Genocide Bill Approved by House Committee

WASHINGTON–The House International Relations Committee–in a vote of 24 to 11–Tuesday approved a measure–which–if passed by the entire House of Representatives–would recognize the 1915-1921 systematic killing of Armenia’s by the Ottoman Turkish government–a genocide.

The committee voted after an almost three-hour debate on the matter–the discussion of which was postponed from last Thursday due to delay tactics by Indiana Republican Dan Burton and California Democrat Tom Lantos.

Burton and Lantos attempted to derail the vote. Tuesday’s session began by the committee’s consideration of an amendment to the resolution introduced by Burton–calling for a Congressional condemnation of all countries that have committed human rights violations.

This amendment was supported by Lantos–who–after reading President Bill Clinton’s April 24 message–urged his colleagues to consider adopting the sense of the president’s message as a sign of the American people’s empathy toward Armenia’s.

Prior to this discussion–one of five Turkish parliament members who arrived in the US to oppose the resolution–was allowed to address the committee. In his testimony–Mehmet Ali Irtemqelik said that while there were killings in the southern Anatolia region of the Ottoman Empire during World War I–they did not constitute a genocide–as it is stressed within the resolution.

Furthermore–he continued the recent Turkish position of implementing counter measures if the Congress passes the Genocide resolution.

A delegation from the Turkish Grand National Assembly is in the US to explain Turkey’s sensitivity concerning the issue. The delegation’s main role is to mention the negative effects of the bill at an office that will be allocated to them at the House of Representatives. The delegation is chaired by the Motherland Party (ANAP) deputy Mehmet Ali Irtemcelik–who said–"We did not come here to threaten anybody but to safeguard the relations between Turkey and the US." Irtemcelik added that he wanted his American colleagues to act with commonsense.

The delegation was scheduled to meet House Speaker Dennis Hastert Tuesday afternoon.

Among representatives speaking in favor of the resolution were co-author of the measure George Radanovich (R-Calif.)–Ed Royce (R-Calif.)–ranking minority member of the committee Sam Gejdenson (D-Conn.)–Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.).

New Jersey Republican Christopher Smith–chairman of the House Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights–which held a hearing on the resolution two weeks ago–thanked the Turkish representative for his commen’s–adding Irtemqelik’s remarks made the case for the approval of the resolution–because the Turkish deputy had remarked about the killings in his statement.

Furthermore–Smith quoted Jewish scholar and human rights activist Eli Weisel who has said "Denying the genocide is the final step in genocide." Smith also used quotes by the US Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire Henry Morgenthau to illustrate the urgency of the bill.

Before the final vote–California Republican Dana Rohrabacher introduced an amendment calling for a change in language of the resolution–which cited the Young Turk government as the culprits of the Genocide. Rohrabacher’s amendment changed the Young Turk reference to the "Ottoman Empire."

Rep. Smith made the motion for the roll call vote–after which the resolution was approved by the committee in a vote of 24 to 11.

Tuesday’s vote clears the way for the resolution to be heard by the House Rules Committee. At press-time there was no date of that hearing.

In an effort to accommodate the concerns raised by several of his House colleagues and to build broader bipartisan support for the measure–Congressman Radanovich–during last Thursday’s discussion–had revised the text of the resolution and reintroduced it as H.Res.596. This measure affirms the United States record on the Armenian Genocide and 1. Calls upon the President to ensure that the foreign policy of the United States reflects appropriate understanding and sensitivity concerning issues related to human rights–ethnic cleansing–and genocide documented in the United States record relating to the Armenian Genocide–and 2. Urges the President to properly characterize the Armenian Genocide as genocide in the President’s annual April 24 address.

The Armenian Genocide Resolution is actively supported by a coalition of Armenian American organizations including the Apostolic Exarchate for Armenian Catholics; Armenian Assembly of America; Armenian Bar Association; Armenian Evangelical World Council; Armenian General Benevolent Union; Armenian Missionary Association of America; Armenian National Committee of America; Armenian Relief Society of North America; Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America – East; Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America – West; Knights of Vartan; Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America – East; Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America – West.

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