‘Astounded and heartbroken’: Rep. Ilhan Omar faces fallout over Armenian Genocide vote

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On October 29 the House passed H.Res 296, a resolution that recognizes the mass-killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks during World War 1 as a genocide. While the measure passed overwhelmingly by a vote of 405-11, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) is facing criticism for simply voting “present.”

It’s estimated that 1.5 million Armenians were systematically murdered or expelled under the Ottoman Empire. The International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS) puts the death toll at over a million. Turkey has long denied that a genocide took place, despite vast international pressure to acknowledge the event. Earlier this year, Alabama became the 49th state to recognize that a genocide occurred.

The push to acknowledge the genocide on a federal level has hit roadblocks for decades, but recent geopolitical events have forced the issue. Last week, President Trump lifted sanctions on Turkey in response to the country agreeing to ceasefire after its recent attack on the Kurds. The resolution acknowledging the Armenian Genocide was spearhead by Adam Schiff (D-CA), who is also leading the impeachment campaign against Trump. It was introduced alongside a bill slapping Turkey with a new round of sanctions, legislation that also passed overwhelmingly.

Omar’s “present” vote was immediately criticized by observers on social media, many of whom are generally supportive of the congresswoman’s progressive domestic agenda and foreign policy outlook. Omar’s office put out a statement declaring that accountability for genocide is crucial, but that it shouldn’t be used as a “cudgel in a political fight.” She also stated that other mass crimes, like the slave trade and the holocaust of indigenous peoples should be acknowledged.

“I am kind of astounded but more heartbroken,” wrote activist Sophia Armen, who also pointed out that Omar’s statement included common Turkish government talking points.

“This is bullshit,” tweeted political cartoonist Eli Valley, “The genocide is a historical fact, and regardless of why it passed today, it’s ludicrous to demand that a century-delayed resolution encompass every other atrocity known to humankind before it can gain approval.”

“Rep. Omar should know that the US has denied the Armenian Genocide for over a century due to our military and financial relationship with Turkey,” tweeted The Young Turks’ Ana Kasparian, “So is there EVER a situation in which condemning their ethnic cleansing of Armenians acceptable? So disappointed.”

What an absolute disappointment and shame that the only democrat who did NOT support the Turkish bill aiming to stop the killing of innocent people is [Omar] who seems like on ‘s payroll working for his interests, but not for the American people and democracy!,” tweeted Boston Celtics Center and Turkish government target Enes Kanter.

Responding to a tweet from MSNBC’s Chris Hayes regarding the fallout, Omar wrote, “My issue was not with the substance of this resolution. *Of course* we should acknowledge the Genocide…My 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.”

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has dismissed the vote as “worthless” and the country’s foreign ministry immediately put out a statement condemning the move. “Undoubtedly, this resolution will negatively affect the image of the U.S. before the public opinion of Turkey as it also brings the dignity of the U.S. House of Representatives into disrepute,” it reads, “We believe that American friends of Turkey who support the continuation of the alliance and friendly relations will question this grave mistake and those who are responsible will be judged by the conscience of the American people.”

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I agree with Ilhan Omar on this. She has made crystal clear that she recognizes and vehemently condemns the Armenian genocide. And to claim that her argument contains “Turkish talking points” is hardly a refutation of the argument. Her vote is yet more evidence of her stature as a courageous and principled politician with a steady vision for a more just country.

Over the past century, there’s been plenty of reliable scholarship documenting the Armenian genocide. I look forward to Omar’s resolution condemning all genocides and crimes against humanity, including the transatlantic slave trade, the Native American genocide and the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. I hope she gets some co-sponsors. This one only got through after decades of resistance from the MIC and the Turkey and Israel Lobbies, because a window of opportunity opened, through NATO and… Read more »

If Rep. Omar voted in favor of the new sanctions, it would put her in the correct position on the politics of the moment and show that her “present” vote on the genocide was what she claimed and not a support of today’s (or yesterday’s) Turkey.

What a joke! Where was the outrage when Israel and AIPAC put pressure to PREVENT any such resolution in times past? And now when representative Omar votes “present” (not opposing) the indignation reaches the skies. While I understand her reasoning, I disagree with her (non) vote. Better late than never. But the difference in reaction to past clear political opposition by Israel to a principled non-vote by Omar says volumes. Basically, this is a pretext… Read more »

“Rep. Omar should know that the US has denied the Armenian Genocide for over a century due to our military and financial relationship with Turkey” Not exactly. it has denied it due to our slavish relationship with our leader, the Zionists and the Zionist entity, who have been heavily supporting the Turkish government in the effort to have the recognition of the Armenians’ genocide rejected. It’s the Zionist lobby that took charge of the main… Read more »