Lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a resolution Tuesday denouncing the Ottoman Empire’s role in the Armenian Genocide at the end of World War I. The vote comes as Congress seeks to impose punitive measures on Ankara after military operations against U.S.-allied Kurdish fighters in northern Syria.
By a margin of 405 for and 11 against, members of the House condemned the “killing of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1923.” The non-binding resolution calls on the government to “commemorate the Armenian Genocide through official recognition and remembrance; reject efforts to enlist, engage, or otherwise associate the United States Government with denial of the Armenian Genocide or any other genocide; and encourage education and public understanding of the facts of the Armenian Genocide…” Lawmakers had previously shied away from designating the cleansing of the Christian minority out of Turkey as genocide due to Ankara’s sustained lobbying and to keep positive relations with the NATO ally.
Arguably more consequential, the House also passed the PACT Act, codifying sanctions that the Trump Administration should impose on high-level Turkish officials. The Turkish Defense Minister, Chief of the Armed Forces, and Treasury Minister will all be subject to visa-restrictions and blocked from U.S. dollar transactions. The act also requires the administration to name other figures involved in the Turkish invasion of northern Syria as well as a block on arms sales that could be used against the Kurds.
It remains unclear whether the Senate will take a floor vote on either bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has previously declined votes targeting the Trump Administration’s foreign policy to the Senate floor. A bipartisan group of senators, led by Senator Lindsey Graham, have voiced strong support for the measures
One notable outlier in both votes was Democratic congresswoman Ilan Omar, who refused to support either resolution. In a statement released to the press, Omar invoked that the bill was a “cudgel in a political fight”, while also employing “whataboutism” to human rights abuses in American history. Her sentiment echoes Ankara’s criticism of the vote as “as a meaningless political step.. the debate on the events that occurred in 1915 belongs to the realm of history, not politics.”