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Ilhan Omar slammed for refusing to back resolution recognising Armenian genocide

Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar voted "present" on the resolution recognising the Armenian genocide [Getty]

Date of publication: 30 October, 2019

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Democratic lawmaker Ilhan Omar justified her controversial decision not to vote for a resolution recognising the Armenian genocide, saying her issue was 'with the timing and context'.
US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar abstained from voting in a historic measure in the US House of Representatives that recognised as "genocide" mass killings of ethnic Armenians in the Ottoman Empire a century ago.

The US House passed the resolution on Tuesday officially recognising the Armenian genocide, a symbolic but unprecedented move that angered Turkey amid already heightened tensions with Washington.

Democratic representative Omar was one of two Democrats to vote "present" on the resolution which passed by a vote of 405 to 11. 

Following the vote, Omar released a statement saying: "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."

"A true acknowledgement 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."

The resolution comes at a critical and frosty time for Turkey-US relations. The measure passed alongside a bill that imposes sanctions over Ankara's assault on Kurdish-controlled territory in northeastern Syria that was made possible by the withdrawal of American troops.

Omar also voted against this bill, saying the sanctions would "hurt civilians rather than political leaders". 

By passing these resolutions, US lawmakers have delivered a two-punch rebuke to Turkey on its national day.

Omar is one of four members of "The Squad"a firebrand group of first-term, progressive Democratic congresswomen frequently targeted by Trump in attacks widely regarded as racist.

Social media users drew attention to her position on other issues. "I am a Palestinian-American who loved the passion you had for Palestine but your justification for this has lost me," one user wrote.

Responding to critics on Twitter, 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."

'Heartfelt congratulations'

Armenia's Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan welcomed the resolution as an "important step towards the international recognition of (Armenian) genocide and the global prevention of genocides".

"My heartfelt congratulations to my Armenian compatriots across the world," he wrote on Twitter. 

He also expressed "admiration for the generations of American Armenians whose selfless activities and persistence have been the driving force and inspiration for today's historic vote".

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There are an estimated 500,000 to 1.5 million Americans of Armenian origin.

The sentiment was shared by ordinary Armenians in the streets of the capital Yerevan.

"I am so happy that the US has finally recognised Armenian genocide," said 69-year-old Yerevan cobbler Koryun Hakobyan.

Kim Kardashian, the US reality star who is a prominent member of the Armenian diaspora and visited Yerevan for the 2015 anniversary, hailed the Washington vote on social media. 

She praised the "incredible numbers" of representatives who backed the resolution.

'Political instrument'

But some in Armenia share Ilhan Omar’s sentiments and the passing of the non-binding resolution seemed less a way for the US to restore historic justice as to pursue its own foreign policy goals in its wrangles with Turkey.

"Genocide continues to be a political instrument, a playing card in the hands of world powers as they play their foreign policy games," a historian from Yerevan's Museum of Genocide, Suren Manukyan, told AFP.

"One must consider this resolution in the prism of the US foreign policy towards Turkey," he said.

Yerevan resident Satik Avanesyan, 48, agreed: "On the one hand I am happy that the US House adopted the resolution, but on the other hand, what a pity they did so to punish Turkey. I don't feel satisfaction."

The international recognition of the killings as genocide has long been the top priority of Yerevan's foreign policy, supported by vigorous campaigning by the influential Armenian diasporas across the world.

Armenians say up to 1.5 million of their kin were killed between 1915 and 1917 as the Ottoman Empire was falling apart.

Turkey fiercely rejects the genocide label, arguing that 300,000 to 500,000 Armenians and as many Turks died in civil strife when Armenians rose up against their Ottoman rulers and sided with invading Russian troops.

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