The recognition of the mass killing of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1923 as genocide appears as though it is being treated as a political football in Capitol Hill. Just two weeks after the US House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly in a resolution to recognise the death of 1.5 million Armenians a century ago as a genocide, a US Senator has blocked the move.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said lawmakers should not “sugarcoat history or try to rewrite it”. Graham’s objection is said to have come hours after he attended a meeting with US President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
October’s vote by the House of Representatives was condemned by Turkey which said the genocide resolution “is devoid of any historical or legal basis,” and that it was “a meaningless political step” that was designed to appease the “the Armenian lobby and anti-Turkey groups.”
Turkey has always maintained that many Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire were killed in clashes with Ottoman forces during World War One, but contests the figures and denies that the killings were systematically orchestrated and constitute a genocide. Ankara even views foreign involvement in the issue as a threat to its sovereignty.
Graham, who despite being a close ally of Trump has previously broken ranks having criticised the US president over his decision to withdraw troops from Syria and over US relations with Saudi, backed Trump on this occasion and prevented the Democrat’s effort to pass the resolution by unanimous consent.
To become official policy, the resolution needed to be approved by both houses and then be signed by the president. In October, the resolution passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 405 to 11, in what appeared to be a move designed to punish Ankara for its military offensive against Kurdish fighters who are allied to the US in fighting Daesh in northern Syria.
Erdogan is reported to have brought up the issue at the White House. Standing next to Trump, the Turkish leader protested saying: “Some historical developments and allegations are being used in order to dynamite our reciprocal and bilateral relations.”
Erdogan warned that the resolution “served this very purpose and hurt deeply the Turkish nation, and they have a potential of casting a deep shadow over our bilateral relations,” adding that he had hoped the Senate will “take the United States out of this vicious cycle.”
Addressing the Senate floor after meeting with the leaders of both countries, Graham said: “I just met with President Erdogan and President Trump about the problems we face in Syria by the military incursion by Turkey. I do hope that Turkey and Armenia can come together and deal with this problem.”