Ilhan Omar Refuses to Back Turkey Armenian Genocide Vote, Demands Slave Trade and Slaughter of Native Americans Also Be Acknowledged

Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar has come under fire for refusing to back Tuesday's House vote on recognizing the early 20th-century Armenian Genocide, which passed the chamber by 405 to 11 votes with overwhelming bipartisan support.

Responding to the criticism, Omar released a statement explaining her stance and suggesting that votes to acknowledge historic human rights abuses should not be a political weapon, used as a stick against America's opponents.

Omar said that while she believes that accountability for human rights abuses is "paramount," she also believes that "accountability and recognition of genocide should not be used as a cudgel in a political fight. It should be done based on academic consensus outside the push and pull of geopolitics."

If Congress truly wishes to acknowledge historic crimes against humanity, Omar added, it should look closer to home.

She argued that such a step "must include both the heinous genocides of the 20th century, along with earlier mass slaughters like the transatlantic slave trade and the Native American genocide, which took the lives of hundreds of millions of people in this country." For this reason, Omar said she voted "present" on the bill.

The Armenian Genocide took place in the Ottoman Empire from roughly 1915 to 1923 and is thought to have claimed more than 1 million people, though the figure is disputed.

The deaths occurred as the empire collapsed under the weight of World War One, and forcibly relocated hundreds of thousands of Armenians to deserts of Syria and elsewhere. Victims were killed or died of starvation and exhaustion.

The Turkish government has consistently denied that the genocide occurred, claiming instead that hundreds of thousands of Armenians were killed during in fighting with the Ottoman government.

However, before the Ottoman Empire was abolished and replaced with the new Turkish Republic, the government did execute several top officials for their role in Armenian massacres.

On Wednesday, Turkey's foreign ministry said Tuesday's "shameful" vote is "devoid of any historical or legal basis."

The statement noted that the resolution is not legally binding, and branded it a "meaningless political step" aimed at the "Armenian lobby and anti Turkey groups."

It added: "The debate on the events that occurred in 1915 belongs to the realm of history, not politics." The Turkish government also summoned the U.S. ambassador to the country over the resolution.

The Armenian Genocide vote was accompanied by another to sanction senior Turkish officials and the country's army for Ankara's invasion of northeastern Syria. The bill passed 403-16, and was also condemned by the Turkish government.

U.S. lawmakers have mobilized against Turkey following "Operation Peace Spring," launched earlier this month to clear Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces from a buffer zone along the Turkish-Syrian border.

The SDF is a U.S. ally that bore the brunt of the campaign against ISIS, taking some 12,000 casualties in the process. Turkey considers its lead element—the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG)—an extension of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, which has been waging an intermittent guerrilla war in Turkey since the 1980s.

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Ilhan Omar speaks during a town hall hosted by the NAACP on September 11, 2019 in Washington, D.C. Zach Gibson/Getty Images/Getty
Ilhan Omar Refuses to Back Turkey Armenian Genocide Vote, Demands Slave Trade and Slaughter of Native Americans Also Be Acknowledged | Politics