US congresswoman Omar criticized for refusing to back Armenian Genocide bill

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Democratic congresswoman Ilhan Omar has been criticized for refusing to vote in favor of a bill recognizing the mass killings of Armenians at the hands of Ottoman Turks more than a century ago as a genocide.

The US House of Representatives passed the House Resolution 296 on Tuesday in a vote of 405-11, featuring strong bipartisan support. Omar voted “present,” the equivalent of abstaining on the vote.

The resolution recognizing the 1915-1923 massacre of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians as a genocide is seen as a strong rebuke against the government of Turkey – the Ottoman Empire’s successor state – and its president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has long lobbied against such moves.

Omar defended her decision by releasing a statement saying that recognition of genocide should not be used “as cudgel in a political fight,” and that the United States had to also recognize the mass slaughters of Native Americans and slaves first.

“It should be done based on academic consensus outside the push and pull of geopolitics. A true acknowledgment of historical crimes against humanity must include both the heinous genocides of the 20th century, along with earlier mass slaughters like the transatlantic slave trade and Native American genocide,” she said in a statement.

The congresswoman then went on Twitter to say that she did recognize the Armenian Genocide, but took issue with the timing and context of the bill being introduced.

Sophia Armen, an activist who tweets on the Armenian Genocide, responded to Omar by asking: “When would have been good timing for you Ilhan?”

Armen then went on to applaud several congresswomen who supported the bill, including those representatives from religious and ethnic minorities.

“Women of color advocates fiercely came out to stand with those who have experienced cultural erasure, genocide, and settler colonialism today. They stood with Armenians who are descendants of the dead and remain displaced as the living,” Armen tweeted.

Rashida Tlaib – the first of two Muslim women in Congress (the other being Omar) and seen as one of Omar’s closest allies in Congress – was one of the co-sponsors of the bill.

According to a Reuters report, the nature and scale of the killings remain highly contentious nearly a century after they took place. Turkey accepts that many Armenians died in partisan fighting beginning in 1915, but denies that up to 1.5 million were killed and that this constituted an act of genocide – a term used by many Western historians and parliaments.

Omar has also refused to answer reporters’ questions on her decision, telling Buzzfeed’s Miriam Elder that she should not ask her about the vote or the statement.

The freshman representative from Minnesota is also being criticized for being the only Democrat in the House to vote against another bill – which passed overwhelmingly on Tuesday – calling on US President Donald Trump to impose sanctions and other restrictions on Turkey and Turkish officials over its offensive in northern Syria.

Her decision on both bills has brought into question her inconsistency on US foreign policy regarding the use of sanctions, especially given her role as a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Among Omar’s critics includes Enes Kanter, an NBA star wanted in his native Turkey for criticizing Erdogan. The Boston Celtics player called the congresswoman’s decision to vote no on imposing sanctions on Turkey a “disappointment and shame” and called her out for being “the only Democrat who did NOT support the Turkish bill.”

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