Armenian Genocide Bill: Mike Pence's Brother, Ilhan Omar Among Lawmakers Who Withheld Support

The House of Representatives enraged the Turkish government on Tuesday, voting overwhelmingly to pass a bill recognizing the early 20th century Ottoman genocide of the Armenian population living in the empire.

The bill was carried by 405 to 11 votes. Though it is not legally binding, the move is a significant rebuke of the Turkish government which has long denied that the genocide happened.

Another vote—which passed 403 to 16—presented a second challenge to Ankara, calling for sanctions on Turkish government officials and its armed forces in response to Turkey's invasion of northwestern Syria to attack the Kurdish-led U.S. allies holding the region.

The operation—termed "Peace Spring" by the Turkish government—has thrown a wrench in the works of U.S.-Turkish relations. President Donald Trump has vacillated between condemning the Turks and thanking them for the latest developments, though Congress has been more resolute in its opposition.

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But among the dissenters on the Armenian genocide vote were notable holdouts from both parties. As well as the 11 who voted no, another three representatives voted present and 13 were not present to register their vote.

The 11 who voted no are all Republicans: Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama, Rep. Greg Pence of Indiana, Rep. James Baird of Indiana, Rep. Susan Brooks of Indiana, Rep. Larry Buschon of Indiana, Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland, Rep, Virginia Fox of North Carolina, Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, and Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas, and Kevin Brady of Texas.

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Pence's name in the no column is notable given the position of his brother—Vice President Mike Pence. The vice president flew to Ankara earlier this month to agree a ceasefire deal with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as U.S. troops were retreating from their positions in northern Syria.

Pence explained, "I have a lot of confidence in the president and the administration knowing what to do in Turkey, and I didn't want to interfere."

Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar was the only Republican representative to vote present, while two Democrats—Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar and Texas Rep. Eddie Johnson joined him. Omar, known for her strong human rights stance, came under fire for her decision.

Omar responded saying she did not wish a vote on recognizing genocide to be used as a political "cudgel." She added that any recognition of historic human rights abuses and genocides should include the transatlantic slave trade and the slaughter of Native Americans by settlers in America.

The Turkish foreign ministry said the vote was "shameful" and described it as a "meaningless political step" designed to appeal to the "Armenian lobby and anti Turkey groups."

The Turkish government still denies the genocide, which occurred during the final years of the collapsing Ottoman Empire. From roughly 1915 to 1923, more than 1 million Armenians are believed to have been killed. Turkey disputes this, and claims hundreds of thousands of Armenians died fighting against Ottoman forces.

The Ottoman government forcibly relocated hundreds of thousands of Armenians to the deserts of Syria and elsewhere during this period. Victims were either killed or died from starvation and exhaustion.

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This file photo shows the U.S. Capitol on October 30, 2019 in Washington, D.C. Mark Wilson/Getty Images/Getty
Armenian Genocide Bill: Mike Pence's Brother, Ilhan Omar Among Lawmakers Who Withheld Support | Politics