WASHINGTON (CN) – House Foreign Relations Committee members defied the Obama administration and Turkey Thursday by narrowly voting 23-22 to label the mass killing of Armenians in 1915 as genocide, steering the United States toward the position of Russia, Canada, Chile and European nations who have already done so.
“Nothing justifies Turkey’s turning a blind eye to the reality of the Armenian Genocide,” California Democratic Chair Howard Berman said.
Historians estimate that up to 1.5 million Armenians died during the fall of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, but Turkey maintains that the deaths did not result from an organized genocide, and have campaigned strongly against the resolution approved on Thursday.
Berman dismissed threats from Turkey that passing the resolution would degrade ties between it and the United States. “I believe that Turkey values its relations with the United States at least as much as we value our relations with Turkey,” he said.
Turkish Ambassador Namik Tan has been called back to Ankara for consultations. State Secretary Hillary Clinton had warned the committee that such a resolution would harm Turkish-Armenian reconciliation.
Nearly two dozen other countries have officially recognized the deaths as genocide, as has the European Parliament.
“As the world leader in promoting human rights, the United States has a moral responsibility to join them,” Berman said.
It is still unclear whether the resolution will reach the House floor, and if it does, whether it would pass.
A similar resolution was passed in 2007, but the Bush administration pressured lawmakers to forego the bill, fearing it would lose Turkey’s assistance in Iraq, and the bill never reached the House floor.