California lawmakers on Wednesday helped relaunch the latest, long-shot bid to put the House of Representatives on record as recognizing the Armenian genocide.
A perennial effort that always faces stiff political and diplomatic headwinds, the familiar resolution was introduced Wednesday with more than 40 co-sponsors, some of them House freshmen. The intention, though, remains the same as it has been for several decades.
“It’s our responsibility as members of Congress . . . and as friends of the Armenians that live in our communities today, to make sure this atrocity that happened is remembered,” said Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif. “We have a responsibility to make sure the president and Turkey recognize what happened.”
Dubbed the Armenian Genocide Truth and Justice Resolution, the nonbinding measure calls on President Barack Obama to help restore Armenian-Turkish relations “based upon the Republic of Turkey’s full acknowledgment of the facts and ongoing consequences of the Armenian Genocide.”
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the horrific series of events that left, in the words of the House members’ joint statement Wednesday, “1.5 million Armenians dead and millions more displaced.”
Historians and myriad governmental bodies have characterized the events that took place between 1915 and 1923 as genocide, a term first recognized in international law in 1948 as referring to actions intended to destroy in whole or in part a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.
Turkey, a key NATO ally, vigorously disputes the accuracy of the genocide term. A spokesman for the Turkish Embassy in Washington declined to comment pending guidance from officials in Ankara.
As a senator, Obama used the phrase “Armenian genocide,” and the adviser who became his United Nations ambassador, Samantha Power, effectively assured Armenian American voters in a campaign video that Obama would continue to do so once elected.
“He’s a person who can actually be trusted,” Power said then, “which distinguishes him from some in the Washington community.”
But as president, like others before him, Obama has carefully avoided the diplomatically delicate phrase. Further underscoring the very long odds against the resolution reaching the floor, House Speaker John Boehner has previously declared that what happened “ought to be a subject for historians to sort out, not politicians here in Washington.”
The 10-paragraph resolution is not especially partisan. The measure’s initial batch of co-sponsors includes Republicans and Democrats, a number of whom represent districts with significant Armenian American populations.
“We in Congress and the president have an opportunity and an obligation to send a strong message that we will never forget those who were lost, and we will call this crime against humanity what it was: genocide,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.
Schiff’s fellow California Democrat, Rep. Jim Costa, was an early co-sponsor, as were other lawmakers from the state’s Central Valley, including Republican Reps. Jeff Denham, Devin Nunes and Doug LaMalfa.
Over many years of trying, the House has twice passed an Armenian genocide resolution, in 1975 and again in 1984.
Representatives from California’s Central Valley have long led the resolution efforts, going back at least as far as 1979, when Fresno-area Republican Rep. Charles “Chip” Pashayan introduced one version. But it went nowhere.
In 2000, then-Rep. George Radanovich, R-Calif., was literally within minutes of getting a resolution to the House floor before then-Speaker Dennis Hastert yanked it at the request of the Clinton administration. In 2007, a resolution had momentum before 25 co-sponsors had second thoughts and withdrew their support in the face of Bush administration concerns.
“I don’t want to suggest it’s going to be an easy task,” Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., acknowledged Wednesday. “It is tough.”
The Turkish government also employs a battery of lobbyists to make its case, led by former House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt. Turkey is paying $1.7 million for the lobbyists between March 1 and the end of 2015, according to the most recent Justice Department filing.
Among the other lobbying firms now registered to aid Turkey’s cause is the one that employs Hastert, the former speaker who killed the genocide resolution in 2000 and who resigned in 2007.