By Hannah Kirijian
On October 29, 2019, the United States House of Representatives voted 405-to-11 to recognize the mass killings of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire in 1915 as a genocide. While this is an important move towards recognition for the Armenian people, new tensions between the United States and Turkey made the timing of the vote especially convenient for the US. Nonetheless, this was a major shift for American policymakers.
This is not the first time that recognition of the Armenian genocide has been considered in the US House. Similar resolutions were introduced in 2000, 2007, and 2010. These all failed, however, under pressure from the executive branch, due, as the academic Khatchig Mouradian argues, to US-Turkey trade relations and “Ankara’s threats to curb access to US military bases in Turkey” (Mouradian). The threat of recognition has also been used as a political weapon in the past, with Mouradian pointing to Washington’s exploitation of the “Armenian genocide resolutions to extract concessions from Ankara on other fronts” (Mouradian). In this case, the resolution is easily seen as a response to the Turkish army’s massacre of the Kurdish people on the heels of the US withdrawal from northern Syria; indeed, the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, explicitly mentioned the plight of the Kurds as she put the resolution to a vote.
Despite the context of the resolution, and while the recognition could still be seen as 105 years too late, US recognition of the genocide still holds deep importance for the Armenian people, especially given the relatively large Armenian diaspora in the United States. The resolution is significant internationally, too. Now chambers of government in 28 nations have passed a resolution, law, or declaration recognizing the genocide, including 3 of the 5 permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.
Even as the House has recognized the genocide, however, US President Donald Trump has said nothing on the matter, and recently held a press conference with the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in which he said he was a “big fan” of Erdoğan, and that Turkey is a “great NATO ally” (CNN). Erdoğan himself has suggested that the resolution is purely political, saying the “worthless vote, which was held on Turkey’s National Day, was the ‘biggest insult to Turkish people” (BBC). Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, tweeted: “This shameful decision of those exploiting history in politics is null & void for our Government & people,” (New York Times). Furthermore, on November 14th, after attending a meeting with Trump and Erdoğan, the Republican Senator Lindsey Graham blocked the resolution in the US Senate. This complicates the picture of recognition, and makes one wonder if any materiel change will occur for American-Armenian citizens.