WASHINGTON — The House voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to formally recognize the Armenian genocide and denounce it as a matter of American foreign policy, a symbolic vindication for the Armenian diaspora made possible by a new torrent of bipartisan furor at Turkey.
The passage of the legislation, by a 405-to-11 vote, is the first time a chamber of Congress has officially designated the 1915 mass killings of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire as a genocide. Lawmakers had previously shirked from supporting such a resolution to preserve the United States’ relationship with Turkey, a NATO ally that has steadfastly denied that the atrocities amounted to genocide.
Livid at Turkey’s bloody military assault in northern Syria, some lawmakers saw an uneasy parallel between the Armenian genocide and the bitter warnings from Kurdish forces that the withdrawal of American forces would lead to the ethnic cleansing of their people.
“Recent attacks by the Turkish military against the Kurdish people are a stark reminder of the danger in our own time,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said in a speech on Tuesday.
And so Ms. Pelosi moved to put the measure, led by Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, to a vote for the first time.
“Too often, tragically, the truth of the staggering crime has been denied,” she said. “Today, let us clearly state the facts on the floor of this House to be etched forever into the Congressional Record: The barbarism committed against the Armenian people was a genocide.”
The House vote was bound to infuriate leaders in Turkey. Almost immediately after the vote, Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, assailed it on Twitter as an act of revenge by American lawmakers unhappy over Turkey’s military moves against the Kurds. “This shameful decision of those exploiting history in politics is null & void for our Government & people,” he wrote.
The events surrounding the killings of Armenians are tied to the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, starting in 1915, when the Ottomans, Germany’s allies in World War I, ordered mass deportations of Armenians from the empire’s eastern provinces to thwart their collaboration with Russia. By some estimates, at least 1.5 million Armenians died from the forced exodus, starvation and killings by Ottoman Turk soldiers and the police. About a half-million survived, and many scattered into a diaspora in Russia, the United States and elsewhere.
While Turkey’s government has acknowledged that atrocities were committed during that period, it has argued that a large number of Turks were also killed and that it is historically inaccurate to portray the Armenian killings as systematic or intentional. Turkish officials have also disputed the number of Armenian deaths, suggesting it may have been far lower than 1.5 million.
On Capitol Hill, the passage of the measure was a rare bipartisan moment on the House floor at a time when House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry has exacerbated a partisan rift.
Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, the top Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee, who in recent weeks has bitterly dueled with Democrats over the investigation, crossed the floor to hug Ms. Pelosi and offer Mr. Schiff a handshake in celebration as spectators in the gallery stood to cheer the bill’s passage.
Mr. Schiff, who has a large community of Armenian-Americans in his district, lobbied for 19 years to put the legislation to a vote on the House floor, alongside Representatives Anna G. Eshoo and Jackie Speier, fellow Democrats of California. A succession of American administrations, fearful of offending Turkey, have effectively supported the Turkish government’s position by opposing passage of congressional Armenian genocide resolutions and objecting to the use of the word “genocide.”
But on Tuesday, lawmakers went on the record.
The House, they affirmed, rejects “efforts to enlist, engage or otherwise associate the United States government with denial of the Armenian genocide or any other genocide.”
Catie Edmondson reported from Washington, and Rick Gladstone from New York.
Get more stuff like this
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting stuff and updates to your email inbox.