YEREVAN, Armenia (AFP) — Armenians on Wednesday rejoiced over the historic vote in the U.S. House of Representatives that recognized as “genocide” the mass killings of ethnic Armenians in the Ottoman Empire during the first World War.
The House passed a resolution Tuesday officially recognizing the “Armenian genocide,” a symbolic but unprecedented move that angered Turkey amid already heightened tensions with Washington.
Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan welcomed the move as an “important step toward the international recognition of (Armenian) genocide and the global prevention of genocides.”
“My heartfelt congratulations to my Armenian compatriots across the world,” he wrote on Twitter.
He also expressed “admiration for the generations of American Armenians whose selfless activities and persistence have been the driving force and inspiration for today’s historic vote.”
Not surprisingly, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan slammed the recognition as “worthless” and the “biggest insult” to the Turkish people.
His Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu suggested Tuesday’s resolution was “revenge” for Turkish actions in Syria. Turkey also summoned the U.S. ambassador to Ankara.
“From here I am addressing U.S. public opinion and the entire world: this step which was taken is worthless and we do not recognize it,” Erdogan said in a televised speech.
There are an estimated 500,000 to 1.5 million Americans of Armenian origin.
“This resolution is of profound significance in that it resolves to commemorate the Armenian Genocide through official recognition and remembrance,” Armenia’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
The ministry thanked the U.S. lawmakers for “their overwhelming commitment to truth, justice, humanity and solidarity and to universal values of human rights.”
The sentiment was shared by ordinary Armenians in the streets of the capital Yerevan.
“I am so happy that the U.S. has finally recognized Armenian genocide,” said 69-year-old Yerevan cobbler Koryun Hakobyan.
“Other countries will now follow suit.”
The hilltop genocide memorial that dominates Yerevan’s skyline draws hundreds of thousands on April 24 each year to mark the anniversary of the start of the tragedy.
In April 2015, on the centenary of the killings, the Armenian Church conferred sainthood on some 1.5 million Armenians they say were massacred by Ottoman forces.
Kim Kardashian, the U.S. reality star who is a prominent member of the Armenian diaspora and visited Yerevan for the 2015 anniversary, hailed the Washington vote on social media.
The praised the “incredible numbers” of representatives who backed the resolution.
But for some in Armenia, the passing of the nonbinding resolution seemed less a way for the United States to restore historic justice than to pursue its own foreign policy goals in its wrangles with Turkey.
“Genocide continues to be a political instrument, a playing card in the hands of world powers as they play their foreign policy games,” a historian from Yerevan’s Museum of Genocide, Suren Manukyan, told AFP.
“One must consider this resolution in the prism of the U.S. foreign policy toward Turkey,” he said.
Yerevan resident Satik Avanesyan, 48, agreed: “On the one hand I am happy that the U.S. House adopted the resolution, but on the other hand, what a pity they did so to punish Turkey. I don’t feel satisfaction.”
The international recognition of the killings as genocide has long been the top priority of Yerevan’s foreign policy, supported by vigorous campaigning by the influential Armenian diasporas across the world.
Armenians say up to 1.5 million of their kin were killed between 1915 and 1917 as the Ottoman Empire was falling apart.
Turkey fiercely rejects the genocide label, arguing that 300,000 to 500,000 Armenians and as many Turks died in civil strife when Armenians rose up against their Ottoman rulers and sided with invading Russian troops.
By passing the resolution, U.S. lawmakers have delivered a two-punch rebuke to Turkey on its national day.
The measure passed alongside a bill that imposes sanctions over Ankara’s assault on Kurdish-controlled territory in northeastern Syria that was made possible by the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
Erdogan said the House vote was politically motivated, and hinted that the Turkish parliament would pass a counter resolution.
He did not specify what this would include but in previous speeches he has touched on the mistreatment of Native Americans.
“A country whose history is full of the stain of genocide and slavery neither has the right to say anything nor to lecture Turkey,” he said Wednesday.
Erdogan later told reporters he had not yet made up his mind about whether to go through with a visit to the United States which had been mooted for November.
“I haven’t made my decision yet, there is a question mark,” he said.
© Agence France-Presse