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‘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.”

Michael Arria

Michael Arria is the U.S. correspondent for Mondoweiss.

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24 Responses

  1. smithgp on October 30, 2019, 11:22 am

    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.

    • wondering jew on October 30, 2019, 4:22 pm

      If anyone thinks that Omar’s vote has anything to do with anything other than Turkey and her need to stay in Turkey’s good standing, then I have some land in Florida to sell you. But you don’t. You’re just covering up for her.

      • Donald on October 30, 2019, 7:06 pm

        Why does she need to stay in Turkey’s good standing? Serious question. Is there money involved somewhere? A Turkey Lobby?

        But she seems to be a rather odd Turkey supporter since she says that Turkey is guilty of genocide. I think that the Israeli government would be upset if one of its Congressional supporters said that of course the Nakba should be condemned.

        I am going to assume she made a bad political misjudgment here but is sincere in what she said unless there is evidence of a Turkey Lobby that gives her campaign support or something like that.

      • smithgp on October 31, 2019, 10:44 am

        “I am going to assume she made a bad political misjudgment here…” –Donald.

        I don’t agree that this was a political misjudgment. She is refusing to sign on to the transactional outrage that Rusty Pipes and Keith nicely call out below as abject obeisance to the Lobby. Hers was a principled, well-thought-out (non)vote.

      • Donald on October 31, 2019, 10:11 pm

        It’s a misjudgment because people aren’t talking about the point she wanted to make— instead she is being criticized by Armenians and other advocates. These are not her usual predictable critics. She could have voted for the resolution and then made her point about American hypocrisy.

    • Rob Roy on October 31, 2019, 1:36 pm

      Thank you. (I commented further down.)

  2. Rusty Pipes on October 30, 2019, 2:40 pm

    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 Israeli frustration with Turkey and Beltway Blob anger at Trump’s Syria policy — symbolized nicely by its sponsorship by Israel Lobby water-carrier and impeachment cheerleader, Schiff.

  3. pabelmont on October 30, 2019, 6:13 pm

    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.

  4. Keith on October 30, 2019, 6:41 pm

    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 to go after Rep. Ilhan Omar.

    This type of ugliness has become the new normal. Below I have quotes and links referencing the shameless politicization of our (in)justice system. Cases in point: The arrest of Max Blumenthal, the railroading of Maria Butina, and the show trial of Julian Assange. Things have gotten worse with more to come.

    “If the government had at least told me I had a warrant I could have voluntarily surrendered and appeared at my own arraignment. I have nothing to fear because I’m completely innocent of this bogus charge,” Blumenthal stated. “Instead, the federal government essentially enlisted the DC police to SWAT me, ensuring that I would be subjected to an early morning raid and then languish in prison for days without even the ability to call an attorney.”
    “I am firmly convinced that this case is part of a wider campaign of political persecution using the legal system to shut down our factual investigative journalism about the coup against Venezuela and the wider policy of economic warfare and regime change waged by the Trump administration,” Blumenthal stated.”
    (Ben Norton)

    Link to Maria Butina interview-

    “To say it is surreal is not enough, it is simply appalling,” Pilger, who was present in the courtroom on Monday, told RT’s Going Underground. Pilger accused District Judge Vanessa Baraitser of using “disgraceful” and “dictatorial gestures” toward Assange and said she was clearly biased in favor of the attorney acting on behalf of the US government.

    “Her bias was incandescent,” Pilger said, adding: “I’ve never seen anything like this. It belonged in a show trial in the 1950s… Moscow, Prague, you name it.” (RT)

    • Keith on November 2, 2019, 6:50 pm


      Below is a link to Cross Talk with Peter LaVelle where he along with Ray McGovern, Garland Dixon, and Dan Kovalik discuss the arrest of Max Blumenthal. Max, Along with fellow Grayzone journalist Ben Norton have both contributed articles for Mondoweiss in the past. As I said above, things are bad and getting worse. The video is recommended.

  5. echinococcus on October 30, 2019, 11:59 pm

    “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 propaganda effort, in the past, in favor of the Turkish military dictatorship, itself a direct heir of the Union and Progress nationalist Ottoman junta that perpetrated the 1915 genocide of the Armenians. The Zionists even shamelessly threatened the current Turkish government (for several years an enemy of the Israel-allied military dictatorship) with supporting a US Congress recognition of the Armenian genocide.

