Hours after meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) on Wednesday blocked a resolution that would have condemned the Armenian genocide of 1915.
Graham stated he blocked the resolution because he did not want the Senate to “sugarcoat history or try to rewrite it.” Whatever its other merits or drawbacks might be, condemning the Armenian genocide would seem to be the opposite of sugarcoating history. Graham’s office did not respond to a request from Fox News for elaboration of the senator’s thinking.
“The United States foreign policy must reflect an honest accounting of human rights abuses, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and genocide. We cannot turn our backs on the Armenian victims of genocide,” Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) said when proposing the resolution.
Graham added from the Senate floor that after meeting with Trump and Erdogan “about the problems we face in Syria by the military incursion by Turkey,” he hoped “Turkey and Armenia can come together and deal with this problem.”
The U.S. House of Representatives passed an unprecedented resolution, on a vote of 405 to 11, recognizing the Armenian genocide on October 29.
Erdogan’s Islamist government quickly condemned it, stating it was “devoid of any historical or legal basis” and a “meaningless political step” intended as a sop to “the Armenian lobby and anti-Turkey groups.”
Erdogan himself called it “worthless” and the “biggest insult” to the people of Turkey because their Muslim faith prohibits genocide. He added that the United States, a country “whose history is full of the stain of genocide and slavery,” had no right to “lecture Turkey.”
Speaking from Maryland on Wednesday, Erdogan said he believed “the Senate will act prudently and will not repeat the mistake the House of Representatives made.”
“The U.S. Senate should not surrender to the black propaganda initiated by Armenian terrorist organizations that martyred many of our citizens, most of them diplomats and their family members, in the 1970s and 1980s,” Erdogan said, referring to groups like the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA) and the Justice Commandos of the Armenian Genocide (JCAG), which carried out bombings and assassinations during the time period he specified.
Turkey’s position is essentially that the Armenians were killed while rebelling against the Ottoman Empire. The Turkish government insists the death toll was only a fraction of the 1.5 million victims commonly cited, and it disputes the most gruesome accounts of atrocities such as torture and mass executions of women and children.
Although Erdogan on Wednesday said the U.S. Congress should “refrain from taking a political stand on a matter that historians should decide,” not many historians outside of Turkey support the Turkish version of what happened to the Armenians. A good deal of the debate revolves around whether the Ottoman Empire was deliberately trying to exterminate the entire Armenian population.
Some of the representatives who voted against the House resolution acknowledged the grim reality of the genocide but were reluctant to jeopardize the fragile U.S. strategic relationship with Turkey, especially with large numbers of American troops stationed there. Graham alluded to this reasoning when he said his objection to the Senate resolution was “not because of the past but because of the future.”
Turkey’s preferred resolution to the genocide question is a vague proposal to set up a “joint historical commission” with Armenia. Although their relations with Turkey have improved a little in recent years, the Armenians have been cool to this idea, believing Turkey would use a joint commission to impose its version of history.