Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar was one of just two Democrats to vote ‘present’ on a resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Turks a century ago.
Omar, who in the past has said the U.S. was ‘founded on genocide,’ voted present on a measure that passed the House Tuesday by a vote of 405 to 11. Democratic leadership called up the bill following Turkey’s invasion of Syria. Sensitivity toward Turkey’s strong opposition to the legislation has kept it at bay in the past.
The invasion angered members of both parties who are seeking protections for ethnic Kurds who fought alongside U.S. troops in the battle against ISIS.
The Democratic-controlled House voted 405-11 in favor of the resolution, which asserts that it is U.S. policy to commemorate as genocide the killing of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1923.
After casting her vote, Omar said in a statement: ‘I also believe accountability for human rights violations—especially ethnic cleansing and genocide—is paramount. But accountability and recognition of genocide should not be used as cudgel in a political fight.’
Then she brought up the slave trade, the mass killing of Native Americans during colonization, and other atrocities.
‘It should be done based on academic consensus outside the push and pull of geopolitics,’ she continued. ‘A true acknowledgment of historical crimes against humanity must include both the heinous genocides of the 20th century, along with earlier mass slaughters like the transatlantic slave trade and Native American genocide, which took the lives of hundreds of millions of indigenous people in this country. For this reason, I voted ‘present’ on final passage of H.Res. 296, the resolution Affirming the United States record on the Armenian Genocide.’
Republicans backed the resolution 178 to 11, and Democrats backed it 226 to 0, with only two present votes. The other present votes were Republican Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona and Democratic Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas.
Omar, who came to the U.S. as an immigrant from Sudan, is a member of the ‘squad’ who has frequently tangled with President Trump and is a sharp critic of Israel.
The symbolic but historic vote has the potential to inflame tensions with Turkey.
Historians estimate that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed around World War I, and many scholars see it as the 20th century’s first genocide.
Turkey disputes the description, claiming the toll has been inflated and considering those killed victims of a civil war, rather than casualties of genocide.
Omar also voted against bill meant to punish Turkey for its invasion of northern Syria.
‘Accountability for the invasion of northern Syria is essential. Turkey’s incursion and the ensuing fallout is a humanitarian catastrophe—especially for the Kurdish people,’ Omar said. ‘But too often our sanctions policies are ill-considered, inhumane and hurt the very people we claim to be helping.’
She said the sanctions being imposed would ‘hurt civilians rather than political leaders.’
‘There are positive policies we could pursue—like banning or limiting weapons sales or creating a buffer zone—but pursuing sanctions that have no chance of being signed into law is the wrong response at the wrong time,’ she said.
However, the bill passed by the House does hit U.S. weapons sales to Turkey.
The bipartisan bill punishing Turkey for its invasion of northern Syria and illustrating both parties’ dismay with President Donald Trump’s retreat from the region sailed easily through the House on Tuesday.
The bill marks both parties’ latest show of disapproval for Trump’s decision this month to abandon the United States’ longtime Kurdish allies against Islamic State fighters by pulling American forces away from northern Syria.
The measure underscores lawmakers’ wariness of the cease-fire that Vice President Mike Pence struck with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and of the subsequent agreement between Turkey and Russia splitting control of the territory.
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