In the end, it may just have been US presidential leadership that gained passage of Turkey’s worst diplomatic nightmare — a resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide.
For the past 30 years, a succession of US presidents, from George H.W. Bush to Barack Obama, have acceded to Turkey’s protests that passage of the resolution would be offensive to America’s closest friend in the troubled region.
Despite a historical record that authenticated that Turkey’s Ottoman regime had carried out a campaign of brutality at the outset of World War I that killed more than a million Armenians and forced the migration of all the others that had lived inside its borders for centuries, the plea for recognition lacked White House support. As a result, the resolution has never received a full House vote in the several times it has come up for consideration.
But what could not be accomplished because of the absence of presidential resolve now appears on the verge of happening Tuesday — much because of President Trump’s disastrous decision to pull American troops out of northern Syria. His sudden policy shift led to a brutal attack by the Turkish military against the Kurdish militia, who had for years borne much of the burden of America’s efforts to wipe out the presence of ISIS terrorists in the region.
Within weeks, outrage over Trump’s abandoning the Kurds resulted in both Republicans and Democrats joining together in the rarest show of bipartisanship to pass a resolution criticizing Trump’s decision-making. And within hours of the vote, real momentum began to build toward bringing the Armenian Genocide resolution before the House.
More than 100 House members had already signed onto the proposal. Advocates gained sympathetic responses from previously uncommitted members who were outraged about Turkish aggression against the Kurds as well as the increasingly repressive actions taken by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s regime against newspapers, academics, and political dissenters.
To those lawmakers who expressed concern that passage of the resolution might offend Turkey enough that it would seek to close the military base that the United States maintains in the southeastern region of the country, advocates say such chances are dim. They cite similar resolutions that have been passed by 29 other governments, including Germany, France, and the Vatican, without adverse action by Turkey.
In addition, the legislatures or governors in 49 states have adopted resolutions acknowledging that the Ottoman Turks had carried out the first genocide of the 20th century and calling on Turkey itself to acknowledge it.
The genocide resolution is on the House calendar for Tuesday. For Representative James McGovern, Democrat of Worcester and chair of the powerful House Rules Committee, who has fought for recognition of the genocide since he arrived in Congress in 1997, the expected passage evokes a more personal reaction. Recalling that Worcester is home to the first Armenian church established in America, McGovern said in an interview Sunday, “When I started in Congress, the front pews of that church were filled with elderly men and women who had survived the genocide, and they would always ask me when would our government recognize what they and their families had gone through. They may all be gone now, but finally Congress is standing up and honoring them and their history.”
Whether Erdogan reacts harshly to the House vote remains to be seen. But if President Trump were so inclined, he might see the passage of the resolution as an opportunity to show some sorely needed presidential resolve. Tensions between Turkey and Armenia, its neighbor to the east, remain strained, and the border between the two countries has been closed for decades.
Now that the historical record has been acknowledged, Trump should put his much-ballyhooed reputation as a dealmaker in practice and find common ground between the two countries that might bring economic opportunity and cooperation to a region that is in urgent need of both.
Stephen Kurkjian, who was a member of the Globe staff for 40 years, is the son of a survivor of the Armenian Genocide.