Controversial genocide resolution may hit floor of House in final days

Lobbying groups have been on alert this weekend as rumors abound that a controversial resolution strongly opposed by the White House to recognize the 1915 killings of 1.5 million Armenians as genocide will come to the House floor in the last days of the 111th Congress.

Rep. Adam Schiff's (D-Calif.) resolution, which "calls upon the President to ensure that the foreign policy of the United States reflects appropriate understanding and sensitivity concerning issues related to human rights, ethnic cleansing, and genocide documented in the United States record relating to the Armenian Genocide," passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee on March 4 by a slim margin, 23-22.

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It wasn't the first such resolution to try to make it through Congress, but its passage in committee angered Turkey to the point that it called its ambassador back to Ankara for a time.

Bringing the genocide measure to a vote this week would pit Democratic leaders against the White House.

A senior House aide told The Hill this weekend that "no decisions have been made" on whether the resolution will be added to the House schedule this week. The House is returning because the continuing resolution to fund the government only lasts through Tuesday.

Other sources assert that Democratic leaders were vote-counting on the genocide resolution up through the weekend.

Lobbyists on both sides of the heated issue have been acting on indications that it could come up for a vote Tuesday or Wednesday. 

"URGENT!!" said the home page of the Armenian National Committee of America. "House set to vote on Genocide resolution... Call your rep today."

ANCA told The Hill that it is looking to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who has advocated the Armenian position, and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), one of the 148 bipartisan co-sponsors on Schiff's resolution, to bring it to the floor this week. The group added that thousands of calls have been placed to Pelosi and Hoyer's offices to lobby for the vote.

"We join with the remaining survivors of the Armenian Genocide and their families across America in looking to Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Hoyer to bring the Armenian Genocide Resolution to the House floor for a vote this coming Tuesday," said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian in a statement to The Hill.

"We are pleased that this human rights measure enjoys the backing of a bipartisan majority, and look forward to the U.S. House finally voting to end Turkey's 'gag-rule' on America's commemoration of this crime against humanity. No nation deserves a veto over U.S. human rights policy."

The proposition of the contested resolution coming to a vote days before Christmas, when there are fewer members in town, angered Turkish groups.

“On the one hand, the President has emphasized that strong relations between the United States and Turkey are essential to our policies in Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, and the Middle East. In short, our bilateral relations are crucial to American leadership in the world,” G. Lincoln McCurdy, president of the Turkish Coalition of America, said in a statement to The Hill.

“On the other hand, Congress’s lame duck leadership is considering holding a vote on a misguided and factually inaccurate resolution that could imperil US – Turkish relations. Opposing this habitual bashing of Turkey is also more important than ever.” [emphasis by McCurdy]

The vote would come as the Obama administration is trying to smooth over relations with Turkey after the latest WikiLeaks document dump, revealing cables critical of officials in Ankara and alleging that Turkey was helping al Qaeda in Iraq.

An interview with President Obama was published Sunday in the Turkish newspaper Hürriyet in which the commander in chief said that the U.S.-Turkey relationship is "more important than ever" and urged the European Union to accept Turkey as a member.

“Our partnership is resilient, and we agreed that the irresponsible acts of WikiLeaks do not threaten it,” Obama said. “Given the increasingly complex challenges the world faces, I believe that U.S.-Turkish cooperation is more important now than ever.”

According to Hürriyet, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu talked to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday, urging the White House to work against congressional action. "I hope such a wrong move [the resolution's passage] will not be made," Davutoğlu said Saturday. "Clinton said she would exert all possible effort."

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley was asked in Friday's press briefing about the resolution, which some thought would come to the floor that day.

"We are aware of a potential House Resolution 252, and we strongly oppose that resolution," Crowley said. "We continue to believe that the best way for Turkey and Armenia to address their shared past is through their efforts to normalize relations."

Obama had promised early in his presidential campaign that he would call the mass killings genocide if elected. Beginning early in his term, though, Obama avoided use of the word genocide when asked about his campaign promise during a press conference in Turkey.

In his Armenian Remembrance Day statements over the past two years, Obama has avoided use of the word "genocide."

Schiff's resolution "calls upon the President in the President's annual message commemorating the Armenian Genocide issued on or about April 24, to accurately characterize the systematic and deliberate annihilation of 1,500,000 Armenians as genocide and to recall the proud history of United States intervention in opposition to the Armenian Genocide."

A similar resolution was approved by the Foreign Affairs Committee in 2007. The White House similarly came out against the resolution, fearing it would damage relations with Turkey, and Pelosi did not bring the measure to the floor.

After passage in committee this spring, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan blasted the Foreign Affairs members.

"Is evaluating history the business of politicians? How many in that room could point out where Armenia is?" he said.

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