Resolution gets extra push

DOWNTOWN — Following weeks of bitter resentment toward Turkey for its support of an aid flotilla to the Gaza Strip, Armenian organizations are doubling up on efforts to push through a nonbinding congressional resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide.

Turkey's refusal to retreat from efforts to send supplies to Israel's Gaza Strip has breathed new life into Rep. Adam Schiff's (D-Burbank) long-stalled Affirmation of the U.S. Record on the Armenian Genocide since U.S. officials are less fearful of angering the strategic military ally in the Middle East.

Those fears for decades have dissuaded Congress from officially recognizing as genocide the 1915 massacre of 1.5 million Armenians at the hand of Ottoman Turks. Turkey's actions have served to bolster the argument that for too long the United States has surrendered to its political bullying.

There are now 144 U.S. Representatives signed on as co-sponsors of the genocide resolution, although that number has remained flat in the days since the surge in support on Congress.

"What we're seeing is the recognition that Turkey is unreliable as an ally," said Lerna Shirinian, director of government relations for the Armenian National Committee of America–Western Region. "And the willingness of the members of Congress that have allowed Turkey to impose its will, I think that willingness has decreased."

With Congressional recess approaching, the Armenian National Committee's eastern region is pushing for meetings with representatives in search of new sponsorship, Shirinian said.

"We have the votes, and the political environment has turned a little bit in our favor," she said. "In the end it's nonbinding, just words. But it's the words of the most powerful nation in the world and I think that holds a lot of water and sets the stage for ever more countries to commemorate the genocide and hopefully force Turkey to come to terms with its past."

Turkey supported the six-ship flotilla that was stopped by Israel from carrying aid to Gaza. Nine Turkish citizens died after Israeli commandos boarded the ships ahead of an Israeli blockade. Turkish officials condemned Israel and called for an international investigation of the incident.

U.S. representatives cited Turkey's refusal to join the international community in support of the latest round of sanctions against Iran and instead partner with Brazil in announcing a separate nuclear deal.

Last week, lawmakers convened a bipartisan news conference on the subject of Israel, where Rep. Mike Pence (R-Indiana) announced that as a result of the latest political steps, Turkey needed to "understand going forward there's going to be a cost regarding the Armenian resolution."

Even as lawmakers dial up the rhetoric, Turkish officials continue to characterize initiatives to strengthen support for the resolution as shortsighted and opportunistic.

Hakan Tekin, Turkish consul general in Los Angeles, charged U.S. representatives with using a double-standard and cautioned against meddling in Turkish-Armenian relations. Rather than focusing on a "one-sided resolution," organizers should renew their focus on resuming the protocol process between the counties, he said.

The Armenian-Turkish border remains the only closed border in Europe, with ratification of the protocols hampered by preconditions and fears on both sides about a lack of follow-through.

While Congress' nonbinding resolution is largely a symbolic gesture, U.S. recognition would have very real consequences, said Grigor Hovhannissian, consul general of Armenia in Los Angeles.

"We are talking about an event that has marked an entire nation, and the offspring that grew up in Diaspora are naturally revengeful," Hovhannissian said. "We're not talking about mere recognition. These people have to cope with the present and the past. There are massive amounts of reconciliation to be done."

The stalemate also has implications on national security.

"A nation that has been promoting genocidal policies is now our neighbor and doesn't want to reconcile and condemn it," he said. "This has created suspicion and great tension in addition to psychological and historical bitterness."

Turkey denies that mass murders between 1915 and 1923 were genocide. But most historians, along with 20 nations, formally recognized the slaying of men, women and children as genocide.

Bryan Ardouny, executive director of the Armenian Assembly of America, a nationwide organization promoting public understanding and awareness of Armenian issues based in Washington, said the matter is fundamentally about human rights.

The merits should be considered regardless of what the relations are between Turkey and Israel. That said, Turkey's counterproductive statements and actions have only helped, said Ardouny, adding that organizations are actively working the halls on Capitol Hill and making a strong push for the resolution.

"That's a very strong focus I think as more and more members examine and study the issue and are coming to the same appreciation," he said. "Politics is such that you have to seize on the opportunities and look at all possible avenues of support so you can effectively advocate for the issues you care about."

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