The West

In a rebuke to Turkey, House votes to recognize Armenian genocide

Huge crowds of Armenian Americans march during an annual commemoration of the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians under the Ottoman Empire in Los Angeles Wednesday, April 24, 2019. The march was intended to press demands that Turkey, the successor of the Ottoman Empire, recognize the deaths as genocide. Turkey contends the deaths starting in 1915 were due to civil war and unrest.
Huge crowds of Armenian Americans march during an annual commemoration of the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians under the Ottoman Empire in Los Angeles Wednesday, April 24, 2019. The march was intended to press demands that Turkey, the successor of the Ottoman Empire, recognize the deaths as genocide. Turkey contends the deaths starting in 1915 were due to civil war and unrest. AP

The House voted Tuesday to recognize the Armenian genocide, condemning Turkey for a 1915 atrocity just weeks after President Donald Trump pulled U.S. troops from northern Syria and cleared the way for Turkey to attack minority Kurdish fighters it considers to be terrorists.

The House voted 405-11 to recognize the killing of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire – modern-day Turkey – as a genocide.

Presidents Barack Obama and Trump in the past have avoided calling the killings a “genocide,” instead referring to the deaths as an atrocity.

Turkey is a NATO ally, and it hosts a key U.S. air base. The Turkish government has maintained the killings were part of a civil uprising and were not a genocide.

The resolution was introduced by Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, and joined by 137 bipartisan cosponsors.

“For (Armenians), and for their descendants, the word genocide is sacred, because it means the world has not and will not forget,” Schiff said in a floor speech about the bill. “To deny genocide, on the other hand, is profane. It is, in the words of Elie Wiesel, a double killing.”

Various parts of the U.S. government have recognized the Armenian genocide before, as well as 49 states. Mississippi is the only exception.

On to the Senate

Former President Ronald Reagan recognized the killings as a genocide in an official proclamation in 1981, and the House has passed similar resolutions in 1975 and 1984. There have been bipartisan bills introduced in the Senate to recognize it as a genocide, most recently by Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey, but none have passed.

Menendez said he has heard nothing from Senate Republicans on if they would take it up from the House, though he saw “no reason” they wouldn’t. A spokesman for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, did not respond to a request for comment.

Armenians and advocates have criticized the U.S. government for avoiding the word “genocide” in proclamations recognizing the catastrophe. They say they understand it could create issues in the U.S.-Turkey alliance, but United States’ inaction allows Turkey to continue denying the genocide.

Tension over Turkey has ratcheted up Congress since Trump on Oct. 6 announced he would pull troops out of Syria.

Turkey then launched an offensive into the country against Kurdish fighters, who were long U.S. allies in the region. Democrats and Republicans alike criticized Trump for breaking with the Kurds.

“Many survivors of the genocide died in Fresno waiting and hoping for this day,” said Paul Jamushian, a member of the Central California chapter of the Armenian National Committee of America. “Both my parents were survivors and could not understand why Turkey wasn’t recognized/punished for what they were and did. Their horrible ways came out again in Syria.”

Effect on California pension funds

Gov. Gavin Newsom earlier this month signed a law that would force the state’s two biggest public pension funds, CalPERS and CalSTRS, to withdraw their stake in certain Turkish-owned companies and bonds if the federal government sanctions the country.

In signing remarks, Newsom used the word “genocide” to describe the killings.

The California Public Employees’ Retirement System estimated it had up to $350 million in Turkish investments last year, and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System had up to $8.3 million.

The House resolution would not trigger the California state law’s divestment clause, said Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian, D-North Hollywood, who wrote the law.

CalPERS and CalSTRS generally oppose laws that force them to withdraw money from legal industries because those measures raise pressure on them to earn more money from other investments.

“It’s very critical that we look at the moral obligation of who want to invest in,” Nazarian said. “We condemn them, and then we go right ahead and invest in them. If we continue investing we’re fostering their ability to continue being a bully.”

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Kate Irby is based in Washington, D.C. and reports on issues important to McClatchy’s California newspapers, including the Sacramento Bee, Fresno Bee and Modesto Bee. She previously reported on breaking news in D.C., politics in Florida for the Bradenton Herald and politics in Ohio for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
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