In the midst of World War I, the Ottoman Empire, in modern-day Turkey, committed the first European genocide of the 1900s: a genocide of its Assyrian, Greek, and Armenian minorities. The genocide of Armenians, the Armenian Genocide, was easily the largest, killing approximately 1.5 million Armenians from 1915 to 1917.
A few years after the end to World War I, the Ottoman Empire fell for unrelated reasons, replaced by the modern Turkish state. Yet unlike other nations where new governments replaced genocidal ones – Germany, for instance – the Turkish government has never apologized or recognized the Armenian Genocide, instead opting to categorically deny that the killings were genocidal. Turkey’s denial is not merely internal; Turkish governments have long pressured other countries to not recognize the genocide. Consequently, the United States Government has never recognized the Armenian Genocide, in what Aram Hamparian of the Armenian National Committee of America called “just a Turkish policy that was exported to the U.S.”
This has not, however, stopped Armenian-American groups such as the ANCA from trying to get the U.S. government to prioritize the recognition of this crime… since the early 1920s,” according to Hamparian. There is, similarly, increasing recognition of the Armenian Genocide in the United States: “49 U.S. states have recognized the Armenian Genocide… the International Association of Genocide Scholars has unanimously called for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide… [and] all the major media outlets have started speaking in clear, unequivocal terms about the Armenian Genocide.” On October 29, 2019, the United States House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted to recognize the Armenian Genocide, a move Hamparian called, “A big step towards full, formal U.S. recognition, [including], we hope, the President.”
However, although nearly all Democratic and Republican House Representatives voted to recognize the Armenian Genocide, this vote was not unaninmous. Eleven Republicans voted against the measure and one voted present, as did two Democrats: Eddie Bernice Johnson, and Ilhan Omar, a left-wing Representative famous for criticizing many aspects of Israel’s foreign policy. Omar stated on Twitter that, “[her] issue was with the timing and context. I think we should demand accountability for human rights abuses consistently, not simply when it suits our political goals.” As the move comes after many politicians harshly criticized the Turkish government for invading Rojava, an autonomous, Kurdish-majority region in Syria, said, “Accountability and recognition of genocide… should be done based on academic consensus outside the push and pull of geopolitics.” Criticizing this decision, Hamparian said that, “Her suggestion that there is somehow a lack of academic consensus was very troubling. It reminded us of the argument that the Turkish government would use.”