    And the only reason the resolution passed this time is that AIPAC and the rest of the Zionist lobby did not oppose it, as a result of the current contradictions in the USZionists-Turkey alliance. Not because the Congress bestiary suddenly got religion.

    As for Ilhan Omar… crass ignorance or twisted logic. That’s worse than criminality.

  6. Rob Roy on October 31, 2019, 1:13 pm

    You should have left off that last sentence.
    Omar Ilhan was correct in her “present,” showing once again that she can make the right decision against all fake sentiments and take the heat for it. To go along with the vacuous Adam Schiff for the sake of current PR is not her standard. To those who mistook her mentioning academic consensus, that was NOT a nod to Turkey’s “talking points;” it was to note that academic consensus is there for, say, the genocide on Palestinians, etc. yet this august body of our congress are too scared or ignorant to allow that academic proof to show up for a similar vote.
    Stay strong, Omar!
    By the way, when the holocaust museum was built in Washington, D.C. there were plans to include a room for the Armenian holocaust, but the Israeli lobby had a fit and the room was left out. They claimed there was only one holocaust…the Jewish one. So much for this sudden turn of Zionist sentiments, phony. Our congress is altogether fraudulent, except for a handful, such as Omar Ilhan.

    • echinococcus on October 31, 2019, 5:55 pm

      Rob Roy,

      I understand all that — it still is twisted logic, and how. Especially for anyone trying political leadership, it is often fatal to miss approving anything that is right, no matter who proposed it.

      Yes, this is nothing but grandstanding by genocidaire criminals who suddenly turned around on their former accomplices (after having long blackmailed each other in public.) But again, officially recognizing the genocide of the Armenians (among several other peoples) is overdue, the internationalists when they existed and all decent people have been yelling for it for generations, and not underwriting it when it finally is conceded is stupid.

      The correct way is to correct the record, not abstain or oppose a per se correct decision. An abstention will only look like opposition and blur things. Remember, if we the people were not the herd of unconscious cattle that we are, there would be no imperialist policy, no genocides and no wars of aggression. So that must be taken into account when judging the logic of political decisions.

  7. annie on October 31, 2019, 1:31 pm

    i too recall the wavering of congress over recognition of the Armenian genocide in the past, when we weren’t going to do it after turkey helped us with the invasion of iraq, then i think after the mavi marmara murders (but i could be wrong) that got flipped around when israel was mad at turkey. so for sure this is political jockeying, turning the recognition into an aipac football. very disappointing. i see her point completely but agree keith. she could have lambasted them for the timing but voted for the long overdue resolution.

    and are we EVER going to recognize the genocide of native americans? how pathetic.

  8. Rob Roy on October 31, 2019, 1:51 pm

    One more thing that may be of interest to some. When I was in Iran, I came across an Armenian church and learned of Iran’s invitation to Armenians to come to Iran and when the Armenians said they would not be welcomed, Iran assured them they would be and there would be no bias against them in business or anywhere else. The Armenians accepted the invitation and were happily accepted into the Iranian society. No other country at that time held out a hand to those beleaguered people who had been murdered throughout five countries.

  9. wondering jew on October 31, 2019, 3:31 pm

    When did the dove of God come down and descend on Ilhan Omar and say, “this is my beloved one.”? Never. She opposes Israel and is willing to say “it’s all because of the benjamins”, so to those who hate the Israel lobby, she is a hero. I hear you. But that does not mean that every mistake she makes is based upon the purity of her soul.

    Here is the link to the Muslim Brotherhood opposing Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day:
    US Muslim Brotherhood Backs Turks on Armenian Genocide
    The U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations, a coalition of groups linked to the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood, defended Turkey ahead of Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day on Friday (April 24).
    The Virginia-based Dar al-Hijrah mosque is going a step further and promoting a rally on that day to thank the Turkish government for its support of the Muslim Brotherhood.

    I think seeing Ilhan Omar’s nonvote on the basis of such considerations is is more realistic than viewing it as anything pure. Politics makes strange bedfellows. In this case. Omar is in bed (or half a foot in bed with and half a foot on the floor) with Turkey and those that support Turkey.

    • echinococcus on October 31, 2019, 7:07 pm

      Yay. The steadfast ally of the bloody Turkish military dictatorship is suddenly accusing Omar, of all people, with Turkish complicity. While expressing sympathy and understanding, fercryinoutloud.

      What were we just saying about a herd of cattle led by nasty, slimy propagandists?

