DOWNTOWN — As U.S. lawmakers continue to take Turkey to task for its support of an aid flotilla to the Gaza Strip, Rep. Adam Schiff is seizing on the discontent to garner more support for his long-stalled resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide.
Fear of angering Turkey, a strategic military ally in the Middle East, has long stood in the way of Congress officially recognizing the 1915 massacre of 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks as genocide.
But since Turkey has refused to back down from efforts to send supplies to Israel's Gaza Strip, a new crop of U.S. lawmakers say they may now support the Affirmation of the U.S. Record on the Armenian Genocide.
Turkey supported the flotilla of six ships that were stopped by Israel from bringing aid to Gaza. Nine Turkish citizens died after Israeli commandos boarded the ships ahead of an Israeli blockade. Turkish officials have since condemned Israel and called for an investigation of the incident.
"There will be a cost if Turkey stays on its present heading of growing closer to Iran and more antagonistic to the state of Israel," Rep. Mike Pence (R-Indiana) said at a news conference Wednesday. "It will bear upon my view, and I believe the view of many members of Congress, on the state of the relationship with Turkey."
He added: "They need to understand going forward there's going to be a cost regarding the Armenian resolution."
Schiff, who introduced the resolution, started circulating a letter to colleagues charging that Turkey has become one of Iran's primary defenders and apologists.
Among his examples was Turkey's decision to join with Brazil in what he said was an attempt to frustrate months of diplomacy at the United Nations by announcing a "sham nuclear deal" with Iran.
Turkey has refused to join the international community in support of the latest round of sanctions against Iran.
"I don't want members to vote for this because they're going to punish Turkey," Schiff said. "I would like to have members vote for this because they recognize it's the right thing to do, and I think it's appropriate for them to reconsider their prior view that we should unfailingly carry out Turkey's bidding."
But Hakan Tekin, Turkish consul general in Los Angeles, referred to any recent initiatives to bolster support for the Armenian Genocide resolution as opportunistic and shortsighted.
"There are no links between these historical incidents and what happened in Gaza and the U.N. Security Resolution," Tekin said. "If you are making a decision on a historical debate, it has to be made based on the parameters of that debate."
Tekin also charged U.S. representatives with using a double standard, and urged them not to meddle in Turkish-Armenian relations.
"Turkish-American relations are too strong. We share a lot of strategic relationships," he said. "If they want to deal with the issue of Armenia and Turkey, rather than passing a one-sided resolution, they should focus on moving forward with the [protocol] process."
Turkey denies that mass killings carried out between 1915 and 1923 were genocide. But most historians — and many governments — agree that the Ottoman Empire carried out a campaign that led to the extermination of 1.5 million Armenians.
For too long, Schiff said, the U.S. has crumbled under the weight of Turkey's political bullying, but now, at least 144 U.S. representatives have signed on as co-sponsors of the genocide resolution.
Rep. Peter King (R-New York) said at the news conference Wednesday in Washington that he and many colleagues believed there was a genocide of Armenians, but so far have been reluctant to support the resolution because of strategic relations with Turkey.
"I think the important point is almost every member of Congress privately if not publicly would say that they recognize a genocide," Schiff said. "The members of Congress are coming around to the reluctant conclusion that Turkey has reoriented itself and is turning away from the West in the direction of Iran."