciate the past support we have received from our friends and colleagues in the Jewish community, and continue to strongly encourage Jewish groups to publicly support the Armenian Genocide resolution,” Ardouny said, for his part.
The ACJ and some of the other influential Jewish lobby groups are known to have helped Turkey block pro-Armenian resolutions in the U.S. Congress in the past. Observers in Washington now say the Turks can no longer count on that backing. Whether the Obama administration will also stop opposing Armenian genocide recognition because of the ongoing re-orientation of Turkish foreign policy remains to be seen.
An Armenian-American campaigner, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told RFE/RL that while the genocide bill might be brought before the full House as early as next month, the Armenian lobby is more likely to wait until the run-up to the November mid-term congressional elections. “We're checking vote counts now,” he said, adding that prospects for its passage are now “much brighter.”