    • Donald on November 1, 2019, 1:34 pm

      So you find a Muslim group that supports Turkey’s genocide denialism and Ilhan Omar is Muslim, so QED. So even though she says Turkey should be condemned and gives a reason for her vote, it must really be because she is evil or Muslim, or because some Muslims are evil or something.

      I think she screwed up, But I see no reason yet to think her reasons were any different from what she claimed.

      I suppose next we will hear she supports Al Qaeda or never condemns anyone but Israel ( both lies, of course).

      • wondering jew on November 1, 2019, 4:56 pm

        Donald, You see no reason to think her reasons were any different from what she claimed. I think she is a politician and she isn’t pure and she does not wish to condemn turkey for genocide out of solidarity with Turkey. I think as a politician she speaks to politicians all around the globe and all around this country and she consults and talks to American Muslims and Muslims around the world and her vote reflected her playing politics.

        Others have played politics with Armenian genocide before and others will play politics with this again and on this occasion there is politics involved on the right side as well and on this Ilhan is on the wrong side out of solidarity with the regime of Turkey and out of solidarity with others who are in solidarity with the regime in Turkey. (She certainly didn’t do it to endear herself to her constituents.) She is a politician and you make it sound like she’s some saint.

      • Donald on November 1, 2019, 10:01 pm

        I don’t think she is a saint, though she is probably ( as best I can tell), better than the average politician.

        I a waiting to hear what benefit she got from this. To me, her reason sounds exactly like something I could picture a sincere lefty saying if he or she hadn’t thought it through.

        I tend to give people I think goodhearted the benefit of a doubt even if I disagree with them. Peter Beinart, for instance, is still a liberal Zionist, but I think he is a goodhearted person even if I think his ideology is mistaken.

        Omar might have a bad reason for what she did. If so, I will be disappointed and modify my view, but right now I don’t know of any good evidence for this.

    • Mooser on November 2, 2019, 1:29 pm

      “Here is the link to the Muslim Brotherhood “

      For convenience, I will abbreviate the only possible response to your comment, “Yonah”. It goes like this: “C.W.A.A.”

    • just on November 2, 2019, 7:14 pm

      wj aka yonah~ Do you know who does not recognize the Armenian genocide?

      Yep. The government of Israel. True. In FP this year, a writer wrote:

      “Israel’s Refusal to Recognize the Armenian Genocide Is Indefensible

      Both Armenians and Jews have been the victims of premeditated mass murder. The Israeli government must put justice before political expediency and call the crime by its name …

      … Israel has consistently refused to acknowledge that what happened to the Armenian people was a genocide. This decision doesn’t derive so much from a desire to monopolize victimhood and portray the Holocaust as a unique and unparalleled historical event. It is primarily a cynical political ploy.

      For many years, Israel feared Turkey’s wrath if it recognized the genocide. Since the late 1950s, Turkey had been a strong strategic ally of the Jewish state—one of its only friends in the Muslim world. There were close ties between the two nations’ intelligence and security establishments, and Turkey was an important and lucrative market for Israeli weapons. Whenever Israeli parliamentarians, human rights activists, and historians called for recognition of the Armenian genocide, the initiative was blocked by the government. Regardless of their ideology and political orientation, consecutive Israeli governments, knowing that any change of heart and policy would anger Turkey and jeopardize arms sales, placed economic interests before universal values. They agreed to define the genocide only as a “tragedy.”

      But in the past decade, relations between Turkey, under the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Israel have deteriorated. Arms sales were halted, and the clandestine intelligence cooperation aimed against the mutual enemy—Syria—was terminated. Nowadays, with Turkish-Israeli political and military relations at a new low, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his son Yair regularly exchange nasty verbal blows over Twitter with Erdogan, calling each other “tyrant,” “murderer,” and more.”

  10. Mayhem on November 3, 2019, 7:32 am

    The US House Foreign Affairs Committee passed the Armenian genocide resolution 10 years ago. That bill that had been kicking around for years recognized the Armenian genocide as precisely that. So why we are getting so excited about another resolution about this now?

    • annie on November 3, 2019, 12:51 pm

      i never got passed committee.

      Upon its introduction it was referred to United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs[4] where it passed a 27-21 vote and was sent back for a full house vote. On October 26, 2007, in a letter addressed to the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, four key sponsors of the bill requested a debate on the bill in full House to be postponed.[5] The resolution was never brought to the house floor due to lobbying by Turkey.[2]

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