Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday for passing a bill recognizing the Armenian Genocide and condemning the Turkish government for executing it, calling the bill “worthless.”
The House passed the bill in tandem with a bill urging sanctions on Erdogan’s government for its invasion of Syria, intended to displace indigenous Kurdish populations and replace them with mostly Arab refugees.
The Turkish government has consistently refused to recognize the genocide of Armenian, Assyrian, and Greek people that took place in 1915, considered the first genocide of modern history. Erdogan referred to the genocide as “reasonable” in a speech in April.
According to the independent Turkish exile outlet Ahval, Erdogan said Turkey did not “recognize” the House bill in remarks Wednesday.
“This step taken has no value. And we do not recognise it. We see such an accusation as the greatest insult made to our nation,” Erdogan reportedly said, describing America as “a country whose history is filled with stains of genocide, slavery and exploitation,” without elaborating.
Agence France-Presse (AFP) translated Erdogan’s remark as dismissing the bill as “worthless.”
Erdogan’s remarks on the United States echoed a statement from Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) explaining why she did not vote in favor of the bill Tuesday.
“A true acknowledgment of historical crimes against humanity must include … earlier mass slaughters like the transatlantic slave trade and Native American genocide, which took the lives of hundreds of millions of indigenous people in this country,” Omar said.
Omar was one of three lawmakers to vote “present,” along with Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) and Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX).
Several prominent Republicans voted against the bill, including Reps. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), Mark Meadows (R-NC), Greg Pence (R-IN), and Mike Rogers (R-AL).
No Democrats voted against the bill.
The bill passed with 405 yea votes that also included prominent Republicans like Reps. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX), Mario Díaz-Balart (R-FL), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Steve Scalise (R-LA) and Louie Gohmert (R-TX). Unlike Omar, fellow members of the far-left “Squad” of newly elected Democratic Congresswomen – Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) – voted in favor of the bill.
The House resolution officially recognizes the Armenian Genocide, which America has not done, and urges the use of government education programs to spread awareness of the atrocities committed against the Armenian people by Turkey in the early 20th century.
The House passed the bill on Turkey’s national day, October 29.
As the Senate is not currently discussing any similar legislation, it is not clear if Congress will ever turn the resolution into law.
In addition to Erdogan’s comments, the Turkish government formerly summoned U.S. Ambassador to Ankara David Satterfield on Wednesday to protest the bill. The Turkish Foreign Ministry explained in a statement that it rejected the bill as “devoid of any historical or legal basis,” despite the fact that few outside of the Turkish government have questioned the legitimacy of the genocide.
The foreign ministry alleged that the Armenian genocide bill was “vengeance” for Turkey’s invasion of northern Syria, which Ankara dubbed “Operation Peace Spring.”
“Those who felt defeated for not being able to forestall Operation Peace Spring would be highly mistaken should they think they could take vengeance this way,” the foreign ministry said, declaring the bill “null and void.”
Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu also used the word “vengeance” to describe the bill.
The bill received a much warmer welcome in the United States, notably from celebrities in support of both acknowledging the genocide and curbing the growing threat of Erdogan’s Islamist government.
“The U.S. just recognized the Armenian genocide!!” Armenian-American celebrity Kim Kardashian, who has used her fame for decades to advocate for recognition of the destruction of her people, celebrated on Twitter.
WOW LOOK AT THESE INCREDIBLE NUMBERS!!! THE U.S. JUST RECOGNIZED THE ARMENIAN GENOCIDE!!!! 🇲🙏🏼✨ pic.twitter.com/rEwPbZp5m0
— Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) October 30, 2019
Turkish NBA star Enes Kanter, who has been encouraging Congress to act against Erdogan, celebrated the bill but specifically condemned Omar for not voting in favor of it, accusing the freshman lawmaker of being “on dictator Erdogan’s payroll.” Kanter, a follower of Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen, has faced significant retribution from Erdogan’s government for accusing it of human rights abuses against dissidents, including the imprisonment of his father of charges of “terrorism.” The Turkish government considers following Kanter on Twitter evidence of being a terrorist.
Armenians at home also celebrated the passing of the bill. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan called it a “bold step towards serving truth and historical justice that also offers comfort to millions of descendants of the Armenian Genocide survivors.”
Armenians speaking to AFP also applauded the move, hoping it will galvanize support for the Armenian community’s quest for recognition elsewhere.
“Members of my own family were among those murdered, and my parents fled with my grandparents to America,” said Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), of both Assyrian and Armenian descent, said following the bill. “What all of the persecuted had in common was that they were Christians.”
The government that would become the Republic of Turkey organized the systematic murder, exile, and extermination of Christians from Turkish lands spanning 1914 to 1923, targeting Armenian, Assyrian, and Greek Christians living in what would become Turkish territory. Historians believe the Turks killed 1.5 million Armenians, or over 75 percent of the population. Many were killed in death camps or tortured to death, then photographed as trophies:
Turkish inhumanity towards the Armenians was limitless. Young girls were raped or crucified. Forced marches, in endless circles over mountain trails, of the very old and very young—denied food and water—sought but one final destination: death. As an ultimate slap in the face, Armenians transported by train to death camps were even required to purchase their own tickets.
Some in the Turkish government dispute the killings despite extensive documentary evidence tying Turkish government officials to the genocide. Others accept the killings, but claim they are the product of war and that Turkish soldiers also died in the genocide, rejecting the claim that they attempted to exterminate any religion or ethnicity. Still other Turkish “experts” claim the Armenians attempted to exterminate themselves to smear the Turkish people.
The Turkish government has never provided accepted proof of its claim.
“The relocation of the Armenian gangs and their supporters, who massacred the Muslim people, including women and children, in eastern Anatolia, was the most reasonable action that could be taken in such a period,” Erdogan said in April. “The doors of our archives are wide open to all seeking the truth.”
In response to concerns that “Operation Peace Spring” is an attempt to ethnically cleanse Kurds from northern Syria, Erdogan also denied the Armenian genocide.
“Turkey has never committed any civilian massacre in its history and it never will. Our religion and culture would never allow to do it,” Erdogan alleged this month.